- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Good for the Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, but I've got my hands too full to think about that now. Paddle wheelers are notoriously slow to respond to the helm, and it becomes more and more difficult for me to keep the Dixie on course as we draw closer to the buoy. Kimball says it takes a quarter of a mile to stop her. "O.K.," says Biller, "one more spoke on the wheel to the left." I can feel her coming around a bit. Small boats have surrounded us. With the engineers down below overriding the throttles to squeeze out an extra quarter knot of speed, the rpm and pressure gauges to my right mean nothing.
When we are almost on top of the buoy, Biller takes back control. He calls for his "team"—all 350 people—to step two paces to port. "This is like a motorcycle," he says, "we have to lean into the turn." As Biller reaches the buoy, he pulls back on a lever to cut the paddle to about 1,000 pounds pressure, then backs off the inside prop. He gives the Dixie hard right rudder, pulling the big wheel with all his strength, reaching across the spokes, at times crouching on the floor, grunting, until it has turned several revolutions. The boat yaws until he brings her out of the turn, at which point the team is asked to step two paces back to restore an even keel.
Kimball checks the progress of his rival around the buoy. "That's the smoothest turn they've ever made," he says with concern. The boats race side by side out of the turn. The Queen's team is chanting, cheering her on. Her bridge is overflowing with people, and a puff of black smoke rises from one of her stacks. "That's great," Biller says. "It means they're lugging their engines." But what about the smoke pouring out of the Dixie's stacks? Kimball smiles and says, "Merely pyrotechnics."
With the finish-line buoy in sight, Biller wonders if the Queen's prerace strategy—saving a surge of power for the end—will pay off. But as the Dixie passes between the finishing buoy and the officials' boat, he sighs. "By god," he says, "I think we can paint another Queen on the wheelhouse!" Like a fighter pilot, Biller records his victories for all to admire.
At the awards ceremony at Ski Run Marina, Kimball receives a handsome cup for the Dixie's eight-second victory. Thiemann is given the I Should Have Stayed In Bed Award, a stainless steel bedpan. Then Thiemann grabs the microphone. "Father Joe is a Catholic priest and was on our boat," he says. "You know priests don't lie, and Father Joe says that the Queen has won." With that, he swaps trophies with Kimball.
The brazen Thiemann raises the winner's cup and smiles broadly as he turns and heads for his boat. "Looks like for me to win these days, I have to steal the trophy right out of Kimball's arms," he says.
Thiemann still has possession of the trophy, and he is going to be able to hang on to it longer than even he expected. According to Kimball, "It might not be possible to race on Memorial Day this year because of redevelopment near the marina." But the anxious owner of the Dixie adds, "As soon as the cement dries, probably in early June, we'll be ready for the fur to fly again."