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Stern-wheelers crank it up

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Robert Shrader, 23, the crew manager for the M.S. Dixie II, was helping his 16-member food and beverage team load supplies on the stern-wheeler this week.

At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, Lake Tahoe was smooth and quiet. The sun had not yet crested over the eastern horizon. Dixie crew members were busy loading food and wiping guard rails for the 9 a.m. breakfast cruise.

The cruise is nice, but won’t have Mark Twain. He’ll be there Saturday.



On Saturday the two stern-wheelers of Lake Tahoe, the Hornblower’s Tahoe Queen and the M.S. Dixie II, will relive the old days of the 18th century when they butt heads in a classic six-mile race for the cherished Tahoe Cup. Don’t forget bragging rights as the fastest stern-wheelers on the big lake are at stake as well.

Shrader, the food and beverage manager, hasn’t been in a race before. He’s confident the Dixie will win this year, just like it has in the recent past.



“It should be exciting with both paddle wheels going,” he said.

For the past several years the larger M.S. Dixie has claimed the cup but the Queen broke that streak last year, with help from a staggered start and a pirate ship running interference.

The score is 3-to-1, in the M.S. Dixie II’s favor.

But the name of the game isn’t who wins or loses, but who has the most fun aboard the vessels, where many costumed characters — including Mr. Twain — enjoy a buffet breakfast and flutes of champagne.

The Dixie will carry 400 people for the race, much less than its maximum capacity of 590. The breakfast load includes 10 cases of eggs, 20 cases of potatoes and eight cases of bacon and sausage for the race.

There are no pirate ships planned this year but boaters can still trail behind the two stern-wheelers that represent the two states that share Lake Tahoe.

On one corner of the lake, berthed at Ski Run Marina, the Tahoe Queen rests on California water.

At the other corner on the east shores of Lake Tahoe, the M.S. Dixie II calls Nevada home when parked at the docks of Zephyr Cove Resort.

Locals and visitors alike often make bets on their favorite state stern-wheeler.

M.S. Dixie II Capt. Jim Biller, a seasoned veteran of the race, and Tahoe Queen Capt. Chris Gallup, participate in the only authentic stern-wheeler race west of the Mississippi.

Shrader is looking forward to the match.

“I didn’t know they came out in costumes,” he said. “That’s good time fun.”

The race begins 11 a.m. Saturday offshore from Lakeside Marina at Stateline and ends at the Ski Run Marina.


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