In the Harbour City, the place to be in summertime is by the seaside.
Three of Nanaimo’s premier festivals carry on a tradition next month of holding their events on back-to-back-to-back weekends, creating momentum and atmosphere at Maffeo Sutton Park.
The Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival is July 6-8, the Silly Boat Regatta is July 15 and the Nanaimo Marine Festival is July 20-22.
In recent years the festival organizers have developed their relationships with one another and have tried to boost their presence at each others’ events and support them in different ways.
The dragonboat festival is first up and fast approaching, but organizers will be ready to enter the dragon.
“We’re all organized, we’re all ready to go,” said Heiko Behn, festival society chairman. “This is our 16th year, so we’ve got it down to a fine art … It’ll be a really great time.”
The theme this year is ‘sweet 16’ and teams will offer their interpretations.
“I suspect we’re going to have a number of people in their pink outfits or whatever, looking like they’re 16 years old,” Behn said.
Even if some of the paddlers are a little older than that, dragon boating keeps people young. The races out in the harbour are always competitive, with 60 teams from around Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest out to win their divisions.
There will plenty of diversions around the park, with a Stones of Courage ceremony on the Friday night, opening ceremonies at midday Saturday, an Elvis gospel show Sunday morning and the Crimson Coast Dance Society’s Infringing Festival going on concurrently all weekend.
“We’re into quite a symbiotic relationship [with Crimson Coast],” Behn said. “It’s part of their mandate to do stuff out in the public and when you’ve got 10,000 people that come down there in the course of the weekend, it’s an opportunity for them to showcase their performers and talents and at the same time, it allows us to have some entertainment for people who are in between races.”
Though the number of teams is down a touch from last year, Behn is confident the event will still meet its fundraising goals in support of Nanaimo Community Hospice and the Nanaimo Hospital Foundation. And as usual, it will be tough to find a hotel room in the city on dragonboat weekend.
“I think we do a pretty good job of providing support to the economic engine of the city of Nanaimo, as well,” he said.
A week later it will be silly boats filling the harbour. The Silly Boat Regatta, a fundraiser for the Nanaimo Child Development Centre, is a long-running local event that sees teams build boats by hand at Maffeo Sutton Park and then race them a short distance around a buoy and back to the beach.
The silly boats don’t glide through the water in the same way the dragonboats do, and the paddlers aren’t always in sync, but that said, the homemade boats are often surprisingly seaworthy.
“It can be very competitive for some of them … definitely, they take it very seriously and we do have some people, already they’re throwing a little smack around about who’s going to be the winners this year,” said Tracy Berg with the child development centre.
She said there’s a lot of excitement building for this year’s event with a lot of teams signing up early to make sure they have their place in the heats and if all goes well, the finals.
“A large amount of the teams are already set in place and we are just working with the teams now on all their great fundraisers that they’re doing pre-silly boat,” Berg said. “There’s always still room for more teams, though. We’d love to have people right up till the last couple of days before silly boat.”
She said family teams are always encouraged; the entry fee is lower than for corporate teams but there aren’t usually as many entries.
Whether families go to race or just go to watch the thrills and spills and be part of the fun, there’s always something to see and do at Maffeo Sutton Park the day of the regatta. Juggler and children’s entertainer Clever Trevor and other local musicians and dancers are booked, and there will be other activities.
Berg said the child development centre appreciates any and all support at what is its biggest fundraiser every year.
“We count on this,” she said. “This is money that’s counted on to run our programs and our services, so it’s a necessity that it’s successful every year.”
While dragon boats and silly boats are strongly connected with Nanaimo’s community, there’s one mode of ocean transport, more than any other, that people identify with the city – bathtubs.
The Great International World Championship Bathtub Race is the main event every year at the Nanaimo Marine Festival.
The weekend consists of a series of events, with concerts, street fairs and other family activities, a Sailpast parade, fireworks and more leading up to the great race on Sunday morning.
“Bathtub weekend is iconic,” said Greg Peacock, Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society commodore. “Everybody across the country remembers bathtub weekend in some form or another. So that being said, we’re trying to bring that feeling back in general. In the big-picture plan, we’re trying to kick it up a notch.”
Organizers are thrilled that they were able to bring in country music singer Gord Bamford to headline the Friday night ticketed concert. The show will be a licenced event, with the park fenced off.
The entertainment setup will be totally different for Saturday, as only a beer garden area will be fenced off and all the concerts will be free, with Wunderbread, the Eggmen, and David James and Big River among the scheduled acts.
As for race day, the sport is ever evolving and any time there are calm seas, there’s the possibility that a super-modified bathtub could complete the 58-kilometre course in world record time.
Bathtub racing advocates have recently spent their energies in trying to grow the sport once again on the other side of the Strait of Georgia, and some of those efforts are paying off.
“We’ve had people that haven’t raced for a long time that are kind of coming out of the woodwork, saying, ‘I’ve got a bathtub in my grandma’s backyard that hasn’t been run since ’94,’” Peacock said. “So we’re expecting to have quite a few of those people, as well.”