Water Follies looking for volunteer boats

The Tri-City Water Follies is looking for volunteers to patrol the Columbia River during hydroplane races in the wake of government cutbacks.

The 48th annual event, scheduled for July 26-28 on the Columbia River, won’t have as many patrol boats from the Coast Guard and its volunteer auxiliary due to sequestration, or mandatory federal budget cuts, said board member Kay Metz.

That’s why the popular annual summertime event needs more volunteers to help patrol the boundaries of the hydroplane race course, near the blue bridge to the east and Hydro Island to the west.

“Without volunteers, we couldn’t put the race on,” said Metz, who has been a volunteer since the event started in 1966. “It takes volunteers, all donating their time, money and sweat.”

Event director Kathy Powell said boaters like to line up to watch the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup races, as well as the air show, on either end of the course. Patrol boats make sure they don’t drift into the way of the racing hydros.

So far, Water Follies has lined up 17 patrol boats, but Metz said it needs another 10 to 12 to make sure the hydroplane course is safe, which is the event’s top priority.

“This is the first year we’ve been this short,” he said. “We need some people to step up to help us.”

Metz is looking for owners with 18- to 22-foot long boats.

Boats are expected to meet Coast Guard inspection standards. That means they must have adequate life jackets, fire extinguishers and very high frequency radios, which can communicate with the Coast Guard, even when cell phones can’t, Metz said. Boat drivers are allowed to carry up to three passengers. They can watch the event from the boat and also receive event T-shirts and hats.

“The benefits are seeing the boats up close and taking pictures,” Metz said. “It’s exciting.”

Kennewick’s Ice Harbor Brewing Co. and Metz’s company, Metz Mobile Marine, have contributed $3,000 to help volunteers pay for gasoline in their boats, Metz said.

Water Follies also sets aside contingency money to help with issues like the Coast Guard budget cuts, Powell said.

“That’s for the things that pop up unexpectedly,” Powell said. “When you have this large of an event, there are quite a few of those.”

Water Follies is considering using the money to pay for Coast Guard Auxiliary members to come to the area and patrol the event, Powell said. While auxiliary members aren’t paid, they would need to be compensated for their expenses, such as hotels and food, while in the Tri-Cities.

But even with auxiliary members, local volunteers still are needed to help patrol the river, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Coast Guard’s district office in Portland asked the Herald to email questions about its cutbacks. The Coast Guard had not responded to the questions by Tuesday evening.

Want to help?

Owners of 18- to 22-foot boats interested in volunteering to serve as patrol boats during Water Follies, call Kay Metz at 539-0632 or Duane Kist at 521-3651.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom