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June 3, 2012
Read more Mike Robinson
VANCOUVER, BC, Jun 3, 2012/ Troy Media/ – You can learn a great deal about a person, a marriage, and your sense of humour at boat launch ramps. On the BC coast they are the inclined roadways that enable boat owners to back their trailer-borne craft down to tidewater, and in the reverse process, return their boat to its trailer home at the end of the day. It all sounds very simple.
The difficulty starts with the realization that backing up a truck-boat-trailer combo is much more difficult than simply going forward. Backing up involves a push motion; going forward just a pull.
Learn your ramp etiquette
Added to the push is the ramp angle. As you begin your push, especially at low tide, the angle of decline on most boat ramps is pronounced. If you don’t lower your tailgate (assuming a pick- up truck), and open your rear cab window, chances are you won’t see your boat as you back up, and you won’t hear the essential instructions being shouted by your wife. Or son. Or fishing buddy. Or audience. Blind to the trailer and deaf to the world is not good ramp etiquette.
Most important, given that you can actually see your boat and hear the free advice, is realizing that, on the ramp, everything goes in the opposite direction to logic. To make the trailer go left, you turn the steering wheel to the right. And the turn must be nuanced, not aggressive or compulsive. A little torque goes a long way. The whole process is counter-intuitive. There is also a good argument that the more you think about it, the harder it gets.
Think back to your first efforts at mastering a two-wheeler. Remember what looked so easy, was so hard? Same thing on the boat ramp. Trying too hard makes a simple task difficult. Too much turn will cause the trailer to ‘gooseneck’ on its hitch. A bad gooseneck, done at speed, will bend the trailer frame. Pulling will never be quite the same with a bent trailer stem. I know from experience because I’ve done it.
All of the above is hard-won knowledge. Learned by doing. Another problem is that learning is usually accomplished at the ramp, in full view of those who have already mastered the technique. At the ramp there will also be many who have the desire to teach, but no real training in pedagogy. In its place they rely on colourful language, loud tone, and brutal statements of the obvious.
‘Back up straight.’
‘You’re going crooked as a dog’s hind leg . . .’
You’re going too far back . . .’
I’ve never liked public humiliation. And it is especially hard to be humiliated in front of the aficionados – the ramp masters. Generally, they have just launched in front of you. You’ve already seen them smoothly reverse from the upper ramp, straight down the centre line to the water’s edge, where, with a slight tap of the brakes, their boat effortlessly slipped off the trailer and into the chuck. Better still, the ramp master’s accomplice is already aboard, and once afloat, effortlessly starts the motor, and now waits in neutral, just offshore for the rest of the party to climb aboard.
These boys make it look effortless because they’ve been fishing together for 20 years, and they work together hand-in-glove, or more properly, boat-in-water. When following a master team, you benefit by their example, because they make it look so easy. But when you try to repeat their actions, you realize it really is more difficult than they made it look. And while you are attempting, they are probably watching. Their scrutiny can be silent or verbal; your humiliation will be obvious.
‘What part of Alberta are you from?’
Scrutiny also applies to hauling the empty trailer back up the ramp to the parking lot. I have been assured by a life-long friend that everything was hitched-up, and booted it up the ramp, only to see my trailer in the rear view mirror bouncing empty behind me into the water and eventually out of sight. Luckily, no one was killed. My pal stood motionless off to the ramp’s side while this happened to hoots of crowd-pleasing laughter. As I backed my truck down to the water’s edge again, someone called out, ‘What part of Alberta are you from?’ I had red and white Alberta plates. What a give-away.
Eventually you do get some basic skills down. Then it is time to share them with others. Last summer I started briefing two new apprentices: my wife and my son’s girlfriend. Both Albertans. We started by having them pull the truck and trailer up the ramp after my son and I had launched the boat. We were idling the motor in the bay, as our Ford F-150 rolled up to the parking area. It was a clean exit, but then came the truck-trailer reverse into the parking area.
The truck veered right; the trailer veered left. The rig pulled forward and straightened out. The reversing was repeated, goosenecking the trailer frame almost into the truck’s rear bumper. The rig went ahead. Polite calls rang from woman to woman. Laughter broke out between them. Finally Freddy, the boat yard and ramp owner, went slowly over to the pick-up cab where the driver was convulsed with laughter. We saw Fred drop the tailgate and slide into the driver’s seat. In one fluid motion he slotted the trailer and truck perfectly between two other rigs. Mission accomplished.
Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in BC. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO. Now back In Vancouver, he is still a cultural CEO, but also has business interests in a resource company and mutual funds.
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