LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — On a summer day in 1977 fate played its hand when full-time fireman and part-time boat builder Steve Buckalew arrived at Lake Mead to watch the Water Ski Marathon. He was towing his new boat — Quick Screw — for the last time. Within hours his boat would be 180 feet underwater, at the bottom of Lake Mead.

Located today on a new shoreline of Boulder Beach, the destroyed hull of a small speedboat rests upside down and partially buried. Around it are remnants of a day when boat racers nationwide converged on Lake Mead to pull water skiers at up to 75 mph around the lake. There are also old, but newer relics of better days at Lake Mead, including old beer cans, shoes, and hats.

Upon close examination of the hull, the name Quick Screw can barely be seen. About 100 yards down the beach, there’s another part of the boat that shows the partial name of the owner, Steve Buckalew.

A speedboat that crashed and sunk at Lake Mead 46 years ago has resurfaced. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nev. (Duncan Phenix – KLAS)

Finding Steve Buckalew

After days of searching, 8 News Now found Buckalew, now 82 and retired, living in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, with his wife. Upon talking with Buckalew on the phone, it was clear there is a wild story behind this lost relic.

Buckalew told 8 News Now this was only the second time he had this boat and handbuilt V6 outboard motor on the water. Originally, it had a stock 200-horsepower motor that could drive the boat to speeds of 75 mph. The V6 that Buckalew built and installed, along with a custom-tuned propeller, meant that he could now reach nearly 100 mph.

Buckalew said that in the 1960s and 70s, he really got into boat racing. But by his own admission, he said “I’d be lying if I told you I was better than average.” It was the engineer in him that was able to build and assemble stock boat hulls, motors, and propellers into something capable of beating almost every other racer in this class.

In 1977 Buckalew raced in the Parker Enduro race in Parker, Arizona, and said he took first place. He added this led to many of the other teams hating him because he was just this kid — around 35 at the time — building something more powerful and technically advanced than any other team had.

In fact, when Buckalew built the Quick Screw, he said his wife told him, “This boat is going to be a problem.” She was talking about its speed, and it turned out she was right.

A speedboat that crashed and sank at Lake Mead 46 years ago has resurfaced. Lake Mead National Recreation Area. (Duncan Phenix – KLAS)

Water Ski Marathon, Lake Mead, 1977

When Buckalew pulled into the parking lot at the Lake Mead Water Ski Marathon, he said a person from another team recognized him, came over and told him he needed his boat because their boat’s motor had broken.

Steve Buckalew, Feb. 10, 2023 (Photo: Steve Buckalew)

Buckalew was quick to help, and within minutes they launched his new boat – a 19-foot Hornet Super Sprint with his custom-built V6 outboard. The team quickly rigged it to pull a water skier, something Buckalew admitted he had never done before, and the marathon race began.

Buckalew said he, along with an observer facing backward in the boat watching the skier, had caught up to the leading boats. It was then, he said, he tried to pass a larger boat that was leaving a large wake.

From experience, Buckalew said he knew that when driving a boat at 70 mph he had to almost slide across the wake instead of turning into it. Once he got over the wake, all he remembers is being in the water, trapped under the boat.

He said after talking with others, he learned the front corner of the boat caught the water and violently flipped the boat, with him and the observer along for the ride.

Neither man was seriously injured. Buckalew was wearing all the regulation safety gear, including a life vest. He said he didn’t know which way was up but the life vest did. He just let it bring him to the surface. Once above the water, he saw the water skier — still on skis — zipping past the wreck.

Buckalew, the observer and the skier were quickly rescued. But before that, he said he knew the boat was going down. He wanted to be able to come back and recover the motor and propeller, the most valuable parts of the boat.

He and the observer took approximately 180 feet of rope and tied one end to the back of the boat as it sunk and the other end to a buoy. To his surprise, the boat used almost the whole rope before coming to rest at the bottom of Lake Mead. He left the scene with the buoy bobbing in the water, hoping to return soon to recover the motor and propeller.

Buckalew said when he showed up the next day, the buoy was gone. So, too, was the prospect of recovering anything from the wreck.

At an estimated $20,000 value at the time (over $65,000 today), he had just lost a lot of money. The boat was not insured, but he could claim the loss on his taxes. However, to get the deduction approved, he said he had to take an IRS auditor to the lake to prove why he could not recover the boat.

Buckalew said he cut back on how much he was racing boats soon after the crash. It was actually his second crash after experiencing a ‘blow-over’ crash on the Colorado River. A “blow over” is when the boat catches air and flips the front end first, end over end. He said at the time such crashes could be deadly and that he was lucky to have survived.

Buckalew said he is shocked by how well the boat has held up after 46 years in the water and surprised that the name and some other markings were still visible on the hull. After speaking with 8 News Now on the phone for a while, Buckalew said he also had a cartoon painted on the boat. He said it was a drawing of the boat with Woody the Woodpecker driving. Upon closer inspection, the image remains but is extremely faded, worn from years underwater.

What happens next?

As to what is next for Buckalew, he said he and his wife hope to visit the lake in the next couple of weeks to see his boat.

Over the last year, many people have asked if there are any plans for anyone to remove the boats and other items that are becoming exposed and have become hazards for people at the lake. When asked if there are plans to remove the boats, the National Park Service (NPS) wrote, “There are many sunken boats at Lake Mead; some of which are historic structures. As vessels continue to surface, park staff document their locations and assess for potential hazards or threats to environmental or human safety. But it is not standard park policy to remove a boat from the lake due to it being a labor-intensive, multifaceted and costly process.”

According to the NPS, “If the public sees a navigation hazard that’s not marked, they should call 702-293-8778 to report it.”

It’s also important to remember it is against federal law to remove anything from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.