Robert Wray was heading down the California Canal about midday Saturday on his way to one of his favorite fishing holes, just like he had done hundreds of times before in the Spillway.
In the blink of an eye, the Prairieville resident went from cruising at about 55 mph to holding on for a bumpy ride as his 20-foot Stratos 200XL veered right, skidded over several small tallow trees and ran completely up onto the bank.
“I remember just cruising along, and then I remember hearing my motor wind out and I felt the end of my boat slide to the left. My nose started pointing towards the bank,” he said. “But it wasn’t a hard impact. It acted like a sled because the motor wasn’t in the water to catch.
“It basically slid up on the bank and kind of drifted sideways. Once it hit the top of the little hill, it just kind of rocked backwards.”
Miraculously, both angler and boat survived the impact with little damage. Wray was completely unharmed, and the boat just had a few minor scratches.
“When it came to rest, I checked myself to make sure there wasn’t any blood or bones sticking out anywhere,” he said with a grin. “Then I just sat there a second and I realized my motor was still running at idle.”
With the assistance of his father-in-law, brother-in-law and several helpful boaters who stopped to lend a hand, he got the vessel back into the water after several hours of pushing, pulling and tree-clearing. He eventually idled back to his father-in-law’s camp, and found the motor was continually trimming up out of the water by itself.
Since he uses a blinker-style trim switch mounted on his steering column, he determined the problem was coming from the tilt/trim switch on the throttle shifter.
At the camp, they discovered two wires inside the handle had been rubbed bare and were hot to the touch. He cut and taped them so they couldn’t short anymore, and he hasn’t had any issues since.
“People just need to be aware that there are several hidden hazards you can have,” he said. “Anything electrical can go bad in an instant. Be aware that inside of that rotating handle you can have nicks in wires that can cause a short. Just be aware of that potential.”
Wray posted an account of his story with pictures on the LouisianaSportsman.com Web site here, and stressed that he was never being unsafe or acting carelessly on the water.
“I wasn’t maxed out at all. That boat will run 78 mph,” he said. “I was tooling around at 55 (mph) at 4,500 rpm. For most boats, that your optimal operating range as far as rpm’s. That’s where you get the best gas mileage and best handling, regardless of what size boat or what size motor.
“4,500 rpm’s is about that magic number,” he said.
His intention in posting pictures on the forum was to make everyone aware of the potential for the accident, and as a safety manager with 25 years of boating experience, he takes issue with some of the comments people posted about the accident.
“Whether I had a 115 (-horsepower) or a 125 or a 300, if your motor comes out of the water, it’s going to do the same thing. I don’t care if you’re running in a 10-foot bateau with a 25 on it, it’ll do the same thing,” he said. “It’ll send you into the woods. Once your prop breaches the surface of the water, you have no control. You’re at the mercy of the momentum of that boat.
“But if it prevents this from happening to one other person, it’s worth it.”
Wray, 39, is extremely grateful that he walked away from the accident, and understands the story could very well have had a different ending. He hopes his experience will at least make others aware of what could potentially happen on the water - with absolutely no warning.
“I said I didn’t have anybody riding with me, but I swear to goodness, it felt like a set of hands come out of the seat and grabbed my thighs and held me in place...” Wray said. “The worst thing I got was a little poison ivy on my leg when we were trying to push the boat around. I’ll take that every day.”