Build-a-Boat By the Bay is back in a big way at Bayfest this Labour Day weekend in Port Rowan, returning after a one-year hiatus.
Sponsored by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 379, the 2018 Build-a-Boat By the Bay begins Saturday morning in the harbour/dock area at 9:30 a.m. Links to registration forms and waivers are on the Bayfest website. The actual race takes place at 12:30 p.m. in the harbour.
Contestants, who bring their own tools, will use materials supplied by Port Rowan Home Building Centre to construct their boat, using any design of their own making. Often the heats are won or lost in the construction phase. Too much freeboard (above water), and it’s impossible to prevent tipping. Not enough freeboard, the boat rides too low… also leading to sinking. The right balance in width and length are also important. Throw in a keel and effective paddles, and participants are on their way.
Port Rowan’s Aubrey Wood, who won three consecutive championships from 2014-2016 starting when she was just eight years old, and her dad Rick Wood had the right combination building the Black Pearl, Black Pearl II and III. Aubrey easily won the 2014 title by several lengths, won the 2015 title by one length, and in 2016 beat two firefighters by less than 1.5 metres.
“It was harder,” said Aubrey in 2016, admitting she wasn’t sure whether she would defend her title in 2017, although that race was later cancelled.
“It just keeps getting harder and harder. I don’t know… but I think I’m going to let someone else win next year.”
“You say that now but you’ll be back again next year,” Rick had smiled.
Her closest competition was a pair of Port Rowan firefighters from Norfolk Station 9, who in 2015 had immediately sunk at the dock.
“Big improvement from last year,” said firefighter Wyatt Barry, who also competed in the inaugural 2013 boat races with Aiden Shaddick.
“It was a failure last year,” Barry laughed. “This year we improved a little bit.”
“From dead last to second, not bad,” his racing teammate nodded, noting the lack of a keel might have made the difference. “We had to slow down four or five times to straighten it out. We’ll change that.”
Some boats had more luck than others in 2016. In each of the three preliminary heats one boat tipped.
Kris Coulombe from Port Rowan and Mark Smith of London teamed up to make a questionable diamond-shape ‘canoe,’ forming V-shape wedges, widest at midship. Streamlined, light and fast, they had hoped.
“Because canoes are so efficient… they work right?” said Coulombe. “We didn’t get too far.”
“Top heavy,” said Smith.
Their canoe, which started tipping as soon as Coulombe entered the bow, went all the way over as soon as Smith joined him in the stern, despite attempts to use the dock to keep it steady.
“Because we’re bigger guys, we thought deeper would be better,” said Coulombe. “Everyone does the same design, but we thought maybe this would work. But it was so rocky that we couldn’t keep it upright.”
It turned out they didn’t need so much freeboard.
“The waterline was here,” said Smith, surprised by how low it was.
“Half of what we thought it would be,” said Coulombe. “It’s hard to tell.”
“A third of what I thought,” said Smith.
To improve on the design next time he said they would likely try a punt style.
“Maybe a tilted bow in the front next time and a square back, and definitely wider to give us a little more stability.”
“Definitely not as deep,” said Smith. “A foot deep would be enough.”
“Our paddles didn’t even get wet,” Coulombe laughed, “but it was good – it was fun.”
Albert House from Acton and Daniel Wray of Brantford, went with a more traditional Build-A-Boat style in 2016 but didn’t have much more success than Coulombe and Smith. House and Wray tipped at the dock in their first attempt. Wray returned for a later heat, solo this time, and got further, but splashed down about 20-30 feet from the dock.
“We never got started, as soon as we got in the boat…” said House, “we sunk.”
“It was fun, really fun,” said Wray, still wet from two ‘swims’ in the harbour.
“It was hard to balance, paddling. When I (leaned) this way with the paddle, I went in the water.”
“We just flipped right away,” said House.
“It was too tall,” he said, noting the seats were too high and their centre of gravity needed to be much lower in the boat. “Next year we’ll know better.”