Cabin Fever Cured Downhill Boat Association’s Third-Annual Event Attracts Fans, Entrants `Because It’s Stupid’
Its hull waxed with Lemon Pledge, its stern bearing smoke bombs and a pirate flag - the Bombsled was ready.
On an icy slope behind the Priest Lake Community Church on Monday, more than 50 competitors donned crash helmets and careened downhill in canoes, fishing boats and skiffs.
It was the Downhill Boat Association’s third-annual Priest Lake International Downhill Boat Race. Maximum allowable cost of boat and hardware: $75.
About 250 people came to watch.
Some said the event was tamer this year. “Last year, they had a steeper hill with trees in the middle,” said Rob Harper of Laclede, Idaho. “And they had plastic bats they were beating each other with. They outlawed that this year.”
In the minutes before the race, the team from Bud’s Mobile Welding gave its vehicle a last check.
The team had mounted old snowmobile skids beneath the bow of an 11-foot aluminum fishing boat. The steering wheel had been cannibalized from a 1965 Ford pickup. For added bow strength, the welders had bolted on a “NO PASSING ZONE” road sign.
For added weight, perhaps, a case of malt liquor sat in the stern.
“We’re powered by Olde English 800, and we’ve got a lot of fuel,” said team member Ray Nelson.
Matt Butler and his Priest Lake crew had rebuilt their “Bombsled” after last year’s race. During the final race of the day, they ignited smoke bombs, so the boat trailed a cloud of blue and white smoke.
“Last year, it was a full-contact boat race,” Butler said. “This year, there’s some separation between the boats. But there’s still the potential to go into the crowd.”
Nearby, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Valley firefighters prepared for their first try at the event. They were piloting a mildewed wooden skiff someone had found at a cabin.
“Why do it? Because it’s stupid and we’re suffering from cabin fever,” said Don Yasen of Spokane.
Then the rumpus began. Two boats were lined up.
“Clear the track,” the announcer bellowed into a megaphone. The starting line was made of cherry JellO mix poured across the snow.
The racers ran alongside the boats, pushing, then hopped in. The boats plowed through the snow, then sailed down the icy slope.
Boats bumped into other boats. Several, their steering failing, rammed the snow piles alongside the track.
A boat with shark teeth painted on its bow nearly ran down a referee.
Onlookers cheered from the sidelines. Ten-year-old Dylan Amundson of Laclede pelted passing racers with snowballs.
“Oh, I got that guy right in the face!” he shouted.
Boat performance varied widely. Some drivers threw their boats into a skid at the finish line, coasting to a slushy stop.
Other teams pushed their heavy boats over the finish line in disgrace.
A few boats, most notably a Coleman canoe with the back third sawed off, sailed to the finish line - and kept going. The crowd parted as spectators scrambled to get out of the way.
The firefighters’ team was one of the slow ones. It pushed its boat over the finish line.
“We had the anchor out,” joked Yasen. “A couple of little design flaws, but this is the first year.”