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qathet Region bathtub racers compete in 10-lap race

Event at Willingdon Beach displays unique aquatic sport
HAVING FUN: Willingdon Beach was the site for some bathtub racing recently, with competitors from Nanaimo and the Sunshine Coast racing a circuit for 10 laps. The event was a part of a two-race series organized with COVID-19 regulations in mind.

A group of bathtub racing enthusiasts took to the water off Willingdon Beach as part of a two-stop race on the Sunshine Coast.

Under bright and hot conditions, the boats, from the qathet region, Nanaimo area and lower Sunshine Coast, participated in a 10-lap race on August 21 to have some fun and raise awareness about bathtub racing.

qathet racer Melvin Mitchell said racing activity has been essentially shut down by COVID-19 for the past couple of summers. He said the tubbers, however, decided they would try COVID-19-safe racing.

“We just decided to have a race for the tubbers without too much publicity so we didn’t get ourselves in trouble for making an organized event,” said Mitchell. “We had six tubs come. I got permission from the wharfinger to take up some spots by the tie-down area because we weren’t out there very long.

“We did 10 laps at Willingdon Beach and came back in because we all had to be back on the ferry because we were going to Sechelt to do the same thing on the Sunday.”

Mitchell said his family has been involved in bathtub racing since 1987. He said his late younger brother built himself a bathtub in 1987. After his death, the tub was retired, but that didn’t stop the family’s interest in bathtub racing.

“We bought a racing tub from a man in Nanaimo named Brian Ranger, who won the bathtub race [from Nanaimo to Vancouver] in 1984 with that bathtub,” said Mitchell. “We started to race in Brian’s bathtub in 1988. In 1992 we became more competitive, finishing the race. It took us four years to learn how to do it to Vancouver.”

Mitchell said he bought a different tub in 1992 and is using that tub today.

“We’ve done some damage to it but we don’t give up that easily,” he added.

Mitchell said for the big race, competitors don’t go to Vancouver anymore because there is no Vancouver Sea Festival. The race was switched to the Nanaimo side of the Salish Sea in 1997, leaving from Nanaimo harbour, out around Entrance Island, toward the Schooner Cove area in Nanoose Bay, and then racers turn around and come back into Nanaimo harbour again.

“It’s a rougher race now because you’ve got to go into waves, no matter which way you go,” said Mitchell.

If the race to Vancouver was held with a northwest wind, tubbers could have the wind behind them, making for easier passage. If the winds were strong, however, seas could be eight or nine feet tall in the middle of the strait, said Mitchell.

Bathtub racing is not foreign to Powell River. Mitchell said races have been held in the past in conjunction with Sea Fair, and races were also held in Powell Lake in the early 1990s. He said because bathtub racing has not been consistently happening due to the pandemic, he and his cohorts from the lower Sunshine Coast decided to have a fun event.

After the race off Willingdon Beach, there was supposed to be a race in Davis Bay but the wave action was too big, so the racers went to Porpoise Bay, which was still a “gnarly race.”

“I’m walking half decent now but I still feel it,” said Mitchell.

The same out-of-town racer won both races, according to Mitchell, adding that the winner has a Kevlar tub that is very light with a light motor. Mitchell’s boat was not in optimum shape for the race because he’d previously had a prop strike, and even after repairs, it affected performance.

He said tubbing is a great distraction from the rigours of life.

“You get in the tub and let it all out there and leave it on the water,” said Mitchell. “You come back in and you’re okay.”

Mitchell is hoping the great international world championship bathtub race in Nanaimo can go again next year, depending on the province’s health regulations. The governing body of international bathtub racing is called the Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society.

Mitchell said the tubbers are trying to get more people involved in the sport.

“A lot of us are veterans and we’d just like more tubbers out there,” said Mitchell. “We’re sharing information about motors and where you might be able to find a tub, and all that. If someone wants to get into it, they can contact me, and I can turn them on to the right people.”

Mitchell’s number is 604.413.0687.

To help with his racing endeavours, Mitchell has a bunch of local sponsors listed on his tub.

“Some are bigger than others but it all helps us get to the ferries,” said Mitchell. “Out of everybody, we’re the ones who travel the most. Racers on the island usually get to go home for the night.”