Here they come, a parade of the biggest boats that cruise the St. Croix River, leaving the water one by one at marinas north and south in Washington County. It's a ritual of fall on the St. Croix, when workers lift yachts and cabin cruisers onto land with cranes that look like spiders and wheel them into winter storage. At Bayport Marina last week, workers began the seasonal "haulout" by lifting about eight to 10 boats a day.

"They make it look easy, but it takes a lot of care and knowledge so you don't damage the boat," said Cliff Lewis, the marina manager. "When you're working on somebody's million-dollar boat, you better know what you're doing."

Through October, Bayport Marina will pull about 200 boats up to 70 feet long. Most of them then will be enveloped in blue plastic shrink wrap, standard today. "They stay covered until the day they go into the water," Lewis said. "It shrinks down so tight it's like a glove on there. The wind and rain flies right off." Boat owners pay about $20 a foot for the shrink wrap, which protects their investments until a new season on the water. "As soon as the ice is off the pond, they want to go," Lewis said.

Kevin Giles