Decades ago, my friend Joe Liener introduced me to duckers and melonseeds at his little boathouse in Wittman, Maryland, on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Joe had retired some years back from his job as the master of the Philadelphia Naval Yard boatshop where he used what he called a spar cart to move heavy spars and beams. He used a small version of one to get his boats from his boathouse to the water.
The carts are simple, just a roller, an axle, and a frame. Joe’s was pretty light, a 4″ roller, a frame with some plywood for a top, and a couple of boards on it to fit his boats and keep them from rocking. Cheek pieces fastened to the frame had holes to take the roller axle. The cart could also be used, frame down, as a fixed roller, handy for getting a boat out of the water onto a dock or bank or sliding it off or on a trailer.
I thought a cart would be handy for my 13′ 6″ Good Little Skiff, especially since I had no trailer. The bugeye EDNA LOCKWOOD at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum where I worked was getting new masts, so Joe suggested that we take a section of old mast for a roller and bore it for a steel-pipe axle, then make the frame.
That 2′ x 8″ roller has now been through several frames, one of which was destroyed in getting several thousand pounds of sandbagger off a marsh. My current frame has cheek pieces incorporated into it and is 26″ wide by 20″ long, all made out of 2x stuff. A piece of steel pipe (1/2″, schedule 80, 0.840 O.D.) works as an axle. Drilling the hole down the center of that old spar was not for the faint of heart. It took Joe’s assistance with a second set of eyes and a big drill for me to bore the hole. There are easier ways to make a roller.
I have made several roller carts using 4″ PVC pipe. Bigger pipe is available and better for going over rough ground. Using a holesaw I cut discs to fit the inside diameter of the pipe and drill a hole to take the axle. I use four discs, evenly spaced along the roller, which is somewhere in the 18″ to 24″ range. I position the hole for the axle so that the roller is about 1/2″ lower than the load, keeping it as low as possible if you need to lift something heavy onto it. Sleeves or bushings of nylon or other slippery stuff would make it easier to roll; I’ve just made a loose hole in the wooden cheek pieces.
I now have more boats than trailers, so I use my roller frequently to swap boats. To take a boat off a trailer, I tie the boat to a solid fixed point and pull the trailer until the boat is at the balance point. I put the roller cart down, roller up, and drop the boat onto the roller so I can slide it into the boathouse, usually using a bunch of 4″ pipe sections for additional rollers. When I use the roller cart to transport a boat, those with fairly flat bottoms like a dory, a skiff, or my ducker sit nicely on the frame. Boats with a very round or V bottom, or a shallow keel, need a hand or chocks on the cart frame to keep them upright.
I’ve used my roller to move heavy stuff like my catboat mast, and I tuck it into the back of the pickup when I am going to do a trailer launch on a shallow beach. It works well moving boats over marsh where I can’t take a trailer. For moving heavy, bulky stuff, Joe’s cart is hard to beat.
For tips on making roller carts, see this month’s From the Editor.
Ben Fuller, curator of the Penobscot Maritime Museum in Searsport, Maine, has been messing about in small boats for a very long time. He is owned by a dozen or more boats ranging from an International Canoe to a faering.
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