Hydro Racing

Water Follies finale a wild day on the Columbia River

While many friends and families celebrated another year of Water Follies tradition Sunday at the Columbia Cup, Brian and Karen Jackel started a new one -- they got married.

"I just took the plunge, just not off the dock," said Karen Jackel, 48, who started the day with the last name Bauman.

The couple from Manchester met about 41/2 years ago and has been coming to Water Follies since. They didn't want a big church wedding and since they enjoy the races so much, they asked officials about the possibility of getting hitched during the event.

"It was a crazy idea," Karen Jackel said, smiling.

And Brian, 47, said he'll never forget their anniversary, which likely will be spent soaking up the sun at Water Follies.

Chaplain Jim Riley of Dallas, Texas, who provides his services for hydro races, performed the Christian ceremony.

"We've had babies and unfortunately we've had a death, but this is our first marriage," said Kathy Powell, Follies executive director.

The Jackels said their vows and exchanged rings at the start/finish line between heats, and once the marriage license was signed, they got back to enjoying the rest of the races, along with thousands of other people lining the Pasco and Kennewick shores of the Columbia River.

Powell estimated the crowd size for all three days of the event to be about 60,000.

"We probably haven't seen crowds this size in six or seven years," she said.

The 89-degree sunshine was tempered by a light wind, reaching gusts of 29 mph at times.

Along Pasco's shores, the wind sent shade tents, flotation toys and even tumbleweeds flying in fan viewing areas.

Gusts even temporarily prevented guests at Gene Wade's riverside home from gaining a sky-high race vista.

The construction-grade lifts didn't always reach their full 36-foot potential, such as when Wes Williamson and Pam Newell of Pasco felt uneasy moving the lift higher than 12 feet because of the winds. "We're a little chicken today," Newell said.

But fans still sought respite from the heat under tents and trees or in the cold water.

Chad Littrell of Tacoma and his crew set up a tent next to their RV on the Kennewick side of the river, giving the nearly 25-person group from the Tri-Cities, Tacoma and Vancouver, prime hydro-watching territory.

They'd had their spot staked out since Thursday.

"For the most part of 30 years we've been meeting as a family," the 33-year-old said. "We all converge. It's kind of a tradition."

Just east of Littrell's group, Steve Mertel, Bob Sellers and their dozen or so family and friends were lined up at 5:30 a.m. Sunday to defend the site they've watched the races from for 15 years.

"Same place every year," said Mertel, 36.

"We just know it," Sellers, 39, added.

The group comes from Seattle every year and finds the Tri-City races appealing -- compared to Seattle's Seafair -- because of the weather and the ability to see the boats better.

"You're just so much closer," said Mertel, adding that he could practically throw a rock from his riverside tent into a race lane.

For Amy Byron of Sammamish, people-watching is the draw.

This year, there were "Speedo Dude" and "Leatherman," who "could have used sunscreen for quite a few years," she said.

But Byron and her husband, Mike, were drawing quite a few stares -- and perhaps nicknames -- of their own.

The couple were riding motorized coolers -- electric-powered connected coolers with a seat attached to the top.

"We're the only suckers who bought them last year," said Mike, 43, who has come to Follies from the west side for about 15 years. "I'm afraid what they call us."

Moses Lake residents Ben Anderson, Donny Brown and Kyle Kittrell, all 20, appreciate the people-watching opportunities as well, but perhaps in a different way.

They like watching the "racing and women," Anderson said.

But their attendance at the event for about six years stems from something more than the scenery. Anderson's father has come to Follies nearly every year for 30 years, he said.

And Anderson intends to continue the legacy.

"If it's here," he said, "we'll be here."

Police patrolling the event reported a fairly calm day.

Kennewick Police Sgt. Ken Lattin said a few fights and some alcohol violations made for a relatively quiet afternoon. The number of citations and DUI arrests won't be available until today, Lattin said.

Officials working the first-aid tents offered sunscreen and cold water to passers-by. They said people seemed to be staying hydrated too.

Fans on the Pasco side of the river also enjoyed a peaceful day. Pasco police didn't report any serious incidents Sunday afternoon.

As the hydros continued their laps, 5-year-old Natali Dominguez soaked up the action.

Her mother, Dora of Pasco, said her little girl can't get enough of the lightning-fast boats.

"She lives for them," Dora said. "She said 'I want to drive a hydroplane when I grow up.'"

The races also serve as an important gathering time for husband and wife Brett and Shauna Campbell, who grew up and still live in Richland.

The Campbells said their high school friends routinely fly in from across the country for Water Follies weekend.

Brett's boss even visited from the United Kingdom this year and was learning about hydroplane boats for the first time Sunday.

"It's part of the Tri-City summers," Brett said. "It's a great opportunity to see friends that you don't see rest of the year."