Eight-year-old wins 2nd annual Bayfest boat races

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Joe Crockett's boat-building strategy plan was simple.

"Just want to keep it afloat long enough to get through the race," said Crockett, building a homemade boat Saturday morning for Bayfest's second annual Build a Boat by the Bay race in the Port Rowan harbour/dock area.

"Just try to make it float. As long as they get through it, they'll do all right."

Assisting Crockett were the team's two first-time Build-A-Boat racers, 12 and 13-year-olds Caleb Goosen and Ashden Crockett, who named their boat 'Betty.'

Boat and paddle designs varied among the nine teams, ranging from traditional flat-bottom 'canoe' type a curvy race design.

"I build cars, not boats," said Rick Wood, who borrowed his professional-looking design from the Internet.

"I looked at all the one-sheet designs, but they're not usually round at the bottom. That just happened. I started with the flat bottom, then we bent it up and screwed it together. It was a guess, but it worked."

And one square-box design that its team, built by Mike, Ally and Hunter DeBruyn, would attempt to pole to victory, rather than paddle.

"It's water-tight," said Mike.

"It's ready to go," nodded Hunter, adding this was their team's first time racing at Bayfest. "As you can see, it's a nice-looking boat. Square."

The square design was intentional, they would not have to turn the boat around at the midpoint – just their bodies inside the boat – to race back to the docks.

"And our sides (gunnels) are high up, so it shouldn't sink and no water should be able to get in," said Ally.

"We (duct) taped all the holes so no water would get in," said Hunter.

Building materials included a sheet-and-a-half of OSB plywood, 1x3 and 2x2 wood, nails and screws, and a roll of duct tape. Teams brought their own tools, but there was no electricity provided, which meant they were battery-operated or handtools.

Use of the skid and wrapping were optional, said race sponsor Brian Vermeersch, owner of Port Rowan Home Building Centre.

"All the packages were equal, nobody knew what was in there until they opened it," said Vermeersch. "When they first started some people had a clear direction of where they wanted to go, some didn't have a clue, but they all end up with something at the end.

"It's the second year for this and people seem to like it. Last year there was a grandfather and grand-daughter, and this year fathers with their kids. I don't think they care if they win or not, it's just something for them to do together.

"It's always fun when they hit the water."

Racing began at 1 p.m. with three heats of three boats, followed by a final race of three.

Brian Dunbar and Mitchell Wieler were the only racers to tip Saturday, first when they launched their boat, and again early in the second heat.

"It wasn't wide enough, I don't think," said Dunbar.

"One side was a little iffy," said Wieler, who sat in the bow. "My side."

Both said they had fun Saturday, and both learned from the boat-building experience.

"Yeah, I know what I would do next time," said Dunbar. "I think we'd make it not as long, and kind of bow out the sides a bit."

Winner of Saturday's final was eight-year-old Aubrey Wood, who solo 'kayaked' her boat, The Black Pearl, built by her dad Rick Wood, to victory. Wood grabbed the early lead, while racing to the buoy was 'bumped' from behind by her adult competitors.

"I was right beside them, but they kept knocking into me, so I decided to go right in front of them."

Wood made a quick spinning turn on the other side of the buoy, giving her a sizable lead coming back to the dock.

"I have a kayak," said Wood, who got a kayak last Christmas and has been on the water with it three times, "and if you paddle on one side, it makes it easier to turn."

The eight-year-old seemed to be fading in the home stretch, and the winners of the second heat were closing fast.

"My boat was sinking, it had a lot more water than the first time. And my arms were getting tired – you had to paddle harder because all the winners were in it."

A final burst of speed from Wood won the race.

"The second race was harder because all the winners were like right beside me," said Wood, still catching her breath after her victory. "But once we got to the buoys it was a lot easier because the other ones were hitting the buoys. It was easier to pass them."

Goosen and Crockett won the third heat, then had to load up almost immediately for the final where they paddled to a third-place finish.

"Just tired, no break really," said Goosen.

Joe Crockett, who cheered from the dock area, said next year he'd aim for a design a little lower and wider.

"So they can get their arms over the gunnels a little easier. And wider for stability – if we're going to go lower, we need to go wider, just for the safety aspect. It was pretty stable though, the only water they took on was from paddling."

The DeBruyns' experiment in poling did not go as well as planned. The soft-bottom, weedy harbour proved to be too much for their punt in the third heat.

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