It's racing time, but in true Tahoe fashion this battle of the paddle is going down on the water.
The Tahoe Queen and M.S. Dixie II will put their paddle wheels to the test as they face off Saturday, Sept. 1, at 10:30 a.m. in the 20th annual Great Lake Tahoe Sternwheeler Race for the coveted Tahoe Cup and ultimate lake supremacy. Losers will receive the Barton Health Bedpan, as in you should have stayed in bed. The Dixie holds an 11-8 edge, but the Tahoe Queen is coming off a two-year winning streak. Statistics aside, the four-mile race is all about strategy and more importantly the turn.
"Well we're going to give it everything we got, I can tell you that. We beat them the last two years," Tahoe Queen captain Jerry Summers said. "We just got to beat them in the turn, get a run on them in that turn. After that, it's up to the wind and the gods above."
Summers, who has captained the races on and off since the 1990s, said the Queen has a secret weapon up its sleeve. He wouldn't go into the detail, but it is the same secret weapon the Queen used to win the last two years. This year, however, Summers said they've kicked it up a notch.
"It'll be more intense this time, but we've been forewarned that they've got one themselves that we better be watching out for," Summers said. "I think they're going to use JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) bottles on us."
Veteran captain Ozzie Gonzalez will be at the stern for the Dixie, and could not be reached for comment by deadline.
The Coast Guard will lay out the race course along the shore and place buoys at the two-mile turnaround point. The Queen relies solely on its paddle wheel to propel it along the course, while the Dixie gets the majority of its power from propellers underneath. It's hard to say which system gives the advantage. Tactics and a clean turn is usually the deciding factor, according to director of sales and marketing Tony Lyle.
"As they make the turn around the buoy, the captain will get all the people to go to one side," Lyle said. "Also, if they put all of the people right at the back of the boat that's called squatting and that gets the boat to push the paddle further into the water."
Rivalry between the two boats has existed since the Queen first launched on Lake Tahoe in 1983, Lyle said. The Dixie traveled all the way from Mississippi in 1949 and until 1983 was the only paddle wheeler around these parts. Now there was suddenly new competition and the battle of the paddle race was born 1984.
This year, race organizers added fuel to that fire. Local government officials were invited on the boats and those who work for El Dorado County will be placed on the Queen and those in Douglas County go on the Dixie.
Passengers are also welcome to join the race excitement. Adult tickets cost $25 and child tickets cost $15. Prices include brunch and drink specials. Just beware, passengers are usually expected to be part of the race strategy.