This Race Doesn’t Go to the Swift

Like the Kentucky Derby, many of those who attend the Great Steamboat Race aren’t much into the race. But this year, there’s no race. At least the winner doesn’t necessarily have to cross a line first. It’s more like a boating skills competition between the crews of the Belle of Louisville and the Belle of Cincinnati, in its first appearance as a legit competitor.

This race won’t go to the swiftest, as it always has. This time, judges will decide who wins the competition, a part of which is to see who plays the meanest calliope. Talk about breaking with tradition. The crews will be playing Tug of War for points.

The “Race” has been run every year since 1963, almost always involving the Delta Queen. But a simple race with the diesel-powered Belle of Cincinnati wouldn’t have been a fair fight for the steam-powered local vessel. So organizers decided it was a good year to pump some new life into what had become a tired event. TV coverage has even slacked off in recent years.

The Delta Queen, thanks to a federal safety ruling, is no longer cruising the Ohio.

It seems like the new competition would open the door for new ways to cheat, which is a time-honored tradition for the Wednesday of Derby Week. We’ll see. Here’s an interview with the captains.

But none of it really matters to the people who gather along the Ohio to party.

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