NANAIMO — Most years it's high seas and heavy winds that wreak havoc on bathtub racers. This year, the challenges started months before the tubs even hit the water.
For Kurt Henderson, who has been involved in tubbing for nearly two-decades, it was a deflating feeling when his finely-tuned super-modified motor was stolen off his tub as it sat in his driveway in May.
"I thought it was a bad joke for a while. Honestly I did feel a little defeated and I just felt like 'screw it.' It took so long to get that motor up to where it was," Henderson told NanaimoNewsNOW. "But I had a really huge outpouring of support and a lot of people stepped forward and offered motors and all kinds of things."
Henderson said he found a suitable replacement and, with the help of a friend, re-built the motor from scratch.
Even that process didn't come without its difficulties.
"I took it out for the circuit race in Departure Bay on Canada Day and I started really well, but I wasn't used to it. They're very particular in handling. I barrel-rolled the tub, sunk it and had to re-build the motor again," Henderson said, chuckling as he noted it brought back memories of his first ever race when he sank his tub.
The 53-year-old lifetime Nanaimo resident believed his new motor makes him a contender this year, hoping to build on last year when he placed third out of only five racers who were able to finish the race in "super gnarly conditions."
Henderson was also the first racer to make it across the Strait during last year's commemorative Nanaimo-to-Vancouver event.
Competition, camaraderie, and adrenaline made bathtub racing an "addictive" cocktail for Henderson.
"You have this level of control, you're experiencing things you like: speed, the smell of the air, jumping waves. You've got a bunch of like-minded people around you and it's just a thrill."
Henderson wasn't the only racer victimized by modern day pirates. Brad Davis and Tyler Lucente had their motors stolen in late May, however they were recovered and both men are expected to be at the starting line.
Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society commodore Greg Peacock expected at least 40 racers to take part in the 52nd Great International World Championship Bathtub Race on Sunday, July 22.
Peacock said this year they are saluting former mayor Frank Ney, founder of the race and society. All of the racers will have a commemorative sticker on their tubs to mark Ney's 100th birthday.
While focusing on getting more competitors into the race and spreading the bathtub brand outside of Nanaimo, Peacock said organizers also wanted to build up the events surrounding the race.
"There is a new interest, a new spark with bathtub racing. This is a real sport. It's a gruelling race, 60 kilometres in the open Salish Sea. These guys get banged around for over an hour. It's kind of silly but it's a sport," Peacock said.
He said the forecast called for calm weather on Sunday, however winds were up in Maffeo Sutton Park on Friday afternoon. The 2017 edition of the race saw some of the worst conditions in the event's history, with only five of the 38 racers finishing.
There are concerts, events, and a beer garden in Maffeo Sutton starting Friday. A pancake breakfast and parade highlight Saturday morning's festivities, while the hugely popular fireworks displays is scheduled for 10 p.m. Saturday.
The Great Race gets underway at 11 a.m. Sunday, with racers starting and finishing near the Frank Ney statue in the park.
Full details and more information can be found here.
On Twitter: @domabassi
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