Getting Up

By Tom Neale, 4/28/2011


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What’s wrong with wanting to get up? Lots of people like it. Lots of people do it. Why can’t I? But when I try I keep getting all these stares. Some people seem indignant. Some seem disdainful. Some seem absolutely ticked off. It tends to give one an inferiority complex. I just want to be like so many other people. Who cares that the boat that I want to get up is a 53 foot motor sailor, with a full cruising keel, weighing enough to put a herd of elephants to shame.

I look at all the sport fishing boats roaring by up on a plane. They seem magnificent. And nobody sneers at them, except when they’re throwing a monster wake through an anchorage or in a channel. I look at all the express cruisers. Some of these can make passage in a day that takes me almost a week. I look at all the fast big yachts, bow up, running on a flattened aft underbody, with enough speed to easily make the next safe inlet in daylight of the day they left the last inlet, even though I’d have to go all day and all night and then most of the next day to make that same inlet. But me? I try to do this and I not only get no respect, I sometimes even get some middle digit salutes.

Chez Nous Getting UP and Squatting off Florida.
I mean, come on. Give me a break. I’ve spent most of my life not getting up. My first boat was a rowboat. I was only nine but I still had the urge to step out and I learned how to row very fast. But no matter how hard I tried, I never could row fast enough to make that fat little skiff plane. My next boat had a flat plywood bottom. Plywood was quite the thing in those days. It didn’t have seams to leak every few inches between all those bottom boards of more traditional boats. And it was light and by then I had an outboard. I figured I could certainly plane with that boat. I thought I’d pitch a very light tent on the bow at night and go to distant anchorages fast. What I hadn’t counted on was that the guy had built it was building his first boat with a plywood bottom. That bottom flexed like a trampoline covered with mice and elephants. And every time it flexed, water squirted in—not through the seams between floor boards, but through the seams all around the sides where the plywood was screwed into the hull. Whenever I got up on anything like a plane so much water came in so fast that the boat got so heavy it was in danger of going in the opposite direction—down. Ever on my quest to get up on a plane, I had the bright idea of screwing little keels to the bottom to stiffen up the trampoline. That just made the situation worse because the screws quickly began to pull through the plywood.

Another boat came as I was in my early teens. It was of traditional build, but I scrounged up a 25 HP outboard. Never mind that this motor had been submerged three times, I figured it would really get that boat up without a problem. It did. But then I tried to improve the rig for cruising and, once more, I quashed my dream. My lust for cruising seems to always get in the way of my lust for getting her up.

My improvement consisted of building a cabin on the boat, with bunks, so I could sleep aboard more comfortably than I’d been doing in tents pitched over my earlier open skiffs. I augmented that cabin with huge brass portholes I’d salvaged from an old wrecked admiral’s barge, beached and rotting away up in a marsh. I also improved the rig by installing a real “ship’s wheel” with spokes that I’d salvaged from another boat washed up in a hurricane. This meant I had to run the boat standing forward, not sitting at the stern. This also meant that the first time I tried to get ‘er up she plowed down and I had water pouring past the cabin and over the gunn’ls so fast that I almost didn’t have time to pull back the throttle and save that motor from a fourth dunking. I added higher wash boards aft the cabin hoping that the water would run off the deck as we dove, giving the engine, maybe, time to reverse the sinking trend and get the bow up. I even made these wash boards of very light plywood, but it was still more weight and this just made the situation worse. My boat was not only destined to never get up, it was destined to dive like a World War II submarine with enemy planes zooming in low on the horizon.

Ches Nous Trying to Plane in the Ocean.
OK, I’ll admit, by this stage of my life, I have had the pleasure of getting up in some of my boats. I had a Glasspar Seafair Sedan that got up (I still miss her) and I have a 1985 center console 20 foot Mako with a 150 four stroke Yammie that’ll get up with the greatest of ease. And I’ve had a few other boats that would get on a plane also. One of my favorites is my current tender that we had made one-off to our own specifications. She’ll get up so quick with her little 20 HP that you don’t have time to figure which way you want to go.

But I spend most of my time on “Chez Nous.” We’ve had four boats named “Chez Nous” since 1969. None of them have planed. I figure, “come on. I’m getting older every day. Why can’t I have my dream come true with my number one boat?” So I just spent another trip coming up the US East Coast trying to get ‘er up. I confess, I never had much hope, but it was fun trying. I rev that 200 HP up and I see her bow begin to rise. I walk up to the bow and look astern and realize I’m looking not at a level deck—I’m looking downhill. The excitement builds and I nudge the throttle a little more. The bow comes up higher, but then we get to that inevitable curse: the squat stage. That beautiful wide rounded stern squats down in the water like a very constipated duck and there she stays until I pull back on the throttle and run her at her designed hull speed—at which point she behaves admirably, like the lady she is. But while she’s trying to rise up, she can throw a wake like an elephant on a PWC, which may have something to do with all those looks of distain and indignation I was talking about earlier. But maybe I’ve just come up with a solution. Maybe I ought to just start cruising on a PWC. It’ll certainly save on fuel and it’ll certainly get up on a plane. I’ll just have to make a few improvements for cruising comfort.

Tom’s Tips About Getting on a Plane

1. Some boats temporarily become less stable as they’re getting up on a plane. This can be dangerous and even make steering a bit unpredictable. Know your boat’s characteristics and how to deal with them.

2. Being on a plane doesn’t mean having your bow high up and running at a steep angle. If you’re doing this, something is probably wrong. Typically, many boats, even on a plane, should not be too far from parallel with the water.

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