‘Ladies and gentlemen, start your bathtubs’


Michelle DeRoche, Contributing Writer


The next time you think about slip ’n sliding or sledding down Jerome hill, why not bring a bathtub?

In Canada, the sport of bathtub racing has become popular especially across the Strait of Georgia in the eastern North Pacific. The location of the World Championship, also called the Great Race, takes place in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Because of this famous race, Nanaimo is now often called “The Hub, Pub and Tub city.”

So, how does it work? One might think that a bathtub would sink in the water, but after making strategic use of materials and attaching an engine, a bathtub can be transformed into a high-tech boat ready for a competitive race.

This bathtub boat, named, “The Aggressive Salmon,” has raced in the World Championships twice. –Photo courtesy of Ben Friday
This bathtub boat, named, “The Aggressive Salmon,” has raced in the World Championships twice.
–Photo courtesy of Ben Friday

Brandon Leigh, the winner in 2013, finished the course in 1:32:42 with a super-modified engine. Leigh was 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the competition. He said the most important part of the sport is the way that you react to or attack the waves and deal with the wind. Leigh tried to stay on top of the waves and not hit them directly. He also said the race is more about endurance than speed, because it is very easy to sink a bathtub-boat, so the driver has to be careful not to tip sideways and let water in.

When the sport first began in 1967, the bathtubs were made of wood with fiberglass attached to the outside wall. Some contestants began to experiment with materials in an effort to get ahead of the competition, trying aluminum and other metals. Now fiberglass is the main material used.

Fiberglass is strong, light and cheap, and it can also be easily formed into many shapes. According to the racing rules, the tub can be made of any material, but it does have to be at least 3’6” long. The tub must also weigh at least 350 lbs, including the driver, engine, Coast Guard safety equipment, gasoline tank and gas. The bathtubs used for racing are powered by engines, but the engine cannot exceed eight horsepower in strength. The tub also needs to be approved for safety by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Contestants who want to make their own bathtub can start out by reading the instructions found on the website bathtubbing.com under “Bathtub Racing,” then “How to Build a Bathtub.” If construction is not a contestant’s forte, he can also buy a new or used tub. A used tub and motor costs around $500, while a faster, more competitive racing setup can cost from $2,000 to $3,000.

Racing tubs are divided into three classes — stock, modified and super-modified — based on the type of engine they use. A stock motor is an unmodified stock engine. A modified motor entry allows the driver to adjust its lower leg and propeller. Finally, the super-modified entry allows the driver to modify the entire engine as long as factory parts are used. Each year, there is a winner of the World Championship from each engine type. Leigh was the overall winner, with a super-modified engine.

To enter the race, contestants must be at least 14 years old.

This summer the Nanaimo Marine Festival and World Championship Bathtub Race will be from July 25 to 27. It is the 48th annual “Great” International World Championship Bathtub Race, and it is an amusing tradition that will hopefully continue for many years.



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