It was one of the few times you may see a checkered flag over the water.
But when the first leg of the 2011 Outlaw Eagle World Jet Boat Marathon was completed, that flag was the gavel for each teams’ final time as they rounded the bend to reach the finish line at Fisherman’s Wharf on Saturday.
Several hours previous, residents had gathered along their river, some precariously positioning themselves on the train tracks of the bridge into Old Town, in order to feel the rush of fast moving vessels passing in front, beside, and beneath. It one of the few chances for Hay Riverites to witness an international sporting event right in their hometown, and boats that had travelled from the other side of the world, only to be beat out by local seven-time world champion Spencer King.
King achieved the fastest time in the first leg of the race in his 13-year-old boat.
Team New Zealand skirted into the boat launch with a time of 27:06, for the second half of the first leg, and was still in a perpetual rush.
They wanted to get to the second leg of the race in Peace River with plenty of time to check over their boat.
“I raced on the Hay back in 1987, but of course that was when I was much younger,” joked Mark Cromie.
“The river is good and the people are really friendly.”
Those were the sentiments of the New Zealander and four-time world champion, along with his navigator Richard Mauder. Although it took them a lot less time to travel to Canada, it took their vessel 19 days to be shipped in a 40 foot sea barge.
Cromie and his crew of 10 arrived June 19 to do a few pre-runs of the river, and will spending the month racing and sightseeing on the tail end of the tour.
Although worlds apart, the four-time world champion has a history with Hay River’s own seven-time world champion Spencer King.
“I’ve raced a lot against Spency,” Cromie said of King.
“I’m no stranger to racing in his waters. But again, that was when I was very young.”
One by one the Cx (crate engine) and Fx (mostly chopper engine) boats circled the loading area, idling their engines, or were off to the side docks with their engines off.
Some were coming up with boats still intact, while some had suffered damages.
One boat was without either of its “wings” drove up to the launch, the speed aids having busted off during the race.
“Now that’s a $1,600 piss off,” said Kevin Zuckewich from Alberta. “But a few boats had a rough time on that escalator in Enterprise.”
Zukewich with team Make and Time, had some time to kill before mounting his team’s boat onto a trailer for their next destination, but not when his boat approached the launch.
“You get 30 seconds to get your boat out of the water,” he said. “You could get a 15 minute penalty if you don’t haul it out fast enough and someone’s timing you. Another team could call it if they wanted to get a leg up.”
As he stood watching the assembly line of pilots and navigators approaching the launch to emerge from the river, he commented on team New Zealand’s 1,500 horsepower helicopter engine boat.
“They said they could dial it up to 1,800,” said Zukewich, “but they’d only do it to pass someone.”
Meanwhile across the street at the staging area, in a little bit less of a rush, the Mexican team Halcon was taking a little bit of a siesta before their departure.
Their boat was without the nautical flappers seen on so many, but not because they’d been blown off, said team pilot Juan Quiroga, in a mixture of Spanish-English.
“No me gusta (I don’t like) wings,” said Quiroga waving his fingers back and forth disapprovingly.
It took Quiroga’s team eight days to drive from their small historical Salamanca, part of the Mexico City GTO.
He has been racing for 30 years, and even has the battle scars to prove it. He pulled up his pant leg to show a massive scar, spanning from to top of his kneecap to just past the beginning of his calf, which he received from the solitary accident he suffered 16 years ago while boating in Acapulco.
And although his timing might not have been winning for this leg of the race, clocking in at 40 minutes to Enterprise and around 35 back, Quiroga said he is still happy to be in Canada.
“I like Canada,” he said. “Beautiful land, beautiful people, beautiful women, beautiful rivers.”