Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Mailboat jumpers try to land coveted job

by John Halverson

June 20, 2013

THE JUMPERS in the annual Gage Marine mailboat competition were, from left, Anna Vogt, Gretchen Robers, Shelby Peck, Joanie Williams, Zach Aspinal, Dan Sepe, John Eddins, Keith Vogt and Garrett Robers. Winners of the tryouts will deliver mail by boat this summer. The tryouts occur every June.John Halverson.
It's not just about the jump.

"Personality counts, too," one of the judges said.

And there were personalities galore at the annual Lake Geneva Cruise Line mailboat tryouts last Wednesday.

There was Cruise Line Manager Harold Friestad, into his 46th year at Gage, who was piloting the tag-along boat.

Next to him was 7-foot-tall Jack Lothian, Harold's protégé, who we figured could make the jump from boat to pier without actually jumping.

There were two newspaper photographers talking about their cameras and a TV photographer who relayed a tale of how one of his brethren dropped his camera in the water at this same event a few years ago.

On the mailboat itself there were nine athletic and brave souls who were trying to "land" a coveted spot on the Gage mailboat jumping team. Among them was Garrett Robers, a veteran jumper, coaching his sister, Gretchen, who was trying out for the first time.

Another veteran jumper, Shelby Peck, grew up on the lake and recalled watching the jumpers when she was far too young to tryout.

One participant even brought a towel.

One of the judges, Sue Zachary, recalled how she jumped last year after a 25 year "retirement."

Also trying out this year were Anna and Keith Vogt, Joanie Williams, Zach Aspinall, Dan Sepe and John Eddings. At the helm last Wednesday, as he has been since the trials which started in 1990, was Neill Frame, who has been with Gage for half a century. The tryouts have been covered by media across the globe and the youthful participants acknowledge it's a prestigious job.

The mailboat cruise delivers to about 60 lake homes. The nautical letter carriers leap from a moving boat, place the mail in mailboxes located on each pier and then run back to the still-moving boat before it leaves the dock.

Last week there were several hard landings as the jumpers grabbed on to the railing at the tail-end of the boat, but no one took a splash landing in Geneva Lake — no towel was necessary.

Once a jumper bypassed the leap back on the boat and stood there looking lonely and a little embarrassed as the boat took another pass to pick her up at the end of the pier.

One jumper pointed out that one of the tricks is "running with the boat" so there's momentum for the leap back.

As they sat waiting for their turn, the jumpers exchanged war stories.

One of the thrills of being a mail jumper is hearing the roar of the crowd as you make an ascent and landing, several said.

Some of the veteran jumpers acknowledged that they've had a few intentional water landings — for dramatic effect.

One jumper recalled he opened a mailbox and noted there was a coffee cup inside.

A little girl arrived on the scene to take the mail just in time for him to make the leap back.

The kids also have to narrate the mailboat tour which points out history of the lake and its mansions. So the tryouts test oration as well as athleticism.

The original mailboat dates back to 1873. In those days there was no other way to deliver mail, since there was no easily traversed road.

The original mailboat was something they called the "Paper Boat" — for newspaper, not because she was made of paper. Formally known as the Ripple, she delivered newspapers and served as a ferry for 30 years.

In 1916, the Walworth took over her mail duty until it was scrapped in 1965.

Two years later a new Walworth took her place and has been delivering the mail ever since. The mailboat has been featured in People Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the prestigious Power and Motor Yacht Magazine.

The jump has received plenty of TV coverage, too, and was featured on the Today Show and on the BBC.

A few years ago Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's Bizarre World actually jumped — and made it.

A public TV show filmed a staged tryout for inclusion in an upcoming show on Lake Geneva.

If you're a rider there's no need for a towel, just a willingness for a little vicarious adventure.

The season runs from June 15 through Sept. 15.