The big day to haul out Aldebaran was upon us. We needed to pull our trimaran out of the water and repair the major fiberglass damage we had discovered (3 weeks prior near Fatu Hiva). This turns out to be a tricky proposition in the Marquesas islands.
Our crew from the last two weeks – Pierre, Lianna, and Chris – were there to witness the haul out. It was worth the price of admission… it was a bit of a scary and stressful spectacle.
Back home in California, we are used to hauling Aldebaran with a Travel Lift, which is essentially a huge machine which hoists the boat with slings underneath. In contrast, here in Hiva Oa, they have a hydraulic trailer which is towed by a tractor. This is designed for monohulls and catamarans; not trimarans, which are a peculiar mixture of both. In fact, we were the very first trimaran the Hiva Oa yard ever attempted; the owner studied our boatplans for a few days before committing to our haul out.
(Note: this is the only boatyard in Marquesas, and the next closest is in Apataki atoll, Tuamotos, which has the same hydraulic trailer. The closest Travel Lift is in Tahiti, a little over 800nm away.)
We unloaded the crew’s bags to shore, then motored Aldebaran towards the boatramp, where the trailer awaited. It was very tough to align our trimaran, which is 21 feet wide, with the skinny 8 foot trailer. With limited control from our single engine, and six feet of water, we began drifting at an angle towards the nearby rocks…after a few tense minutes, we got the boat under control with a stern line and two bow lines, and the trailer clenched its pads around us.
The owner of the yard, a young Frenchman named Vincent, drove the tractor (that towed the trailer). He kindly asked me to jump in the water to see if the sling was properly around Aldebaran’s keel. No thanks! The water was thick with driftwood, banging into the hulls. But there was no option. I donned my mask and dove into the murky water, adjusting the sling to the strong part of the keel, pushing wood out of the way in order to surface and breath again. I crawled awkwardly out of the water, feeling like a Navy Seal invading a hostile, debris-laden beach.
The hydraulics began lifting the boat, but Aldebaran’s main hull is too narrow for the control pads to firmly hold. The result: the entire 9 ton boat was see-sawing in the air, its massive bulk teetering like a drunk Samoan. Sabrina and Chris were still on deck, hanging on, helping handle lines. It was nerve racking, especially for Pierre, Lianna, and I, watching the scene from ground level.
But Vincent kept cool as a cucumber. He lowered the boat and sat thinking for a moment inside the bright red tractor. Then he asked his worker to grab two more slings, which he tied to the trimaran’s aluminum front cross bars. I recalled that the Ventura Boatyard installed these stout bars in 2011 after we broke the old wooden bars on a rough Channel day. As Sabrina lashed our aluminum cross bars to the trailer, I prayed they were as strong as we hoped, as the boat’s equilibrium (and safety) now hinged on their rigidity.
Puffs of smoke bellowed out of the tractor as the hydraulics lifted Aldebaran out of the water and began inching uphill. As the tractor climbed up the slope of the boatramp, the boat was at a 15 degree angle, seemingly about to slip backwards and crash into her rudder.
But like Master Yoda lifting Luke Skywalker’s sunken X-wing jet out of the swampy waters, Aldebaran rose miraculously into the air, water dripping off her sides like anxious sweat, pieces of driftwood that were stuck to the boat now cracking and falling to the dry ground below.
Inside the tractor, Vincent (or shall we say, Master Yoda) pulled Aldebaran further up the dirt track leading into the boatyard, potholes rocking her back and forth. Sabrina and Chris rode her like a slow wobbly bull. The trimaran’s huge width made her look ungaily, like a sumo wrestler doing a tightrope walk, but lighter on her feet than you’d imagine.
With one final lurch, Master Yoda pushed the boat up onto a paved platform to pressure wash her (it is the only spot with good drainage). The tractor lowered her down onto wood blocks, and there was a collective sigh of relief when the tractor turned off its engine.
Master Yoda had done his part, bringing the ship to terra firma. Now it was time for the real work to begin.