For the last 50 years, Neill Frame has captained the U.S. Mailboat on the waters of Geneva Lake. He’s still searching for the secret to a perfect mailboat jump.
Mailboat jumpers deliver mail to lakeside homes by leaping onto docks, filling the mailboxes and then sprinting down the docks and jumping back onto the boat, which never stops moving.
Each summer, the boat delivers mail and newspapers to about 70 piers daily through a contract with the U.S. Postal Service. When the crew isn’t delivering mail, members give tours of the lake.
Despite his many years of experience, Frame said the task of mail delivery on the water is difficult to perfect.
“I don’t know that there’s a perfect jump because the conditions change all the time,” he said. “I think if you can land safely on the boat without hurting yourself, that’s a perfect jump.”
A handful of hopeful jumpers tried out for the job Wednesday.
Frame has seen quite a few jumps while piloting the boat. An important part of making it back to the boat, he said, is to keep running down the entire dock without hesitation.
First-time jumpers, as well as those with years of experience, said the leap isn’t always simple.
Connor Handel, 19, of Elkhorn is preparing for his fifth summer as a mail jumper. He took a chilly spill into the lake Wednesday after getting stuck on a mailbox.
“I got a little cocky on the jump off the boat, and I waited until the last possible second,” he said.
“I finally got the mail in, but on the way back I wasn’t even close.”
Ava Pezza, 16, was vying for a jumper spot for the first time. The Lake Geneva native has watched the mailboat cruise the waters of Geneva Lake for years.
“When I moved up here when I was about 3, we actually watched the mailboat jumpers. I just think it was something in the back of my head that I always wanted to do,” she said.
Pezza finally got her shot Wednesday, sprinting up and down the docks and leaping for the side of the boat after every pickup.
A grinning Pezza said the job requires more speed than she originally thought.
“The first pier was easier than I expected, but the second was harder,” she said. “You really have to book it.”
As the jumpers and boat deliver mail throughout the summer, those involved are grateful. Despite his unfortunate slip into the lake, Handel said the tryout can lead to a fun opportunity.
“It’s very unique and special,” he said. “I can’t imagine a better job.”