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You can pull your boat great distances

Adjustments and sometimes a total refit of the trailer can enable larger vessels to be towed

Our family has been boating for some time now and, like many mariners, our boats have continued to increase in size with each new boat purchase. We spend a lot of time at our lake home on Lake Hartwell in upstate South Carolina, but we also like to spend time on our boat, Carolina Girl, along the coast and to cruise the Intracoastal Waterway.

South Carolina boaters Bob Elliott and his wife Jenny extend their cruising grounds by trailering their 34-foot Sea Ray as far south as Florida.

Over the years, we have cruised as far north as Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and as far south as St. Augustine, Fla., but ultimately spend most of our time around Charleston, S.C.

Even though each boat we have purchased has always been a little larger than the previous boat, we still wanted to be able to trailer our boat — striving to have as large a boat as possible, while still being able to haul it to new and faraway cruising grounds.

We began searching for a boat we could trailer without escort vehicles or having to do a major disassembly, i.e. remove the flybridge for transport. After doing a little research, we decided on a Sea Ray 340 Sedan Bridge. This boat has a dry weight of 11,400 pounds; a length of 33 feet, 11 inches; and a beam of 11 feet, 11 inches (12 feet is the threshold for requiring an escort vehicle). We purchased our boat in Chicago and had it transported to South Carolina to start our project.

Bob and Jenny Elliott

Now that we had a boat, we needed a way to transport it. I began that process by speaking with several trailer manufacturers. Following several days of phone calls and faxes, I came to the conclusion I wasn’t going to get the results I was looking for. After stepping back and analyzing the situation, I decided to take a tri-axle trailer I had been using for previous boats and do a total refit to meet my needs.

Ramping up

I began by removing the existing axles and installing four torsion axles with 22.5-degree up arms rated at 5,200-pounds capacity per axle. I had the axles built to the maximum length the manufacturer could produce. This allowed me to lower the boat even more by spreading the tires out.

The wheel fenders are fabricated to slide out while the boat is loaded to further lower the boat and can be retracted to minimize the overall width while transporting the trailer while empty.

I installed a new 20,000-pound actuator for the two breaking axles. The tires used for this project are 205/75R14 Load Range D tires. The tires have a load capacity of 2,270 pounds each, which gives me a comfortable margin to ensure I don’t exceed the manufacturers’ design capacity. The reason for using the 14-inch tires was to further lower the trailer for bridge clearance while transporting.

With the trailer finished, I turned my attention to the boat. To obtain an overall height of less than 13-1/2 feet while loaded on the trailer, which is the maximum legal height without requiring special routing, I needed to reduce the overall height of the boat. To accomplish this, I installed four access hatches so the bimini railing, along with the bimini top, can be removed along with the seats, windscreen and helm station. This process takes two people an hour to complete and, of course, has to be repeated in reverse prior to launching.

Because of the size of our boat, an oversize permit is required, and, so far, we have acquired permits in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The process takes about 20 minutes and can be completed via fax or the Internet. A single trip permit is relatively inexpensive and a permit must be obtained for each state that you will be transiting. We keep an annual permit in effect for South Carolina since it’s our home state. It costs $100 and must be renewed annually.

There are some travel restrictions accompanying each oversize permit, but in general the permit allows towing during daylight hours only and there are some restrictions on certain holidays and it varies by state. These restrictions have not been an issue for us so far, but we review each state’s requirements while planning our trip.

The tow vehicle we have is a 2008 Ford F350 Dually, which is more than adequate for the job. With its 6.4-liter diesel, it has a rated combined towing capacity of 23,500 pounds.

Hit the road

Since accomplishing our goal of having a trailerable boat, we have enjoyed numerous trips to the coast, of which one in particular stands out. In March 2005, my wife and I transported our boat to Sanford, Fla., a distance of 560 miles, with all the required oversize permits. We launched the boat into Lake Monroe and berthed at the Monroe Harbor Marina, waiting 24 hours for some nasty weather to pass before starting our excursion via the St. Johns River through Jacksonville and finally to the Intracoastal Waterway.

The St. Johns stretches 310 miles and is the second-longest river in the United States that flows more or less in a northerly direction. Sanford is 161 miles from the Atlantic, and, from there, we boated down the St. Johns, passing through some of the most beautiful natural landscapes we had ever found. It is not uncommon to see alligators, bald eagles, ospreys and manatees (depending on the time of year) and at Crystal Springs, you can actually swim with the manatees.

We spent the first night in Astor at the Black Water Inn, which has an excellent restaurant and a limited number of slips for transients. We had not planned on stopping in Astor for the night, but because of some severe weather passing through, we decided to stop for the night and were glad that we did — the food and hospitality were outstanding.

The next morning, we left at first light and continued on our way before crossing Lake George, which is 6 miles wide and 11 miles long and has an average depth of 8 feet, but has a well-marked channel. Later in the day, we encountered our second drawbridge (the first bridge was just as we left Sanford) which was a railroad. At first we were told there would be a 20- to 30-minute wait for an oncoming train to pass, but, to our surprise, the attendant radioed back after a couple minutes and said there had been a delay and he would raise the bridge.

We continued on our way, and, at times felt, we were on a lake since the river in some places exceeds three miles in width. Late in the day, we started coming into downtown Jacksonville, and it was a beautiful sight to see after spending more than 10 hours under way.

We docked at the River City Brewing Company Marina across from the downtown district and used the water taxi to go into town. Sometimes we would cross via the Main Street Bridge when wanting to stretch our legs.

After enjoying our stay in Jacksonville, we left our boat and returned home to South Carolina, but we would return every two weeks to Jacksonville until we finally completed our trip to the Intracoastal Waterway and eventually to Amelia Island. There we berthed at the Fernandina Harbor Marina in Fernandina Beach and, after enjoying our six-week stay, took our boat to St. Mary’s, Ga. St. Mary’s has excellent ramps and parking for boaters right in the center of town, and that’s where we loaded “Carolina Girl” on her trailer for our return trip home to South Carolina.

While this type of transportation scenario may not be for everyone we have found it works well for us, by allowing us to extend our range by being able to trailer our boat — even though it is not commonly thought of as a trailerable boat. We have since completed several trips covering thousands of miles via land and sea and have nothing but fond memories for our efforts, including the unexpected swim my wife took on a March afternoon fully clothed — but that is another story.

This story originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.