09/04/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Delivering mail to some summer residents of Lake Geneva, Wis., Heather Duerst and Jennifer Griffing don't have to worry about snow or sleet or even gloom of night. They face tougher challenges on their appointed rounds: jumping off the bow of a moving tour boat, emptying and refilling a mailbox on the pier and then leaping back onto the stern—all in a few seconds. "Approaching a pier with the boat still moving and having to jump was scary at first," says Duerst, 21, who began "jumping," as it's known, four years ago. "But after a while it's not so bad."
The marine delivery system—one of just a few left in the U.S.—began a century ago when roads were impassable, says Neill Frame, who captains the mail boat. "Now it's more of a tradition."
Duerst and Griffing, 21, take turns making the deliveries, usually with a boatful of tourists cheering them on. But the drops don't always go smoothly. "When it's raining or waves splash up over the piers, you jump and all of a sudden you're on your butt," says Duerst, a senior at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. Griffing, a junior at the university's branch in Oshkosh, admits to having occasionally dropped mail into the lake. And both have at times gotten delayed by deck furniture or a friendly dog and returned to find they'd missed the boat. Not a problem, since Frame swings back to pick them up. "I figure if something goes wrong," he says, "I've got to deal with their mothers."