Sunday, June 22, 2008

Battle of the Paddles, South Lake Tahoe

With loud boos and 'thumbs-down' signs, the historic Battle of the Paddles sternwheeler race splashed off across Lake Tahoe this morning.

Several hundred people, some wearing costumes of the paddle steamer era, were aboard the competing ships, the Tahoe Queen and the MS Dixie II.

Despite all the good-humoured booing and cheering, egged on by a costumed MC, we on the Tahoe Queen had to suffer the indignity of watching the Dixie slip past the finishing line first! And of course our young captain had to pay the ultimate penalty: walk the plank, or rather in a modern version, run and dive into the cold waters of the lake.

Taking part in this fun, historic race across Lake Tahoe is one of the best events of the Opening Days summer season launch of South Lake Tahoe.

A champagne breakfast, live rock music and pirate antics accompanied the part cruise - part race. With the sun shining beautifully and the Sierra Nevada Mountains forming a majestic backdrop, it is a truly memorable experience.

On the top deck, passengers were encouraged to run from side to side and up to the stern to help the ship turn quickly for the return leg! While below, great food was served and resident, talented musicians, the Steve Walker Band, played a tremendous selection of popular rock.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Tahoe Queen, the ship has been beautifully refurbished and a recommissioning ceremony was held prior to the race.

According to the special supplement of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the race began in the 1980s on Memorial Day weekend but petered out due to poor weather. A similar fate met a second attempt on Labor Day weekend.

But moving it into the Opening Days programme has secured its success! On board were camera crews and a group of writers from various magazines who were thoroughly enjoying the occasion.

After the race we cruised gently and then paused for a parade of small craft decked in a Disney theme to circle us. All of a sudden there were shouts from the lower deck as one of the motorboats misjudged a celebrity twirl and knocked into us. Not quite what Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, Donald Duck and the other Disney characters had been expecting!

But with the quick response of a crew member standing on the outer rim of the ship and some help from the errant driver, the boat was levered away.

When the parade was over police on one of the accompanying launches inspected the side and gave us an 'all clear' before we returned slowly to the landing. Behind us, police on another launch could be seen having words with the over-enthusiastic motorboat crew.

Earlier that morning, the lake had also seen the World's Highest Parasailing Competition take place.

For a report on Saturday's events see previous blog.

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