Strong winds and heavy sea conditions caused qathet region bathtub racer Melvin Mitchell to withdraw part way through this year’s 53rd annual World Championship Bathtub Race, held recently in the Nanaimo region.
Mitchell was one of 25 contestants competing on the 60-kilometre course, which starts in Nanaimo, winds its way around Entrance and Winchelsea islands, before heading back to Nanaimo. The bathtub race no longer crosses the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver.
Mitchell has entered the world championship race more than 20 times. His family has been involved in the competition since 1987.
Mitchell said sea conditions were very rough, with six- to seven-foot waves at Entrance Island this year.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” said Mitchell. “They were calling for winds of 15 to 25 knots. It was pretty rough.”
Mitchell said he was okay heading out of Nanaimo, even though there were big waves. One of the problems he faced was that he could not see his escort boat.
“Coming out of the harbour I saw them on my side,” said Mitchell. “I kept on going and doing my thing, trying to stay afloat, and I started to leave them behind. Going out to Entrance Island, I couldn’t see them, but I kept on going. I didn’t know if they were okay. I told him before the race he needed to be in my vision from 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock because I can’t see behind my back.”
Mitchell said he was going faster than his chase boat. He was among the leaders at checkpoint one.
He said he took Entrance Island wide and almost went down three different times because of the waves.
“I’m kind of amazed that I stayed afloat,” said Mitchell. “I turned around and was surfing between the swells.”
When he rounded Entrance Island, he started heading toward Snake Island. He said he was really moving and was pumped on adrenaline and the excitement of the race. He said his motor was screaming as he was flying through the air, coming off waves.
“I was getting so much air time,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes you have to move forward in the bathtub to put the bow back down again.”
Mitchell said heading into the waves, he ended up being hurt a couple of times.
“I decided that was enough beating for me and I came back in again after I got to Snake Island because it was getting even rougher,” said Mitchell. “I thought that if I got closer to shore I wouldn’t take as much beating, but that’s not the way it was going to be. I just took so much smashing and hurt myself.
“I thought I’d save the motor because we have other races to race. It’s important to look after your equipment and your body.”
Mitchell said he was also concerned about the escort boat not being in close proximity because tubs can sink really quickly. He said there are tubs on the bottom of the Strait of Georgia and he didn’t want his to be one of them.
“We want to come home with our tub,” said Mitchell. “That’s an accomplishment of its own.”
Mitchell said he raced in the memory of his two cousins, Vern Pielle and Wayne Pielle, who are recently deceased.
“I had to come down and race in their honour and do the best that I could,” said Mitchell.
He added that he is thankful for the sponsorship he has received, which helps him to race.
“There’s a lot of different people who have been with us,” said Mitchell. “It’s one thing to wish for glory but without the people of Powell River being behind me, there’s no way our family could be here doing this every year.”
Mitchell said the other competitors are his summertime family and he enjoys seeing them every year. He said his children grew up being bathtub racing kids and they ended up meeting their friends every summer.
“It’s a family sport,” said Mitchell.