Chapter 12 - The Spectator
Whether on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, Lake Washington or Tampa Bay, on the banks of the Potomac, Ohio, Columbia or Detroit Rivers, or along San Diego Bay, in Marine Stadium, Miami or by Guntersville Lake - the spectator will always be on hand. An unsung hero, the hydro fan, is constantly in attendance when a thunderboat hits the water ...anywhere.
The time was when the races were held with only yacht club members on hand; the racing buff who happened not to belong would have to be a super sleuth to find where the boats competed. The Gold Cup might be placed on the bulletin board at the host club but lesser events managed to race in secrecy.
The regatta finally became organized and well-known for the exciting sport it is. Race dates and locations became advertised in newspapers and on the radio and the spectators arrived by train, bus, car, bicycle and baby buggy. They sat and watched them go, listened to their roar, anticipated their accidents and they were astounded.
The sport grew and grew, finally the Slo-Mo hit the scene and generated larger crowds an east/ west rivalry ensued. New boats, new courses, new race sites and new sponsors tried cashing in on the increasing interest. The Unlimiteds had hit the "big time".
Hundreds of thousands line the shores to watch, many camp overnight for that "perfect" vantage point, others arrive at 3 a.m., some wait-out postponed races or weather delays for as long as two or three days, others sit in 100° heat while a few pay admission prices for seats better than anybody elses or sip cocktails on their yacht that happens to be tied nearby. In 1960 a group of die-hards attended the "no-contest" Gold Cup on Lake Mead and waited for 20 hours through uncounted postponements, a desert wind and inclement weather ...to watch one heat.
As in all sports there are the distractions, of course; the girls in slight bikinis who perform a skin show for the watchful males, the swimmers, the politicians (in an election year), the ice cream and pop venders and any number of promotional gimmicks. Between heats are demonstrations, aircraft aerobatics, jet fly-bys (in Seattle a test pilot rolled a Boeing 707 at one race), canoe races, river boats, Limited class competition and sailboats. Life along the shore is an interesting one ...the beer comes in kegs, bottles and cans, there are the transistor radios, the scorecards and the buttons -arguments whether Slo-Mo could beat Thriftway, and fans who couldn't care less what happened on the race course but had come just to be there and maybe get a suntan in the meantime.
There are certain categories of the spectator ...the uninterested fan, the gawker, the annual fan and year-round hydro nut. The nut, or "hydromaniac", follows all the races if he can and is the one who wanders about the pits with buttons covering every square inch and who has a camera, binoculars and a telescopic lens around his neck. There are the girls who somehow manage to get a pit pass and spend their time hanging around the drivers and crews ...affectionately known as "lizards" to the wives.
The man with his kids in tow who just stepped off the plant from Nome, Alaska and wonders, "whata call them things? They sure enough go fast!" The annual fan who attends each race in his particular town but couldn't tell a quill shaft from a trim-tab - he just likes to watch them go. A family who happened by, became addicted to the action and have stuck around.
In each city, in every regatta, the spectators are nearly the same, year after year. Let's take a brief look at the different regattas these fans have attended through the years. Seattle used to have the Gold Cup quite regularly but now is content with the Seafair Trophy Race. In Detroit, when the Gold Cup is not there, they have the Silver Cup, the Horace E. Dodge Memorial Regatta, the Detroit Memorial, the Spirit of Detroit Regatta and the Detroit International Trophy.
Madison, Indiana, has hosted the Indiana Governor's Cup since 1954. The Atomic Cup has been raced near Pasco, Washington, every year since 1966, San Diego Cups were held from 1966-70 and Diamond Cups were raced on Lake Coeur d'Alene from 1958-66. Washington, D.C. has the President's Cup, Miami, Owensboro, Ky. and Tampa are relative newcomers but have become established races within the past few years.
Each of these regattas, and the dozens not mentioned, depend not only on competitors but on spectators for it is their entertainment the Unlimited people strive for. The fan reigns supreme; without somebody watching the boats could not race - they keep the interest, the amazement and the sport itself alive.
(Reprinted from Roostertails Unlimited by Andy Muntz, 1973)
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