Thursday, April 29, 1999

Dinky diesel defeats Delta Queen

But tradition, history win passengers over

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE — The annual Great Steam Boat Race ended in defeat for Cincinnati's Delta Queen on Wednesday, but it didn't matter much.

        What was really important to the 200-plus people aboard were the scenery and the history.

        The 73-year-old steamboat lost the coveted gilded antlers to a much smaller competitor — Louisville's Spirit of Jefferson. It stepped in at the last minute this week when the Delta Queen's usual competitor, the Belle of Louisville, developed a leak in its boiler.

        True steamboat fans were disappointed with the switch because the Spirit of Jefferson is diesel-powered and only looks like a real steamboat.

        During the rainy race, the friendly rivalry moved Delta Queen passengers to dub the “teeny-weeny” boat “the little teapot.” So when the Spirit of Jefferson won, many took comfort in the thought that it wasn't even the real thing.

        Delta Queen Captain Doc Hawley blamed the loss in part on some shallow water the

        2,000-ton Queen hit just as it came to the middle of the race.

        To most of the passengers, what mattered more than which boat won was the experience: the Dixieland music and decorated staterooms and great rooms.

        For Mary Beth Dowd of Delhi Township, it was all about reliving the past. She remembers as a little girl growing up in Ludlow watching the Delta Queen steam along the Ohio River as it came into Cincinnati. Plain and simple, she just wanted to be on this boat.

        “I've always said that one day I'd ride the Delta Queen,” she said. “It took me 63 years, but here I am.”

        She and her friends feasted on ribs, corn on the cob, chocolate cake, and the best shrimp and oysters they'd ever eaten.

        That's what the trip's supposed to be, said Delta Queen spokeswoman Lucette Brehm, who also downplayed the loss.

        “We just want everyone to have a good trip,” she said. “It's Kentucky Derby time.”

        The race is an annual pre-Derby event between the Delta Queen and the Belle.

        This year's Belle problem was the second for the boat in two years. A former worker was convicted in February of trying to sink it. Even the Delta Queen's staff was sorry it wasn't in the race, Ms. Brehm said.

        As the Delta Queen docked and Capt. Hawley prepared to officially accept defeat, the purser made a welcome announcement: The buffet was still open.

        Friday morning, Cincinnatians can get a firsthand look at the Queen, which is to dock at the Public Landing about 9:30 a.m.


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