A few decades ago, my wife and I forsook the charms of New York City and its environs and, after buying a moldering old fish camp in North Florida sight unseen, embarked upon a five-year home-improvement extravaganza. Ultimately, thanks to lots of hard work and many adventures, we turned the place into a gorgeous riverside jewel, complete with dock, boathouse, boat (or rather boats) and, within a stone’s throw of our wraparound deck, a boat ramp that often proved entertaining, especially on weekends.
One Sunday morning, for example, I watched what seemed like a father and two daughters take several stabs at getting their bowrider onto its trailer, each attempt more squintingly awful than the last. Eventually, however, the trio did achieve success of a sort, but only after the entire family—Mom was at the wheel of a big Dodge pickup—had participated in one of the strangest trailer-boat retrievals ever to grace the backwoods of Florida, complete with tears, challenging remonstrances and fatherly howls worthy of Sergeant Sapp, my old Fort Dix drill instructor. The whole affair was brought to a close by one of the daughters who—in complete frustration—simply threw the bowrider’s anchor at the trailer and hit her mark with a resounding CLANG, a development that inspired Mom to jump out of the truck and bring the bacon haphazardly home via a stout heart and the hand-crank on the trailer winch.
An even wilder happening happened that same year. Because the concrete apron of the boat ramp was subject to both river-related and tidal currents, it tended to be slime-covered most of the time and therefore slippery. And late one afternoon, as I was returning my Steiger Craft to the boathouse, I caught sight of a truck attached to a boat and trailer in millstone-fashion, sliding into dire circumstances on the ramp. Whether the driver was in retrieval or launch mode was immaterial. Every time he tried to extricate his rig by roaring forward, he’d slip further back. The truck was already almost half-submerged!
“Stop,” I yelled from the boathouse. “Stop!”
Luckily, everything turned out okay. The guy ceased his dicey machinations and nervously waited while I employed a stout chain and my own truck to save him from the sporty downstream current. And I wound up feeling rather good about myself afterwards, too. I’d pulled a guy out of a bad spot, at least in part because I’d been in a few bad spots myself over the years.
Remembrances can, of course, lead to reflection. And recently, I’ve been thinking about how all the fun I used to have living next to a boat ramp might relate to what seems to be a phenomenon these days: the popularity of shooting smartphone videos of marinized snafus and catastrophes and then posting them on social media. Certainly, the compulsion to watch in twisted fascination as mishaps, misfortunes and calamities unfold is understandable—I’d even go so far as to say it’s only human. But on the other hand, I’ve gotta wonder about the advisability of recording the misadventures of others and then exposing them to the world, particularly in light of something an old boathandling mentor of mine told me years ago.
The two of us were seated side-by-side at the control station of a 200-foot offshore supply vessel at the time, watching some poor devil, at the helm of a similar boat, scrape the livin’ daylights out of a disreputable-looking seawall. I was just cranking up a disparaging review of the other skipper’s performance when BAM!, my benefactor cut me off.
“Watch out, Pike,” he growled. “The boathandlin’ fairy loves you superior types. You get to feeling all high-and-mighty about somebody else’s screw-ups and, sure as hell, the ol’ girl’s gonna bop you on the head with one of your very own. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, my boy. What goes around, comes around. Especially where boats are concerned.”