In the early days of water skiing my good and old friend, Don George, and I were water skiing on the Colorado River. We had no observer as this was not yet a requirement.
I was driving the boat and Don was skiing. We were using a rope yoke to attach the ski rope to the boat. The rope yoke was attached to two handles about four feet apart on the transom of the boat. The yoke was rigged in such a manner that the two sides of the yoke came together about two feet behind the boat. At this point the ski rope was tied solid to the yoke.
We thought that this was a good way to rig the ski rope so that the pull would be from the center of the boat instead of from one side as it would have been if the rope had been tied to one of the two handles on each side of the transom. (For the land lubbers who read this, the transom is the flat back end of a boat and it is the member on which the outboard motor is mounted).
This center pull idea was OK as long as the boat was pulling the skier straight ahead but when the skier swung out to one side, as skiers love to do, the pull would shift so that the side of the yoke nearest the skier would go slack and all of the pull would go to the side of the yoke farthest from the skier. We had noticed this but thought: “so what does it matter?” Well, we found out.
Don decided to take a big swing out to the right. He swung out so far that he almost came up even with the boat. This is a fun trick to do. When the skier catches up with the boat, the ski rope goes slack and there is no more forward pull. The skier begins to sink into the water.
If the maneuver is done right, just at the time when the skier is down to his hips in the water, the rope goes tight again and pulls the skier back up out of the water. This maneuver, at the time the rope tightens, puts a lot of pull on the boat and drags the rear end of the boat around and changes the direction that the boat is traveling.
In our case, with the yoke rigged as it was, the rigging member on Don’s side of the boat had gone slack and all of the pull was on the far side of the boat. This pull lifted the left side of the boat until it was clear up and the boat was on its right side in the water and my right shoulder on the right (driver’s) side was almost in the water. I thought “this boat is turning over and I don’t want to be under it.” So, I rolled out into the water.
With my weight out of the boat, it righted itself and went back down on its bottom where it belonged. Every thing was fine except the throttle was full open, it was pulling a skier and it had no driver. Don, noting all of this, sat down in the water but continued to hold the rope. This slowed the boat some and when the boat had pulled him up to me I grabbed the rope too.
An aside: It’s always nice to have a good friend along in a situation like this.
We had a conference and talked it over. There was no way that we could get back into the boat and nothing we could do from back here, so we let go of the rope. The boat went straight ahead for a while and then the engine cramped over to the left and the boat started spinning circles.
It’s fortunate that the boat went straight far enough so that when it started circling it didn’t come back and run over us.
Just about then a couple of guys in a little aluminum boat came along. They didn’t bother about us, but followed our boat until it worked its way across the river, which was wide at this point, and ran up on the sand. They beached their boat and went up and turned the ignition off in our boat so that the water pump would not be pumping sandy water. Then they came back and got us.
We dragged our boat into the water and continued to ski being careful not to put too much side pull on the rope.
I replaced the improvised yoke with a stainless steel half circle that the rope attached to with a pulley. With this attachment the rope could never pull from the far side of the boat and the boat would probably stay on its bottom.