New twist to boat races this year

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel by Steve Estes

For those of you interested in attempting to dethrone the current King of the Paddleboats, it’s time to start your design work and begin building your paddlewheelers for this year’s event.

Normally we host the event at Parrotdise, but since that venue is closed, we have gotten permission from Looe Key Tiki Bar to hold the races in the canal behind their establishment.

That offers both some nice benefits and some issues for our boat pilots.

There is a lot of parking at Looe Key so bring your cheering sections and your pit crew along.

There is a long seawall at Looe Key so a good seat to watch the fun of the races won’t be an issue.

There is a full-service tiki bar within spitting distance of where the races will be held, which I know pleases the pilots and pit crews, as well as the race moderator—me.

Wind shouldn’t be as much of a factor as it has been in some years past because the canal is more protected from wind than the open water of Parrotdise was.

There is still ample room for power boaters who want to cruise out to the race site to drop an anchor and serve as our impromptu rescue squad to do so.

A couple of years ago we had a racer lose a paddle off their side wheeler about halfway through the race. Of course, that pretty much put them out of the competition, but when the races were over, a Good Samaritan boater pulled up to the shore and delivered the paddle back to the distraught racer.

One year, when the winds were particularly high and pushing boats under the dock, a kayaker got underway and kept an errant pilot from drifting off into the Netherlands of Pine Channel.

She received a free drink for her rescue efforts.

Looe Key has a boat ramp that we can use to launch and retrieve boats instead of the drop-them-in-the-water-and-hope-they-float method off the dock at Parrotdise.

Of course there will also be some logistical challenges with Looe Key that didn’t always exist at Parrotdise.

The course at the latter establishment was a 100-yard straight line sprint from the far end of the dock to shallow water. That eliminated a lot of the issues we have found with steering home made paddle wheelers made out of—well, very little.

Unless we can figure out something different, this year’s course will be a 50-yard sprint up the canal, a turn, and a 50-yard sprint back.

Turns can be somewhat problematic. You see, these things are home made, some with independent gearing, some not. Those without independent gearing usually have a rudder of some type to steer.

But there is always that one boat that shows up without either, like last year’s winner Mayfly. Steerign was accomplished by the pilot dragging his free hands (the boat was foot powered) in the water to keep the boat on a straight course.

That method might still work, but if I were the pilot, I would seriously consider wearing some stiff gloves to prevent smashed hands just in case another pilot gets froggy at the turn.

Adding a turn will definitely make for some fun viewing for the spectators as boats jockey for position into the turn, and lacking position, just ram other competitors out of the way.

We haven’t had a serious problem with sinking boats in the last four years of the event, but I expect it will become more of an issue this year with the addition of a turn.

And the reason I say that is that these boats are again hand made. The water sealant is supplied by duct tape and paint, and maybe chewing gum. It’s almost a certainty that the boat will take on water during the race. Adding a turn which slows things down may allow the boats to take on more water.

My mind reels at the prospect.

And why does my mind reel?

Glad you asked.

The water at Parrotdise was about four feet deep at highest tide. If you lost a pilot, or a boat, you just waded out, bent over, and picked them up. You could drain (the boats) and get them back on the course, shake (the pilots) and put them back in the boat and still be standing.

But the canal behind Looe Key is significantly deeper.

When a boat sinks, and we figure they will (remember that turn?) we’re going to need to have a good free diver or a diver to go down and get the thing off the bottom.

And those pilots who fall out of the boat at the starting line—well that should be interesting to get back in the boat.

We will be releasing the list of materials allowed to make the boats next week, or maybe the next week. For those of you have been involved before, you know the materials list. The races are scheduled for Saturday, April 6 at Looe Key Tiki on Ramrod Key. Registration begins at 10 a.m. Races start at 11 a.m.

We run until a winner is crowned, or until all the pilots are unable to steer straight, and perhaps beyond that.

Come on out. It’s a lot of fun.

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