Bath tubs races underway this weekend

A bath tub racer skids across the water during last year’s race. - Contributed photo
A bath tub racer skids across the water during last year’s race.
— image credit: Contributed photo

If you thought bath tubs were just for taking a bath, think again.

Come this weekend, bath tubs and its drivers will be racing on Dyes Inlet at the Silverdale waterfront.

“The bath tub races have been going on here with the Royal Canadian Nanaimo Boat Association for close to 34 years now,” said L. “Willie” Nelson, commander of the Albert C. Kean Post 149 of the American Legion in Bremerton.

“It’s a pretty good time,” Nelson said. “It’s something not a lot of folks know about.”

The history of the tab races dates back to 1967, according to the Nanaimo boat association’s website.

Nanaimo Harbour was the scene of a bathtub race extravaganza at the first race in 1967, which was Canada’s 100th Birthday. As the city of Nanaimo’s “Centennial Event” more than 200 tubbers in every type of watercraft imaginable entered the fun competition and amazingly, 47 completed the 36- mile course to Vancouver’s Fisherman’s Cove across the Straits of Georgia.

Today, the “Great Race” finishes at Departure Bay beach in Nanaimo covering a very grueling course that starts in Nanaimo Harbor, goes around Entrance Island, north west to Winchelsea Islands, around a naval ship, past Schooner Cove and then back to Departure Bay beach in Nanaimo.

According to tub races, in the early days it was a challenge to just get past the starting line in the choppy confusion caused by an extra 785 small and large observation and escort boats in Nanaimo harbor.

From the confusion of a first time bathtub race in 1967, the Nanaimo to Nanaimo “Great” International World Championship Race and three day Marine Festival has evolved.

The Canadians have brought the sport to Kitsap County through their association with the Bremerton American Legion, Nelson said.

“The tubs are small little speed boat hulls with a cockpit that looks like the top of an older cast iron bath tub,” he said. “The motors are only a little eight-horse power outboard motor. So it can be quite entertaining.”

Time trials will be on Saturday at Keyport, beginning at 3 p.m. Races will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Silverdale waterfront.

The Sons of the American Legion will have a tub in the race and it’s expected to be driven by Steve Pender, Nelson said.

Races are only 10 laps and Nelson warns it’s over in “pretty fast time.”

Following the races, the post will host a barbecue, the Tubbers Awards ceremony and a band will be on hand to play.

“This is another great time to spend with our Canadian brothers and sisters,” Nelson said. “The entire thing is such a blast.”

According to the history of tub racing, during the years many materials have been used to construct a racing bathtub. Early tub hulls were predominantly wood with a moulded fiberglass tub attached. There have also been some very innovative designs built of aluminum and other metals.

As bathtub technology advanced, fiberglass with its ease of being formed into any shape, inherent strength, lightness and relatively low cost has dominated the scene when it come to building a competitive racing tub.

For those who want to build one, here are some hints from the Nanaimo Boat Association:

Using an old bathtub, make a fiberglass copy by laying a combination of bubbles, mat and cloth material to the inside of the tub. Be sure to wet out each layer with resin and use a roller to remove air bubbles and wrinkles. Reinforce critical areas such as the rear of the tub where the transom will attach and the rim where your hands will attach, with more glass material. After the resin has set, pull copy out of the old tub. If it is hard to release, use compressed air or water to help loosen the copy.

The tub hull can be made by several different methods. By far the easiest is to get on the phone and borrow one of the many molds lying in backyards around Nanaimo. For the more industrious individual, designing your own mold is the answer. Wood and filler are used to develop the shape. After you have the mold, laying up the hull uses the same materials and techniques as the tub itself.

Remember to cover all corners and make sure no air bubbles are present to prevent weakness in the structure.

Transoms can be made out of wood, foam, aluminum or other materials. Wood and fiberglass are the easiest to work with. Engine heights vary between 15 and 25 inches, depending on propeller design, so remember it is easier to reduce the height than add it on later.

This is a very critical area. Be sure that it is well built and strong. Quarter-inch plywood uprights and two pieces of laminated half-inch plywood engine supports covered in mat fiberglass work well and are easy to build.

After making the tub and hull, join together using fiberglass strips, making sure it is well reinforced. One eighth-inch door skin works well for side supports. Remember to leave six inches of the tub exposed. Alignment is critical for handling, so measure it, don’t trust your eyes. Use at least three layers of mat when attaching the transom to the back of the tub. An engine 300 feet under water won’t win races, not to mention the hole in the back of your craft. There must be enough flotation to support the complete craft in an upset: a minimum of three cubic feet. Most builders rely on attached foam or sealed air chambers. Use whichever suits your design, but be sure there is enough. Although fiberglass has been the mainstay of tub building for many years, the introduction of the 350 pound maximum weight rule has opened the way for the handyman carpenter or fabricator to get his or her feet wet in the great sport of bathtub racing again.




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