Bathtub races return to Vancouver after 22 years at sea

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      If you lived near Kits Beach in the '90s, maybe you remember the final years of the Nanaimo to Vancouver bathtub race. Participants sailed the open sea in homemade bathtub boats between 1967 and 1996.

      But now, the bathtubs are back as part of KitsFest.

      Howard Kelsey, co-founder and chair of the festival, officially announced the tubs’ return for KitsFest at a press conference at the Boathouse (1305 Arbutus Street) on Thursday (June 7) as part of KitsFest’s 10th anniversary.

      “For us it's like a religious experience,” Kelsey said.

      However, the bathtub race won’t be quite the same as it used to be. Instead of racing across the Georgia Strait, participants will instead navigate 25 laps of an L-shaped course off the shore of Kits Beach.

      “As a kid, I used to sit out there thinking, ‘They’re not coming. It takes like three hours to watch.’ But it’s going to be right here, at the most iconic beach in Canada,” Kelsey said.

      KitsFest is an annual healthy-living festival that organizes athletic endeavours across Kitsilano Beach every summer. Alongside the bathtub races, this year’s festival includes sunset yoga, sports tournaments, and water polo. The bathtub races will run on August 11.

      Howard Kelsey, co-founder and chair of KitsFest, addressed the media at a press conference.
      V. S. Wells

      “We all grew up with multiple sports activities on this beach,” Kelsey said. “So anything that fits on that beach…then we’re going to try and do that.”

      The Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society, which has been running bathtub races for 51 years, is also involved with the planned race. “It’s a big effort to have races from Nanaimo to Vancouver. There’s a huge safety net that’s required, and it’s very expensive for the tubbers,” said Greg Peacock, commodore of the society. He said that racing in English Bay was much easier.

      Peacock said 22 tubs have signed up for the race so far, and expected final numbers of between 30 to 40.

      The Bathtub Society has been building a fleet of tubs in preparation for the event. One was set up on the edge of Kits Beach to give an idea of what the bath-tubbers will be sailing in. Peacock said it was a typical tub, and relatively easy to make.

      “You can go buy that outboard motor at any marina store, and hang it off the back of a tub,” said Peacock. “All you have to do is a little bit of fibreglass work, and you can be a participant as well.”

      The race also honours Nanaimo’s eccentric former mayor Frank Ney, who was born 100 years ago. Ney famously wore a pirate costume to events across Canada and challenged other B.C. mayors to tub races off the Nanaimo coast. Bathtub Weekend posters, featuring Ney’s seafaring likeness, are planned. Peacock added that he hoped to get Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay involved.

      There’s no word on whether Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson will brave the high seas.