As you could tell from yesterday’s installment, I couldn’t back a trailer that I could see, and now I’m preparing to back a trailer I can’t see at all, with the help of my perspicacious navigator.
I start backing the trailer I can’t see, so I assume its going backwards, down the right lane of the boat ramp. I’m next to a 4X4 Dodge pickup that looks like it just came from a monster truck rally. He has what appears to be a 30 foot trailer. The one I am running into the side of his truck is much smaller. He screams at me and I stop. Then he zips down the ramp, picks up his boat, and starts back up the ramp just in time for me to criss-cross into his lane. I’m not getting very far.
My wife is back there twirling frantically to the left, I think. Then I see the trailer in the mirror. It’s sticking out perpendicular from the side of the truck and the monster truck is about to drive over it without even noticing. I quickly pull forward and straighten it out.
Now, I should preface this next part with a little description of the scene on this Sunday morning at the boat ramp. There are people everywhere, loading up boats, wiping them down after extraction. There are boats docked or beached waiting to be picked up. And there are people waiting to use the boat ramp lane that I have tied up for 10 minutes with no noticeable progress. All of these people have stopped what they are doing and are watching a little red truck with a tiny white SeaDoo trailer try to back down a boat ramp. Because that’s entertainment.
After the third attempt and jackknife of the trailer, I jumped out of the truck and looking back at my poor wife who had little to do with this, while twirling my index finger high above my head to the right and then the left, I screamed out loud enough for the entire captivated crowd, “WHAT THE F–K DOES THIS MEAN?”
Many years after the fact, in many assorted discussions about this very thing, I demonstrate my wife’s hand signals. Without fail, women will say “Turn the wheel to the left,” or “turn the wheel to the right.” Men usually nod in an understanding way. For example, what “wheel” are you talking about? The steering wheel? The left rear wheel? The trailer wheel?
On this Sunday, at the lake, all I did was start muttering uncontrollably, “I can’t see it. What am I going to do? I can’t see it. How am I going to get it down the ramp? I can’t see it.”
I pulled myself together and got back in the truck. I adjusted the mirror so I could see the navigator back there. My eyes. She was now armed with signals I could understand. A point of the hand to the right, a point of the hand to the left. A backward wave to signal to continue. Signals didn’t matter. I couldn’t translate the signals into steering the trailer in the right direction anyway. It jackknifed again.
It has been described to me that the best way to back up a trailer is to put your left hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. That works unless you look in the mirrors. Now you’re dealing with a reverse image. Most of you that have attempted to master the art of backing a trailer, know what I’m talking about. Some people have no trouble doing this. Some people have wives that can do it better than they can. I’ve gotten better over the years, that’s all I’ll say, and we bought walkie talkies.
Back to our jackknifed trailer. I looked in the mirror and I could see the navigator with her hands on her hips looking at me as though I was some incompetent boob who couldn’t steer a trailer. The blood pressure went ballistic. I got out of the truck, unhooked the trailer, walked it down the ramp to the water, stamped back up the ramp, backed down the truck and hooked the trailer back up. Trailer isn’t light, but it was downhill and I was suffering from adrenalin rush. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed this. I’m sure some of them broke out in applause.
Some guy walked over a bit later and said, “You oughta get one of them front hitches. They work great.”
I’ve had one on my trucks ever since.
For the next lake trip I got creative and bought some of those ATV flags with the 6′ fiberglass poles. I rigged them to both rear corners of the trailer, and I could see them over the tailgate. I was able to determine where the trailer was as I crisscrossed down the boat ramp to retrieve the SeaDoo. It looked pretty stupid and I never saw anyone else with them on their boat trailers, but it worked. I had to take them off once I got the trailer down to the water so I could load the SeaDoo which involved underwater retrieval. We were still entertaining the crowds around the boat ramp.
We have a double SeaDoo trailer now with bigger boats, and we’ve had 20 foot and 22 foot sport boats. I’ve backed down a lot of boat ramps since that first Sunday at the lake, but I’m really not much better at it. I’m acceptable.
Two years, and a lot of underwater retrieval later, I accidentally left the tailgate down on the truck and started backing up the trailer. Do you know what I could see clearly through the open tailgate?
Yep, the trailer. WTF. Sold the flags at that garage sale we had in June.