A Shower of Bathtubs
A man jets across the choppy waters of Nanaimo harbor in western Canada. His boat slices through the snarly waves, rhythmically bucking upward on the rough tides. His shiny helmet and orange suit make him appear like a Nascar racer as he leans forward and darts across the waters. Then you notice that despite his speed he is actually riding along in a bathtub.
Nanaimo is a modern town on the picturesque coast of Vancouver Island that has one claim to fame—the oldest and fastest bathtub race in the world. First started in 1967 by a game ex-mayor fond of dressing up as a pirate, the Nanaimo World Championship Bathtub Race is now the Formula One for flying faucet riders. Originally 200 craft took to the water and jetted 58km (36 miles) across the bay to Vancouver. Now approximately 60 souped-up tubs mounted on race boats do a fast, blustery circuit along the island, beginning and ending at Nanaimo. The race has become so serious, organizers have had to split the race into two professional and amateur categories as the latest bathtub technology was excluding ordinary folks from joining in. The serious race takes less than 2 hours to complete and the winner gets a golden plug on a chain.
Nanaimo is known as the “hub, pub, and tub city.” Originally a mining town, it is now a gateway to Vancouver islands and is notable for the excellent bars located in the downtown district. Once referred to as “a mall in search of a city,” it comes alive for the 4-day marine festival that precedes the bathtub race held on the last Sunday of July. A town parade on the Saturday features local beauty queens, the oldest tubber, and the biggest bathtub in the world—a 10m (34-ft.) monster that is dragged through the streets and then put on display in the local Home Depot parking lot. On Saturday night there is a fireworks display and a ceremonial “Sacrifice to the Bathtub Gods” where an old boat is burned in honor of all the famous tubbers past and present. The race itself gets going at 10am on Sunday and can be viewed from the harbor pier and rocks that line the coast. Day-trippers take the beautiful ferry ride across Horseshoe bay from Vancouver to watch the mad frantic bathtub dash across the waters. A bronze statue of the man who started it all, the pirate costumed Mayor Frank J. Ney, overlooks the entire event. Originally the 1967 race was meant to be a one-off event to celebrate Canada’s centenary. Of the 200 craft that left the pier, only 47 reached Vancouver with most sinking before they left the bay. Men thrashed around in the water cursing their luck. They insisted there must be a repeat race next year, giving them time to improve their bathcrafts. Their efforts did not go down the drain. —CO’M
When to Go: Last weekend of July.
$$ Coast Bastion Inn, 11 Bastion St., Nanaimo, BC ( 250/753-6601; www.coasthotels.com). $ Buccaneer Inn, 1577 Stewart Ave., Nanaimo, BC ( 250/753-1246; www.buccaneerinn.com).