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Meet Robert Estrada, who tows and salvages boats
Robert Estrada guides one of the tow boats he uses to help stranded boaters on Lake Lanier. - photo by Tom Reed

Lots of people complain about their office jobs, being stuck inside air-conditioned cubicles instead of being able to enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

But not Robert Estrada.

Estrada, owner of the TowBoat U.S. dock at Lanier Harbor Marina in Buford, spends his days out on the water. But, as the only tow boat service for all of Lake Lanier, he gets calls at night, too, to help tow a boat in distress.

This means if a motor cuts out or a boat runs aground - which happened a lot until recent months - Estrada gets the call. He rescues sunken vessels, too, using air bags to lift them and pumps to drain out the water.

Question: How did you get started in this business?

Answer: I started working for Lanier Harbor in 1993 and I was the general manager then. It was mostly first-time boaters and they would have problems. I started towing the members of the marina and word got out and people started calling me. So, I started thinking of starting a business.

(To become a boat captain) I bought a bunch of books and went to the Coast Guard station in Charleston (S.C.) and took a test.

People think it's a glamorous job - you're out on the water - but it's 24/7. It's not so much fun when you get a call at 2 a.m. It's not as glamorous as it looks.

Q: What kind of calls do you get?

A: Engine failure, hit an object, out of gas.

I had a lot of grounding calls when the lake went down. Now that the lake is back up, it's like a new lake. I've had a couple of groundings (last) weekend. One problem, too, (last) weekend there was no movement at night and it was dark (on the water).

Q: How do you raise a sunken boat out of the water?

A: I use airbags. I dive down and attach air bags to the boat and let them lift the boat, then take the water out of them.

Q: What kind of boats do you have?

A: The brand name's Privateer; a lot of my colleagues use this particular brand. It's low to the water, easy to access other boats with. Plus I bought a used one and made it new with putting the equipment in it. I customized it.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: I love - I also raise boats when they sink. Every salvage is different, and it's almost like a puzzle that you have to put together. There's combinations of things you do to raise a boat. And towing people, too. They're always happy to see you because you're rescuing them.

It's a different way of life - it's outdoors and I've always liked to be outside. It's rewarding.

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