Locals rev up DIY vessels for Kitsilano's first bathtub races in more than two decades

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      A fleet of bathtub boats are sailing into Kitsilano Beach on Saturday (August 11) for the seaside site’s first tub races in 22 years.

      The event will see over 30 homemade bathtub boats racing through an L-shape course off the shore of Kits Beach in three separate heats—plus a final championship round—with the top-three finishers taking home ribbons and bragging rights.

      Participants are coming from across the Lower Mainland, bringing with them DIY watercrafts that are comprised of bathtub replicas in which they will sit and steer during the race. For Chris Glenn, a Port Coquitlam resident who took part in the original Nanaimo-to-Vancouver bathtub races that ran from 1967 to 1996, the return of the competition to Kits Beach—the finish line of those earlier, almost 60-kilometre contests that cut through the Georgia Strait—is an exciting affair.

      “This is where it started,” Glenn told the Straight following a news conference at Kits Beach today (August 10). “We did it for so many years, and we were sad when it left because there were so many people from Nanaimo that were still doing it.”

      Port Coquitlam's Chris Glenn, who has over 40 years of experience building and racing bathtub boats, is one of 30-plus participants in this year's tub-boat competition at Kits Beach.
      Lucy Lau

      Glenn, who has participated in Nanaimo’s World Championship Bathtub Race and smaller circuits for nearly four decades, will be competing in this weekend’s Kits Beach showdown with a blue-and-silver vessel that he says can reach up to 64 kilometres an hour. “This thing is great in straight lines…but turning is really difficult,” he says. “That’s what will be tougher for me.”

      Glenn’s watercraft is grouped under the “super-modified” category, which means it boasts an under–10-horsepower motor, but has been revved up with features such as cleaver or surface-piercing propellers. “Stock” bathtub boats, which are crafted from unchanged factory parts, and “modified” vessels, which consist of revamped propellers, will also compete.

      The boats will race together in three rounds during the day, with the winners being the top three finishers in each category and the top three overall finishers. The event kicks off at noon, with heats taking place at 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. The championship race happens at 5:30 p.m.

      Nineteen-year-old Chase Holmes will be competing in a bathtub boat that his 13-year-old brother, Oliver, has “broken in” for him over the past two weeks. The younger sibling had been working on improving the vessel, which was built for him by fellow members of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, though he passed the helmsman duties to his brother when he realized he was a year shy of the minimum-age requirement.

      An almost 10-metre-long bathtub, which is billed as the largest bathtub boat in the world, will carry race and safety personnel at the north end of Kits Beach.

      “We’ve been putting Styrofoam and tubes in, and sealing up the cracks,” says Oliver, “putting new propellers, and doing most of the work on the engines.”

      Spectators at Saturday’s races will enjoy an uninterrupted view of the entire course from Kits Beach's north end, thanks to what’s described as a “boomerang track” that will require participants to navigate 25 laps in the water. Also out at sea will be an almost 10-metre vessel streaked in primary colours that’s being billed by organizers as the world’s largest bathtub boat.

      That impressive watercraft will not compete in the heats, but rather, carry official race and safety personnel. Groups like the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, and the Vancouver Coast Guard, will be present, too.

      The bathtub races are free to attend, and will feature a 1,200-person-capacity beer garden, live DJ, family zone, and other entertainment. The contest, which honours what would've been the 100th birthday of bathtub-race founder and longtime Nanaimo mayor Frank Ney, is being presented as part of the 10th annual KitsFest. The three-day healthy-living fete includes sporting events like basketball, water polo, and touch football along Kits Beach until Sunday (August 12).

      Like those activities, the tub races offer participants a certain kind of rush. “It's the adrenaline you get when you’re out there,” notes Glenn. “It’s fun.”