The Great International World Championship Bathtub Race is ending up right back where it started 48 years ago – at the downtown Nanaimo waterfront.
Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society announced Wednesday the 2015 race will start and finish in front of Maffeo Sutton Park for the first time since the race started in 1967.
It means spectators won’t have to make their way to Departure Bay Beach to see the race finish, said Bill McGuire, Bathtub society commodore.
“Tubbers will, in fact, ring the bell right underneath the Frank Ney Statue, an iconic symbol of Nanaimo’s former mayor who was largely responsible for inventing this crazy sport,” he said.
A successful marine festival, including music, street entertainment, the Sail Past on Wheels Parade, annual fireworks display and keeping hundreds of spectators downtown to witness the start and finish of the race, is seen as key to making the event a success in coming years.
John Ruttan, former Nanaimo mayor and race commodore, said it makes sense on multiple levels to concentrate all activities in one area and to build and strengthen community partnerships between the Bathtub society and the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, Old City Quarter, the city, Nanaimo Port Authority and others.
McGuire said people have asked about starting and finishing the race in the same place for years, but there has always been the need to strike a balance between safety, course length and maintaining the level of challenge tub racers have come to expect.
The new course covers just over 32 nautical miles or 59.5 kilometres, nearly the same distance as the previous course.
“The race is actually going to be a more challenging one for our tubbers,” McGuire said. “The roughest part of the entire course has always been Entrance Island and this new route has tighter turns and more activity in that area.”
Tubs jockeying for position, their escort boats, plus pleasure craft that bring more spectators close to the race course contribute to safety concerns when so many boats are jammed in the harbour.
Bob Smits, safety and communications director, said the biggest challenges to changing the race course were maintaining its length and coordinating the race time with the schedules of other users, such as air carriers and ferries and avoiding popular diving spots.
“Making sure that the course length is still the same, because we want to be able to compare race times year over year,” Smits said. “Second, making sure it fits with all the other users on the water.”
This year’s Marine Festival runs July 23-26.