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Ball Four

Ball Four, named after the fact that I had four children (including step kids) and we are big baseball fans, has been on Lake Loveland since 1966.  She is a Century Ski Dart ski boat, the prototype of the Ski Nautique and Master Craft flat hull ski boats.  Her 185 hp Ford Intercepter Engine sends her thru the water at about 35 to 38 mph, making her an excellent ski boat.  At 17 ½ ft. long with a wide beam and center engine house, she is a great family boat.

Ball Four

The Century dealer in Denver originally ordered her for their skiing needs. The two brothers were boat racers in the 50s and 60s.  She was delivered to their store new in 1964. She has had only four owners.  One of the brothers was killed in a boat racing accident (not with Ball Four), and Ball Four was sold to Dr. David Sutton about 1966.

Dr. Sutton, who lived on the west side of Lake Loveland, was in his fifties and a world class water skier.  He competed around the west in slalom and ski jumping tournaments, some of which were held on Lake Loveland.  He became a member of the Century 100 Club, having ski jumped over 100 ft. behind a Century.  As a young lad, I would stand on the wooden ski platform and pour buckets of water over the ramp as he would come over the wake at over 30 MPH and make his jumps.  (I never had the courage to try it.)

Ball Four

By the time he bought the Century, Doc Sutton had won numerous records and became a seniors’ champion.  In the summer, every day at noon, he would leave the hospital to hit the lake with his son to practice.  An hour and a half later, he was back in his office treating patients.

Doc told the story of his daughter in her twenties skiing fast on the lake behind her and being hit by a small duck, tragically, killing her instantly. The whole family was well known on the lake as the best skiers, and they maintained the slalom course for everyone.

In 1975, Doc Sutton retired and sold his home on the lake to my best friend for $35,000 which included the boat, water skies and all the lawn furniture.   My friend and I had skied behind that boat and were ready to strip her down and restore her.  She had come from the factory with a nifty turquoise and white paint job.  As we stripped her we found the beautiful mahogany hull and deck and decided to stain her and keep the classic wood look.

My friend forgot to drain the block that winter and let the tarp blow off and really did not give her the attention she deserved.  I approached him in the Spring and said, “Look, I will maintain her, store her, insure the boat and moor it each year in front of your house.”  He ran into the house and came out with the title.  He signed the boat over to me on the spot.   My folks were living in my home so I would moor her each summer as agreed, and our families enjoyed many ski trips around the lake.

One spring, he and I were on the maiden voyage, after hours of sanding and varnishing and painting the bottom.  The boat had Nash low profile carburetors to keep the dog house low.   We were in the north bay, and she stalled out and would not start.  After giving her too much gas and flooding her, we looked back and smoke was coming out of the dog house.  We lifted the engine cover and flames shot up.  We shut her back up and grabbed towels and put them on the engine and closed her up.  Smoke still was coming out so we threw our sweatshirts on the fire.

Ironically, Doc Sutton was playing tennis on a court at a home just a few yards away.  We yelled and waved but to no avail.  My friend said, “I am going to go get help.”  And he dove off the boat, (a smart thing to do) and left me sitting in the back seat with the vision of my daughters flashing in my mind.  “Am I going up in flames to save this damn boat?”  (Oh of course – SURPRISE - I did not have a fire extinguisher on board.)

Ball Four

I was about to give up when I looked across the big portion of the lake and screaming toward me was a bright yellow Tupperware boat.  Our friend John was coming at me at about 30 MPH!  He threw me a fire extinguisher; I pulled the plug, putting the fire out and then collapsed.  By now a fire truck had appeared on 29th Street.  I told John, “Tow me out of here.  I do not want to talk to the Fire Department!”  The next day an article appeared in the paper about a boat on fire that had left the scene.

All of the electrical wires were fried including all of the plastic parts etc.  This all happened in early May so I was so lucky that John was out there and saw me.

John passed away last year, and of course I went to his funeral.  We had often talked about how he saved my life and more importantly, Ball Four.

Over the years I have pretty much replaced and improved every part of the boat except for the side  boards.  She has a new bottom and a new deck.  I added interior mahogany ceiling slats, a new windshield, a lot of chrome and – oh yes - a new engine block.

The block had to be replaced because I relied on my son-in-law to check the oil.  The kids were using the boat a lot, and she never really used oil, until that fateful summer.  She started to clang and then I knew there were issues.  It was late summer and my mechanic said the engine was probably shot but throw “something in the oil” and just run her at low speeds until he could check her out over the winter.

I had been trying to get my best friend and Doc Sutton, who was 85 years old, to come over and take a cruise before he passed on.  We had a great afternoon swapping stories, and hearing about Doc’s great skiing career.

Ball Four

It was our last run and I decided to crank her up for one last time.  Doc was in the back seat, and my friend and I were up front.  I hit the throttle, and she took off great, for about 100 yards.  Then this horrible grinding metal sound came from under the hood, and we stopped dead in the water.

Three of Ball Four’s former owners sat in that boat.  We threw up our hands and said “I hate it when she does this!”  Each of us had been at the helm when Ball Four just decided it was her turn to be in charge.

We laughed for several minutes and then came humbly back to the dock under the tow of a friendly jet ski (not an uncommon sight on Lake Loveland -- with Ball Four.)

Doug Brown found me an Intercepter engine block the same year and size in Seattle.  It was not cheap since the Ford Mustang owners use the same engine in their restorations.
Doug Brown could tell you other crazy stories about trying to keep Ball Four afloat .   I hope he will forget some of them.  Oh,  there was the time I had the trailer rebuilt, and the way the idiot repaired it caused it to punch a hole in the hull on the way to the Grand Lake Show - on Trail Ridge Road.  And the time Sweet LuAnn drove her off the trailer at the east end and by the time I got to the docks, folks were yelling that she was sinking somewhere east of the Yacht Club in the cove.  She got that far before Ball Four filled with water.  Bob Braaf could not believe I did not have a manual bilge pump on board.  Bob did not know me that well.

I had a few martinis that night and almost decided to buy another boat.  A good friend of mine from Lake Loveland had come over to visit us and convinced me that I could not replace Ball Four.  I am so glad that he talked some sense into me.

Despite my abuse of her Ball Four remains one of the fastest and most recognized boats In our club.

Ball Four