The excitement builds when Jack the Knife takes the stage. His zigzag antics might elicit a smile, but then we remember that we, too, were once beginners. (Tim Bower/)
Bored and looking for a good show? Instead of binge-watching Netflix, take your lawn chair and a cooler to the launch ramp and enjoy the free entertainment. That aphorism is well-worn and mean-spirited, but helpful in that we can learn from the mistakes of others. The show often starts with a relaxing prelude as the majority of trailer boaters launch and load without mishaps or mayhem, all while exercising good launch ramp etiquette. But then the action spikes as one or more boaters come along with eye-popping performances that are anything but routine.
This reality show reaches its crescendo on warm weekends when crowds of fair-weather boaters decide to take out their boats on sunny afternoons. It features a cast of characters that run the gamut from the blameless newbie to the reckless, the ridiculous and the outrageous.
Many experienced trailer boaters try to avoid launching their boats at busy times, and often instead grab a rampside seat themselves to watch the lake show. So, without further ado, we introduce the key characters in this comedy of errors known as the Launch Ramp Follies.
Jack the Knife
As the scene opens, Jack pulls his rig adroitly to the top of the ramp and shifts into reverse to back the trailer into the water. But things go terribly wrong. The trailer yaws wildly from side to side. Jack hangs out the window, looking backward while desperately spinning the wheel one way and then the other in a futile struggle to correct his zigzag decent.
Trailer boats in adjacent lanes look on in fright, and some take flight as Jack’s trailer threatens to collide first with one rig and then another. In the grand finale, the truck and trailer jackknife at a shocking angle that leaves the audience on the edge of their lawn chairs.
But like all good comedies, this one has a happy ending. A friendly onlooker who is also a veteran trailer boater offers to lend a hand. He coaches on the proper technique for backing down a trailer. Jack’s subsequent success earns him a round of hardy applause from the ramp gallery. “Outrageous!” “Unreal!” “A laugh riot!” “You’ve got to see this one!” The reviews are in, and trailer boaters are going nuts after seeing the surprise performance of these crazy campers. (Tim Bower/)
You won’t see this act every weekend, but when it occurs, it is a show to behold. It opens with a family arriving at the ramp parking lot in their car, but no boat. They unload paraphernalia better suited to the beach than to boating, and set up camp at the water’s edge—on the ramp. Puzzled onlookers raise eyebrows amid a collective “huh?”
Undeterred, the campers wade into the water to cool off while trucks and trailers roll in and out, some whizzing close by. The show is usually a short one as the authorities soon notice the odd beach scene, close in, and instruct them to pack up and move, suggesting that next time they choose a designated bathing beach instead of a busy launch ramp. Fade to black.The Power Player uses too much throttle at the ramp. (Courtesy West Marine/)
The Power Player loves to steal the limelight with the heavy use of the throttle, be it flying over the waves or putting the boat on the trailer. And what a show he puts on at the launch ramp, powering onto the trailer and applying an extra burst of thrust at the last minute to reach the bow stop with an impressive thud. Capt. O’Pendrane has to rush to put the drain plug in. (Courtesy West Marine/)
This classic is worth watching again and again. It starts on a high note with the title character, Capt. O’Pendrane, launching the boat for a fun day on the lake. But the mood suddenly turns somber when the captain notices the boat sitting a tad stern-heavy after he returns from parking the truck and trailer.
Then it dawns on him. “S—, I forgot the drain plug!” Now the action accelerates in a race against time. As water pours into the boat’s bilge, Capt. O’Pendrane sprints back to the truck and trailer, and fumbles with the keys to get his truck started. He rockets back to the ramp, gets the trailer in the water, and jumps in the boat. Will he pull off a miracle? Will Capt. O’Pendrane get the boat on the trailer in time and save the day? Tune in to find out. The action never stops as the Ramp Mechanic begins his special act. Nothing will deter him from occupying the ramp as tools clank and expletives fly. This performance has earned an R rating. (Tim Bower/)
He’s got the tools, and he’s not afraid to use them, even while blocking a launch lane. He is the Ramp Mechanic. You will know him by the trademarks: engine cover off, clanking wrenches, a whiff of ether, and the intermittent whir of the starter as he belches expletives like smoke from an old two-stroke.
You can catch this performance nearly every summer weekend, center stage on the ramp, and hardly ever at lesser venues such as the parking lot, where the audiences are much smaller and, heaven forbid, the Ramp Mechanic could actually work at his craft without getting in the way of others.
Each episode of the Ramp Mechanic is a suspense thriller. You never know if he’s going to win or not. The Late Loaders slow everyone down with their refusal to make pre-launch preparations. (Courtesy West Marine/)
This is an enduring series you can watch almost every summer weekend. The Late Loaders zoom past the make-ready area and head directly to a ramp lane where they park their rig, blocking access and spending an inordinate amount of time loading up…everything—boat coolers, fishing gear, water toys, beach towels, beanbags, dive equipment, sunscreen, snacks, and anything they might conceivably need in the next three months.
All the while, others who have already prepped their boats to launch stew as they wait for the Late Loaders to clear out. It’s enough to trigger a verbal altercation, and it sometimes does, which gives the episode a nice arc. And if you miss the action, tune in a few hours later when they return and block the ramp again in their sequel: the Clueless. The Submariner thrills audiences with his daring and determination to completely submerge his trailer, and most of his tow vehicle as well. (Tim Bower/)
Who doesn’t love a good submarine plot? Crimson Tide, Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October, U-571—boaters love them all. Here’s one you can find at the launch ramp, except this captain isn’t commanding a sub, but his SUV instead.
Deeper is better for the Submariner, so he backs the trailer down as far as possible every time; so far, in fact, that the SUV itself becomes half-submerged as well. The drowned tailpipe gurgles as he happily opens the driver door and steps out into water so deep, lapping wavelets soak his vehicle’s carpet.
After launching his boat, the Submariner’s tow vehicle emerges from the depths, ascending the ramp in a wave of white water as our leading man basks in the glory of another mission accomplished. Get ready for high drama as Old Yeller barks commands at the top of his lungs, setting off a must-see spousal confrontation. (Tim Bower/)
Who hasn’t cried at the end of Old Yeller? In the Launch Ramp Follies version, there might be some crying too, but for a different reason. In this case, Old Yeller is the skipper who feels the best way to get his point across is to scream and holler at the spouse as loudly as possible.
As the scene opens, the spouse, with little experience backing a trailer, is at the wheel of the tow vehicle. Old Yeller is in the boat, ready to power it off of the trailer. But they’re having trouble backing down to the water. And that’s when the yelling starts.
“Left! No! Now right! Straighten up! Stop! You’re doing it all wrong!” You get it.
Before long, the tears start to flow, usually just before the door of the tow vehicle flies open, and the spouse jumps out and then does some yelling too. “If you know so much, you back it down! I’m outta here!” Exit stage right.
These represent just a few of characters and performances you’ll see at the Launch Ramp Follies. There are many more. For example, there’s Skip Alyne, whose impatience to get in the water quickly leads him to cut in front of other boaters who have been waiting to launch. His daredevil maneuvers will amaze you.
It’s hard to miss Wilt the Tilt. His performance starts off loud as he seems to always forget to trim down his outdrive before starting the engine to pull the boat off of the trailer. The pop, pop, pop of unmuffled exhaust is sure to set you back in your lawn chair as you wonder just how long his water pump will last.
Finally, there’s the Paddle Party, a group of performance artists whose most common work consists of seeing how many kayaks they can park at the water’s edge of the launch ramp while other boaters wait offstage for their time to perform in the Launch Ramp Follies.