As I prepare to store my boat for the year, it occurs to me that I’ve never once backed down a boat ramp and let the whole rig – boat, trailer and pickup – roll into the river.
Why is that, do you suppose? I’m the kind of guy who would do it. I get anxious at the dock. I always have. I try not to get in the way of anyone else trying to launch or trailer a boat. I hurry, I worry. My anxiety level was sky-high in the early days of salmon fishing on Lake Oahe when shouting and a few actual fistfights punctuated the launching and trailering. But even on quiet days, I’m anxious. You’d think at least once I’d have forgotten to shift into park and set the brake.
Some people have, you know. They’ve backed down the ramp, hopped out to unhook the safety chain and watched as the trailer and tow vehicle rolled on down into the water. It doesn’t happen often. When it does, it draws attention. Boy, would I hate that kind of attention.
I’ve noticed that boat mishaps in general draw attention. That’s one reason that I breathe a sigh of relief each fall when I’ve winterized my boat and backed it carefully into the shed where it will sit until the next May. With the old Larson boat safely stored away, I know I won’t become the subject of one of those mishap stories folks talk about at the bait shops and boat shows.
I confess I’ve swapped my share of such stories. One of my favorites happened up on Lake Oahe when a fishing boat broke in half as the owner neared the West Shore ramp during a windstorm. It was during a summer when the walleye were jumping into the boats on the big lake. The guy, a pretty good angler, had a good-sized aluminum boat. The wind hit with little warning, as winds sometimes do on Oahe. The guy cranked it up and ran for shore. The way he told it, about 100 yards from the ramp, the seams started breaking open. Before he could so much as throttle down, the boat began taking on water. He made it out safely, but he ruined a good motor and a mess of fishing equipment.
Gov. Dick Kneip told a story about being flipped off the front of a boat when it hit a sandbar up near the mouth of the Cheyenne River. A group of boats were motoring up the Missouri toward North Dakota for some reason. Maybe a two-state flotilla, although last time I was near Fort Yates, the river was a swamp of cattails. In any event, Kneip said he was in the bow enjoying the ride when a sandbar intervened. He said he went over the front and came to rest on the sand, knee-deep in water, surprised but unharmed. Kneip was a storyteller, and that one sure sounded real.
I don’t remember Gov. Bill Janklow rolling a trailer into the river, but he left a boat halfway into a city intersection once. Not a boat and trailer, just a boat. He had a long, sleek ski boat then, with the biggest outboard engine I’d seen to that time. Apparently, he forgot to hook the trailer’s safety chain to the underside of the bow. When he pulled away from the stop sign at the intersection by the mansion, physics — a body at rest, you know? — took over. The pickup and trailer scooted across the street. The boat rolled off and plopped onto the street. Our daughter, home for lunch, snapped a picture. Somewhere in an old photo album in the garage, I’m sure we still have the photo.
Before he became governor, Mike Rounds and his family did a lot of camping and boating on Lake Oahe. The first time he ran for governor, I traveled with him one September day for a campaign story. As we crossed the river leaving Pierre, he remarked that he hadn’t had time to get his boat out all summer. I’ve heard sad boat stories. That one is right up there.