An unlimited hydroplane boat is once again mounted on a pole near one of the entrances to Columbia Park in Kennewick after a year’s absence but it’s different from the one which welcomed visitors in recent years.
She looks the same at first glance — her red, white and blue hull gleaming in the sunlight. And she’s called Miss Tri-Cities, but that wasn’t always her name. The once white stars painted on her body are now gold, hearkening to the return of the Gold Cup to Water Follies this weekend.
“I think it’s going to be the best looking boat here,” said Follies board member Mike Melia.
Follies officials unveiled Tuesday the unlimited hydroplane, purchased from three-time Columbia Cup winner Mark Evans to replace the former Miss Tri-Cities boat taken down after last year’s event.
Excitement is continuing to build for the races and the carnival-like atmosphere it brings to the rivershore. There are no ticket sale estimates yet available but organizers said the event is on pace to bring in more than 70,000 spectators.
“We’ve had a lot of hydroplanes gunning around early, which we haven’t really seen before,” said Kathy Powell, Follies event director.
The former Miss Tri-Cities unlimited hydroplane boat, which dated from the ’80s and was mounted in 1998, was removed last year for its first refurbishment in nearly decade. However, an inspection revealed water damage had allowed dry rot to spread throughout the hull, making it largely unsalvageable.
“You could poke your finger through it,” Melia said.
Evans offered up a Fred Leland hull he had for sale that hadn’t been touched for years. It’s unclear how old the boat is, having been built in either 1998 or 2000, but it’s a winner regardless. It won the Columbia Cup as Miss Zenetix II in 2001 with Terry Troxell at the helm. It most likely raced as the Spirit of the Tri-Cities in 2004 and last appeared on the circuit as Miss Thriftway in 2005.
The hull still needed a lot of work, with large portions of the deck needing to be replaced. It was also properly sealed against the weather and a new mounting shaft installed so the pole it would sit on could handle the greater size and weight.
The exact purchase and refurbishment price wasn’t released by Follies officials but they said donations from 13 sponsors covered most of the costs while volunteers such as Melia did the work.
“We’ve got about four months — every day, every weekend — into it,” he said.
Powell said the new boat’s installation is a fitting part of the rising crescendo of the coming races. The “driver” recorded on the hull is Ken Maurer, the man who brought unlimited hydroplane races to the Tri-Cities that led to the Follies. He died last August at 89.
“This is just the kicker,” she said. “It’s significant and it’s really touching.”