Join former AWSA Executive Director Bruce Kistler as he recounts incidents from the Golden Age of water skiing. Interesting people—legends, characters and unsung heros. Curious places and events. Moments of discovery and wonder. Accidents, mishaps and miscues. Glimpses from inside the organization. Personal stories from a lifetime on skis.
Episode 6 The Hydrodyne
I have to give Big Al a lot of credit. When we got into tournament skiing, he decided it was time for a real ski boat.
I can’t recall how we found Jimmy Mandolos’ Hydrodyne. In those days there was no Internet and no Ski It Again. I must have seen a classified ad in The Water Skier. Jimmy, one of the mainstays of The Reading Water Skiers, was a live wire, an animated bundle of energy who talked non-stop.
Jimmy’s sleek, 20’ Hydrodyne had red-and-green stripes running down the instrument hump. Years later, Ab Crosby, Jr. told me that it was the only outboard Hydrodyne ever made that didn’t have diagonal deck stripes. The boat was being sold without engines. Jimmy had used twin 65 hp Mercs, but Albert planned to use a single 100 horse Merc which was taller, requiring him to modify the 4-point ski hitch.
The boat was being sold without a trailer and, as I wondered how we were going to transfer it to Big Al’s trailer, Jimmy came around the corner driving his sign company’s cherry picker truck. Jimmy passed nylon cargo straps under the boat, attached them to the boom of the cherry picker and swung the boat over to Al’s trailer in just a few minutes.
The following Friday night, with me and brother Doug in the car, Albert trailered his new boat sixty miles from his home in suburban Philadelphia to Broad Creek in Maryland. We almost made it the whole way—almost.
Albert’s trailer was an old home-made affair, the tongue of which consisted of a four-inch diameter iron pipe. It was never designed to haul a boat as heavy as the Hydrodyne. The rural county road leading to Big Al’s cabin was what we called a dipsy-doodle—a real roller coaster. Looking out the back of the station wagon, I watched the boat come up over the first hump and down into a deep trough. When the trailer reached the bottom of the dip, the tongue snapped and the car pulled the tongue completely out from under the boat. The boat, still strapped to the trailer wheels, slid down the road on its bow like a loose donkey cart. The Hydrodyne veered to the left, then to the right. When it came back to the left, it went off the pavement and rode up an embankment and nearly overturned. Somehow the boat stayed upright, teetering at a precarious angle.
The accident was a testament to how well Hydrodynes were made. That wild ride resulted in nothing more than a 3-inch patch of scratched gel coat. No repairs were necessary.
What to do? While I stayed with the marooned boat, Albert drove to Glen Cove Marina where we had planned to rig and launch it. He was back in half an hour, followed by the mechanic driving the marina’s tractor. The mechanic lashed the bow of the boat to the tractor and slowly towed the forlorn half-trailer half-vessel to Glen Cove. He stayed well past quitting time, helping us mount the motor and connecting all the controls. Brummmm-mm-mm!
Although well after dark by this time, Doug and I took the Hydrodyne up river to Broad Creek while Big Al drove the car. Fortunately, there was plenty of ambient light and it was safe running. When I got out of the cove and hit the throttle for the first time, I thought I’d gone to heaven. What a smooth, powerful boat. Look at those wonderful wakes glistening in the moonlight.
Unfortunately, Big Al’s trailer woes weren’t over. Al bought a nice used trailer at a boat dealer near his home. Once again, I was looking out the back of the station wagon when the mishap occurred. Making a left-hand turn onto a crowded four-lane highway, Albert pulled across two lanes of oncoming traffic. The car made it with room to spare, but the ass-end of the trailer lagged behind. A passing car clobbered the trailer and bent it into an L shape. Albert had owned it for less than ten minutes. It took a few weeks at a welding shop to straighten and reinforce the hapless trailer.
A few years later, we were returning from a practice set one night when the trailer had a flat. We had a spare tire, but until that moment we never stopped to consider that our tall ratchet-style automobile jack wouldn’t fit under the boat. I unhitched the trailer and, placing the car jack farther forward, used cargo boxes as a fulcrum to cantilever the trailer wheel off the ground. Just as I retightening the lugs on the new wheel, Big Al had some sort of breathing fit. He honked and wheezed and gasped for air. I thought he was going to die on the spot. No cell phones, no passing vehicles to flag down. All I could do was finish changing the tire as fast as I could and hope that he didn’t collapse on the street. Fortunately, by the time I let the trailer down, he was breathing normally. He had never had an episode like that until that moment. Great timing.