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Less IS More!

It was many years ago, and my brother and I were perhaps 11 and 13. We summered at a small, rustic resort in the Sierra Nevada, where we wasted days sailing and paddling our dinghy around, chasing fish and hiking.

Like many of these lakes, the boat ramp was an optimistic invention, more an idea than an accomplishment. It was just a narrow section of lakeshore, cleared of larger rocks and deadfall and graded at a very steep angle, the better to keep the ramp short and the effort of keeping it open to a minimum. Cabled together and dropped on top was a string of those perforated steel plates that the Seabees used in World War II for everything from bridge decks to runways to boat ramps.

The ramp was just outside a small mountain store, where the owner could keep an eye on it and make sure that everyone launching a boat paid the $2 fee. It was our practice to lounge on the store's porch slurping up Popsicles most afternoons between laps around the lake. Thus, we had front row seats for what was about to occur.

As we took our leisure, a gentleman braked to a stop in front of the store, entered to pay his fee and quickly exited. It was Friday afternoon and he was clearly in a hurry to begin his fun. Behind his car was a low-slung, glittering speedboat. It was around 1970, and this boat was nearly new. Just inside the transom was a hulking, big block chunk of Detroit muscle, topped with chrome velocity stacks and headers that guaranteed a bone-grinding racket.

The man swung his car around and lined it up with the ramp, pulled the anchor straps off his car, unhooked the winch cable and returned to his car. He threw it into reverse and nearly flew down the ramp, probably with the thought of "launching" his boat off the trailer, where he could wade out and tie it off to the nearby dock.

It takes longer to describe what happened next than it did to witness it.

As the boat and trailer shot down the steep ramp, the transom met the water. The combination of the incline and the massive engine did not allow the aft end of this garish boy toy sufficient buoyancy for the task. A wall of water cascaded over the transom, the boat's owner braked suddenly and the laws of physics took care of the rest.

Untethered and with the inertia of his ill-considered plunge down the ramp, the man's boat slid neatly off the end of its trailer and settled beneath a few feet of water, where it marinated in the middle of a growing slick of gas and oil.

The boat was a goner, and it met its end in the most public place available. A tow truck was needed to exhume its corpse, and one was not available at this remote lake until the next day. A growing line of boaters loitered, fuming, as their turn at the ramp would have to wait for the tow operator. They had ample opportunity to discuss the foolishness of the man who beat them to the ramp, but who would never again beat them to the lake.

When man with the tow truck finally did arrive, he waded in, affixed a chain to the boat, returned to his truck and just yanked it out of the water and out of the way. No rollers, no attempt to minimize damage, no screwing around. The bolts-in-a-blender sound of fresh fiberglass grinding across gravel and steel remains vivid more than 30 years later. The boat's owner stood by, mute and impotent. Too shocked to try to stop the carnage, I believe he shed a tear.

We enjoyed a peaceful respite boat wakes and the din of speedboats in the hours before the ramp was cleared. Our boat required neither ramp nor trailer. When we were done, we just dropped it onto a rack on the roof of Dad's Mercury and we were off to explore another piece of water. We learned a lesson I've had to re-learn many times since when lust for a new boat overcomes my sense of reason.

With things that float, usually less really is more.

Submitted by Mark Paxton

For more great stories: See the Archive!

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