British Columbia

50 years of Nanaimo bathtub racing told through new book filled with photographs, stories

A Vancouver Island man has written a book covering 50 years of a Nanaimo-based bathtub racing competition that once had a race route that stretched all the way across the Strait of Georgia.

Race featuring vessels that are part speedboat, part bathtub is the most famous bathtub contest in the world

The CHUB Radio tub, which entered the very first race in 1967, is evidence of what Saunders calls the "backyard specials" that used to race in the competition. (Courtesy Kevin Saunders)

A Vancouver Island man has written a book covering almost 50 years of a Nanaimo-based bathtub racing competition that once had a race route that stretched all the way across the Strait of Georgia and today features "high-tech" vessels that are a combination of speedboat and bathtub.

Kevin Saunders' book 50 Years of Bathtub Racing is full of black and white and colour images of the World Championship Bathtub Race, as well as stories of the many characters who have been involved or participated over the years.

One of the main characters is the late Frank Ney, who was mayor of Nanaimo when the race first began in 1967.

The pirate mayor of Nanaimo

Former Nanaimo mayor, the late Frank Ney, was a big supporter of the bathtub race, and often dressed up as a pirate to promote the race and send the bathtubs out to sea. (Courtesy Kevin Saudners)

A big supporter of the event, Ney was known to go around town dressed as a pirate to promote the event.

At that time the race was held as part of Vancouver's annual Sea Festival, and participants raced from Nanaimo to Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver.

"Back in those days a lot of it was whatever these people threw together to race," Saunders told All Points West.

Writer Kevin Saunders said many of the vessels competing in the bathtub races these days are "high tech". This image is competitor Dale Baumel, who won the race in 1999. (Courtesy Kevin Saudners)

"It was a lot of backyard specials as they called them — the bathtub with a piece of plywood or whatever flotation, and the engine strapped on."

'Old silly bathtubs'

Since the middle of the 1990s the race course has ended in Departure Bay instead, and Saunders said the vessels being raced have transformed from "old silly bathtubs" to "high-tech speedboats"

He said that it was the involvement of Australian participants who first came across the race in the early 1970s and late 1980s that revolutionized the sport with their designs for the vessels.

This photo, from the 1980s, is of Gary Deathridge, one of the Australian competitors who won the race to Vancouver twice. (Courtesy Kevin Saunders)

The 2016 Nanaimo Marine Festival & World Championship Bathtub Races will be held Thursday, July 21 to Sunday, July 24 at Maffeo Sutton Park. This year is the 50th year of the race.

Saunders, who has participated in it since 2006 and won the modified class category in 2013, said the competition has stressed safety since it was first founded by Glen Galloway.

Saunders has been competing in the International World Championship Bathtub Race since 2006. (Courtesy Kevin Saunders)

He does remember one year however in the late 1980s where the weather was so rough that only five tubs out of more than 60 made it all the way across the Strait of Georgia.

"It was one of the longest recorded races on the books," Saunders said.

"The winning time was I think over the three-hour mark, which is unusual, because usually the first tubs are at the finish line in an hour 15 [minutes], or an hour and a half."

With files from CBC'S All Points West


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