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Sunday on the Boat Ramp

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

Summer in Stockton California is hot. It also has some of the best waterskiing in the world with over a thousand miles of inland sloughs and waterways that flow into both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. I spent the a couple of summers there in the late 1960’s and skied almost every day. On any day the water was smooth as glass and the air temperature around 100°.

Our favorite boat launching facility was Ladds Marina on Stockton’s deep water channel where ocean going ships loaded and unloaded cargo. The facility had a launching ramp surrounded by a large sloping grassy area where on any Sunday afternoon after skiing we would pull the boat out of the water then sit on the grassy knoll and watch the circus and chaos as drunken boaters sometimes had rather amazing experiences on the boat ramp. I happened to witness such an event…

On any Sunday afternoon, it was always a three-ringed circus and we enjoyed sitting on the grassy knoll overlooking the Ladd’s Marina boat ramp where drunken boaters who had spent the day fishing or water skiing in the scorching sun would be pulling their boats out of the water. The chaotic scene always resembled a cross between divorce court and a bases-emptying brawl after a pitcher had intentionally hit a batter at a San Francisco Giants’ baseball game. The screaming was intense and invariably a scene devolved into a fist fight as the current in the channel combined with the prevailing westerly afternoon winds blowing in from the Bay to make launching or pulling a boat out of the water a challenge even for the most experienced boater, not to mention those who were so drunk they could hardly stand or focus on the situation ahead.

The chaotic scene always resembled a cross between divorce court and a bases-emptying brawl after a pitcher had intentionally hit a batter at a San Francisco Giants’ baseball game

One of many such Laurel and Hardy-style launching incidents we watched unfold before our eyes one Sunday afternoon was highlighted by two falling-down drunken, would-be skiers who arrived at the ramp at 4 pm. One of them was in the truck which was backed down the ramp and the other was in the boat resting on the trailer behind the truck. As the boat floated off the trailer it quickly began to sink as they had, in their stupor, obviously forgotten to put in the boat’s drain plug, located at the rear of the ski craft.

Before either of them knew what was happening, the boat disappeared beneath the surface and came to rest in six feet of water at the base of the loading ramp. At the same time the thoroughly inebriated driver of the truck panicked. Forgetting to put the vehicle’s shift lever back into the ‘drive’ position from ‘reverse’, he gunned the truck’s accelerator, backing it into the water with a burst of speed and before he knew what was happening the submerged trailer rammed into the sunken boat, holing its bow and pushing it into deeper water just as a flood of water cascaded into the truck’s bed and into the cab through the open rear window. By the time the driver remotely came to his senses, the truck’s engine became waterlogged and died and now the truck had rolled backwards most of the way into the water. It was only by some miracle neither man was injured.

Ten minutes later the Coast Guard arrived followed by a crane-bearing tug. After nearly three quarters of an hour, the wreckage was removed. However, at least 50 other mostly drunken boaters, in boats, were waiting to pull their boats out and were stacked up in the channel, fighting the winds and current and angry as hornets whose nest had been poked with a stick. The Coast Guard then had to direct traffic to the ramp and attempt to calm the angry boaters into an orderly procession. On any Sunday afternoon, chaotic scenes like this were commonplace at Ladd’s and quite a crowd always showed up to watch the weekly summer follies devolve into chaos.

90° to Zamboanga, Section 1, Chapter 6, page 44

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