Bathtubs Racing

First prototype of a racing bathtub

Copters are circling
Nanaimo is under siege
Time for Bathtub Race

At the end of July each year, the Nanaimo Marine Festival and World Championship Bathtub Race consumes the city. It’s been an infamous playground for the worst type of bohunks and woo-girls, pickling under the hot sun and running amok downtown deep into the night. In Vancouver we would have characterized them as Bridge & Tunnel Traffic, the same breed of losers responsible for the Stanley Cup riots. Here in Nanaimo, with a lack of distinct suburbs connected by bridges or tunnels, I guess we just call them “locals”. As an introvert (some would say “misanthrope”) I try to avoid these people like they’re transmitting The Plague.

When I moved to Nanaimo I managed to steer clear of this annual spectacle by simply leaving town, a successful strategy for over a decade. But money and circumstance keep me prisoner on the island this summer (better than it sounds), and subject to the joys of our town’s claim to fame: the Bathtub Race with its street-closing parade, street fair, live music, fireworks, firing pistols, and waves of bodies. For them it is fun and they celebrate. I shudder.

After walking into the Old City Quarter yesterday afternoon to work on a story, out of habit Sean and I continued down the hill. We like to wander around Commercial Street on Saturdays. Once we’d cleared the Bastion Bridge it hit me like a ten-foot wave in the chest: we were entering Ground Zero of Marine Festival Revelries. One of the bars featured outdoor patio service and dunk tank (a Dunk-the-Drunk Tank). Commercial Street was closed to vehicles and lined with carnival-type vendor tents, surrounded by all manner of young and old, strollers muscling for space with mobility scooters. I panicked. We darted up Chapel Street to regroup in relative quiet (amplified busker celebrating the music of Cat Stevens notwithstanding). The plan? Leave as quickly as possible. Requiring cold drinks to fuel the trip home we stopped at Mon Petit Choux, one of our favourite spots, and found it nearly empty. Through the doors we were cradled in air conditioned comfort and blissful calm. Panic subsiding, we breakfasted with a large pane of glass between us and the melee outside. It was like we were in an aquarium. And it was good.

Fortified, we broke through the crowds to make our escape back to the safety of our own four walls where we would remain during the evening and through the race itself on Sunday. 2014: done and dusted.

To its credit, the Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society has made some changes over the years in an attempt to distance itself from the event’s Partytown reputation. It may be that there are other plans taking shape that would deliver an event that’s fresher, vibrant (in an authentic as opposed to cheesy way), and more inclusive of the entire community. It would be nice to stay in town and be a part of it one year–on purpose.

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