For Mike Burt, it’s fall haul-out time, when boats ‘float’ on the streets of Port Washington
Most calendars divide the year into four seasons, but for Mike Burt and the rest of the crew of drivers at Great Lakes Boat Transport there are essentially two seasons worth noting — the spring launch and the fall haulout.
Boats start heading into the water in the Port Washington marina every April, and have to be pulled out by Nov. 1. In more cases than not, a Great Lakes truck is involved in both maneuvers.
It is a recurring cycle that has governed Burt’s life since he was little.
His father Jim, who at one time was an avid sailor, started Great Lakes Marine Services in Grafton in 1980, and is still active with the business. The company and its transport branch are now based on Highway KW in the Town of Port Washington.
“I’ve been helping move boats around since I was 12 years old and began hauling boat trailers on the road when I turned 18,” the younger Burt said.
“When I was 21 years and 2 weeks old, I made my first out-of-state haul, taking a boat to Florida. It was February, and I brought a friend with me and we spent a long weekend in Florida before heading back.”
Burt, 39, is the company’s transport manager, keeping track of its fleet of seven semis, four Brownell hydraulic trailers and two 62-foot Waltron highway trailers. Great Lakes maintains three 20,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled storage buildings, with room to add several more structures as demand grows.
Boats are staged in the buildings based on when the owners intend to launch next spring.
Business is prospering, and although he loves being out on the water, Burt says he is happiest when he is behind the wheel hauling boats around.
It is a talent he has developed with years of experience, and a skill that is highly valued by owners of valuable boats that can be worth more than $1 million and measure 16 feet or wider.
“I can honestly say I’ve never dinged a boat in traffic,” Burt said. “The only time I had a problem was when there was a new guy flagging me in. I can usually back up the trailer within an inch of where I want to go. I just have a feeling of where the trailer is going.”
Great Lakes moves most of the boats that come and go from the Port Washington harbor.
Even with that high volume of traffic, Burt said several boats he has moved stick out in his mind.
As far as visibility goes, Burt said the most notable — and largest — delivery he made was the 86-foot sailboat Ocean, which he navigated through the streets of Chicago to a boat show at famed Navy Pier.
“I went right down Lake Shore Drive. Coming down to the city, I was able to keep out of trouble by going 60 mph and just keeping up with traffic,” Burt said, noting the $3.5 million carbon fiber sailboat was the largest ever shown at an indoor boat show.
He has also had his brushes with boating history, including having a role in the delivery of the wooden cruiser Maid of Honour, which formerly served in the Royal Navy.
The boat was used to transport British admirals from ship to ship during World War II, and was hidden in a cave in Malta to be protected from Luftwaffe bombing raids. Italian leaders signed terms of surrender to Allied forces aboard the boat’s deck.
After the war, the boat came to the United States to escort the British entry in the 1958 America’s Cup, and was later acquired by the du Pont family.
Burt became involved in the craft’s colorful history when he was hired to haul it over land from Milwaukee to Baltimore. From there, the boat was shipped to a collector in Istanbul, Turkey.
Being so intimately involved with boats since he was young, Burt has naturally served on the crew of his share of boats on Lake Michigan and the Atlantic Ocean.
Does he have a favorite place to sail?
“I will take Lake Michigan over the ocean every time. It is cleaner, the weather is more predictable and there are no sharks,” Burt said.
Working closely with boaters, he has “flipped” a number of boats — buying them from owners who no longer wanted them, fixing them up and then selling them.
Burt said he still has a half-dozen pleasure boats, but characterized them as “little ones.”
Over the years, his job has required making on-water deliveries of boats, but he said he prefers hauling a safely secured vessel behind a semi when transporting them from Point A to Point B.
“You do have to know the regulations that change from state to state, and the restrictions on the times you can be pulling an oversized load,” Burt said.
Laws can vary greatly, such as some states requiring red warning flags on trailers and other states insisting on yellow flags.
“I would say we get stopped at least once on every trip by the state patrol, checking our permits, loads and driver’s logs to make sure we aren’t on the road for too many hours,” Burt said.
“It would be impossible to keep up with all of the changing laws, but we have friends who are truckers and we share information on the latest laws.”
Just as Burt made road trips with his dad delivering boats when he was young, he said his son Hayden, 11, occasionally rides along with him.
Hayden has told his friends that when he grows up he wants “to do what my dad does,” which would make him the third generation of Burts in the boat-hauling business.
Image Information: FALL IS A BUSY time for Mike Burt and the rest of the crew at Great Lakes Boat Transport, as boat owners hustle to have their crafts pulled from the Port Washington marina before the Nov. 1 deadline. Photo by Sam Arendt