Dispatches from Matt’s Toybox: The 20 Foot Boat in a Ditch Edition.

Yesterday I made that quick note about how we were rushing out to go look at a boat, right? Well, it turned into a minor adventure.

Matt had found this boat listed in the free section on Craigslist, and was immediately Very Excited. He contacted the person listing it, and she said they still had it. He asked some pretty basic questions about it- does it float? (dunno) Does it have a motor? (yes but it needs a carburetor) Is it on a trailer? (er, no it’s sitting in a ditch in our yard). Wait, what? At this point I became highly skeptical (not that I wasn’t already).

As soon as he hung up the phone, Matt sprang into action. He apparently had someone with a truck and a flatbed trailer ready and waiting for his call. He called this kid up, and let him know to meet us at Matt’s office on the other side of town. I hurriedly typed up that quick little blurb yesterday, and we hustled out the door and over to the west side of town. We met up with the guy with the truck, and headed out west of Madison to Arena.

Arena’s pretty tiny, but the house where the boat resided was on the opposite edge of town from us. We were slowly driving down the street, “Uh, guys, I think I see it”, I said.  We pulled up on the side of the road, and got out.

As you can see, Matt's thrilled.

As you can see, Matt’s thrilled.

The owner came out as we pulled up to say hi, and honestly, I think she wanted to see how these yahoos were going to get this boat out of a ditch in her yard.

The way they had acquired this boat, you see, was that someone was driving past their house late last summer while they sat on their front deck. He stopped his truck and the trailer, and asked them if they wanted the boat he was pulling, as he didn’t want it and no longer had a use for it. She said no, but her husband said yes (sounds about right). The guy backed it in, untied everything, and pulled forward, letting the boat slide right off. Apparently, he got himself stuck in the process, and someone had to come along and pull his two wheel drive truck out.

The people we were getting this from had planned on gutting and renovating this boat. When they started on it, it was apparently outdated and in rough shape.

Now it's in even rougher shape.

Now it’s in even rougher shape.

But time had just gotten away from them, and they wanted it gone. The hull looked to be in good shape, and I’m no stranger to reupholstery. Nor are we strangers to renovating- Matt renovated most of this house, and I was around for the kitchen portion of it. His dream has been to pick up a cheap old boat, anyhow, and re-do it.

Now, though, the problem was getting this thing out of their yard. It’s a 20 foot boat. We had a 14 foot trailer with us. Matt assumed we could at least get it onto the trailer canted to the side, and carefully secure it. Then we would slowly tow it back to Madison. But he still hadn’t tackled how to get this thing out of the ditch and two feet off the ground onto the trailer. There was much brainstorming, a lot of pacing back and forth, and a good deal of me alternately thanking and apologizing to the the woman and her two sons watching this whole ordeal. I appreciated her wise cracks, though I don’t know if Matt did.

She was really helpful, though, offering us a jack, boards to brace with, the whole nine yards throughout the brainstorming process. I was pretty un-helpful, though, as a bystander with a camera who didn’t even know if she wanted this hulk sitting in her yard. Eventually, we discovered that the trailer already had a ramp on it, stowed underneath, for hauling snowmobiles.


With the trailer positioned, Matt’s idea was beginning to take shape. We had brought ropes and ratchet straps, so he tied the rope to the boat, and tied the other end to their truck, which he had them pull in front of the truck we had. It seemed like a golden idea.


However, the rope was one of Matt’s old rock climbing ropes. The lady started to very slooooooowly pull with her truck. The rope went taut, and then tauter, and tauter still. The boat wasn’t moving. Climbing rope is made to stretch, not to pull; it’s meant even less to pull a large fiberglass boat out of a soft dirt ditch.

When he saw that a snapped rope and possible whip-like action was imminent, he pulled the younger of the two boys out of the way, and waved his arms to stop. He had to admit temporary defeat. The owners very graciously agreed to hang on to it for us. We were the only people to even come out to look at the boat, much less attempt to get it out of their yard. Matt has his heart set on getting that thing now, and he plans to attack again return on Friday with a trailer and chains. In the mean time, he’s looking frantically for an actual boat trailer for this thing. If he can’t find one, he’ll use a flat bed again, and we’ll have a boat sitting trailer-less in our yard, too.

While I was in the middle of writing this post, Matt stopped by on his way to the other side of town. Our little yard is getting quite cluttered, and the boat we already have still has a bum tire.

This is the side of our house. We can't get anything into the back yard.

This is the side of our house. We can’t get anything into the back yard.

I calmly explained that we are reaching the carrying capacity for stuff in the yard, and we need to think about either getting rid of some things for good, or packing up moveable objects before we look like hoarders or junk collectors. The prospect of getting rid of his things always makes him say “But they’re all still functional!”. He ended up admitted I was right, and agreed that something has to go or move.

I would still prefer a house on a bigger plot of land, on the edge of town, but that’s pretty expensive to do. Convincing Matt to simply not acquire things, specifically modes of transport, is an exercise in futility. I definitively vetoed renting a storage unit, as I hate the idea of paying for a place to store excess stuff.

An upside here, though, is that a boat this size would be able to go out on, say, Lake Michigan, and not feel as though it was about to be swamped. Depending on how quickly it got cleaned up (supposing we get it to the house and get a trailer for it in the first place), we wouldn’t need to charter a salmon fishing boat like I thought. For that, we would need rigs for salmon fishing. Matt’s toybox is a self-perpetuating beast.

16 thoughts on “Dispatches from Matt’s Toybox: The 20 Foot Boat in a Ditch Edition.

  1. i ALMOST did something just like this. i added up the cost of everything required to fix it (new motor, new interior, new pumps, new wiring, new pluming, new new new) and it ended up costing more than a new boat, so i just bought a new boat. never had any regrets.

  2. Enjoyed the long-read. Made me chuckle a few times 😛

    Like David said if you go for new new new this will be an expensive project. on the other hand remember you received a boat free of charge why not a carburetor, benches and some wires? 😛

    Wish I had the opportunity to start on a project like that,

    seems like a dream!

  3. I couldn’t help but laugh while reading this, especially how Matt didn’t really have any idea how he was going to get the boat on the trailer. Been there, done that. We often get into those situations and I stand there speechless as I watch my boyfriend arrive at his solution. Good luck with this project!

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