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Extreme Boat Launches
Do-It-Yourself Pier Dangle
Gaviota Beach, California
Pucker Factor: High
Best Boat: Any craft under 21 feet and less than 2,000 pounds
African Cat Attack
Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Pucker Factor: High
Best Boat: Power catamaran
From Swaziland down to Port Elizabeth, along some 750 miles of South Africa’s east coast, about the only way to put a boat to sea is through the relentless breakers of the Indian Ocean.
Here, a resilient core of boaters — mostly sport fishermen — have adapted to the dearth of harbors and ramps with methods that enable them to launch and retrieve power cats up to 29 feet in length through the pounding surf at locations such as Sodwana Bay.
South Africans use two specialized methods. One is to back the trailer boat down into the water using a four-wheel-drive truck or a tractor until the hull floats.
Next comes the challenge of spinning the boat around to face the waves so the outboards can be tilted down and started. This task usually falls on the crew, who wade out to wrestle the boat into position without getting crushed by the hull or chewed up by the props. Once the engines are running, the crew must quickly clamber in over the sides, which are decidedly tall on these South African cats, before the boat washes sideways to the surf. Then everyone hangs on for dear life as the captain punches out of the surf zone through the breakers. It’s definitely a young man’s game.
Launch Bow-First: The other launch method is less conventional but seems safer and easier: a technique that uses a special single-axle trailer that allows the boat to be shoved into the shore wash bow first.
The axle is in the middle of the articulating roller trailer, and sometimes there are dual wheels on each end, with the sponsons nestled between the tires to support the boat on the sand.
Returning through the surf is usually easier than launching: Run as fast as you can through the waves and then slide your boat onto the sand, while tilting the outboards.
Load It Up: Boats that launch stern-first get cranked onto trailers with a power winch. Boats that launch bow-first are spun around on the sand, usually with a truck and tow strap, before getting winched onto the trailer stern-first.
For many South African boaters, this is the only kind of boating they have ever known.