The Unqualified Captain

There but for the grace of God...

Backing a trailer down the ramp
Learning from others can make us all better boaters. Tim Bower

I suppose it’s human nature to be entertained by the ineptitude of others. The folks over at the Qualified Captain, for example, state that its popular Instagram page is intended to elicit chuckles by broadcasting bad choices made by clueless captains. This summer, bartender Wally figured out how to link his cellphone to the Lake View Inn’s big screen so that we could watch the Qualified Captain’s clips together, if not for entertainment, then for educational purposes. One day, one of us might want to run a pontoon out of Jupiter Inlet, for example.

There is the old notion about the fun of spending a Saturday afternoon at any launch ramp simply to watch tempers flare and relationships dissolve. But who wants to spend an entire afternoon sitting on a picnic table at the ramp? None of us can drink that much beer anymore. So, we thought it was brilliant when Wally had a camera mounted to the eaves of the Lake View, aimed at the adjacent ramp. The ramp cam has been a big hit, with downloaded clips of boats floating off trailers and into the bay, tires shedding water like a wet dog on the slick ramp, and dads yelling at pissed-off wives and crying children. The highlight so far has been the scene of a tow truck winching a water-filled SUV back to dry land—yes, this really does happen.

Hubris is a bitch, of course, and I should have figured she’d come looking for my good friend Chuck Larson. Instead of erupting in mocking laughter at the ineptitude of others, Chuck should have been taking notes because this particular ramp is a challenge. There is one lane, and traffic approaches at 90 degrees to the ramp, with the water to the right. To launch requires backing the trailer 90 degrees to your blind side onto a ramp not much wider than a standard garage door. The ace at this maneuver is my high-school friend Shelly Nickels, a farm girl who bragged in drivers ed that she could back two hay wagons into the barn. If you’ve never backed one hay wagon…well, it’s hard.

Last Saturday, Chuck arrived at the ramp towing his brother-in-law’s new Four Winns with two families packed into the SUV. Once coolers, tubes, gear, children and two wives were unloaded on the dock, Chuck said, “I got this,” and jumped into the driver’s seat. The ramp cam was rolling, and Chuck did not nail it. After the sixth attempt, restless little boys began pushing each other and female hands moved to hips—never a good sign. On the seventh try, there was a loud chorus of “whoa, whoa, whoa” and hand-waving when a flustered Chuck was about to put the portside trailer wheel onto the dock.

Suddenly, Shelly strode into the camera frame. She spoke through the driver’s window and then opened the door for Chuck, who stepped onto the asphalt and took a walk of shame to the dock.

Shelly later explained she was not out to humiliate Chuck by backing that boat down in one move. She was next in line and just wanted to get on the water. Wally, of course, was perfectly willing to chasten Chuck by playing the episode over and over to the packed bar that evening. Fortunately for Chuck, the Lake View does not have an Instagram account.

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