Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Keyport and Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges Nanoose Bay continued their annual tradition of jointly participating in the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race off the coast of Nanaimo, British Columbia, July 23.
The event is just what it sounds like: a quirky, thrilling competition featuring tiny powered watercraft made from bathtubs. It began in 1967 as a fun way to celebrate Nanaimo’s centennial anniversary, and has since grown into a beloved annual tradition that attracts participants from across Canada and beyond and fosters a sense of community and camaraderie among those who compete in it.
NUWC Division, Keyport and CFMETR have a longstanding collaborative partnership born of their joint management of an undersea warfare technology testing and evaluation range offshore from Nanaimo. The annual bathtub race provides both units with a valuable opportunity to strengthen this partnership and engage with the local community in Nanaimo, according to NUWC Division, Keyport Branch Head for Nanoose Operations Conan Simoes.
“I look at this as a great collaboration and teaming opportunity between the U.S. and Canada,” said Simoes. “It’s a great way for the U.S. and CFMETR to work together on community outreach as part of our joint range management.”
While NUWC Division, Keyport and CFMETR have long provided crucial safety support for the race, this year’s race was the first in several years in which they also competed, said Simoes, who led the command’s involvement and also piloted NUWC Division, Keyport and CFMETR’s entry in the race.
Simoes faced skepticism from his colleagues when he initially began advocating for NUWC Division, Keyport to enter the race. “Everybody kind of calls me crazy, but I think it’ll be fun to putter around out there in the race,” he said when interviewed prior to the race. Simoes had never before raced in a bathtub boat, but he took up the challenge with gusto.
A lot goes into preparing a tub for racing, including selecting an appropriate tub, attaching an outboard engine, making speed and control modifications, decorating the tub, and conducting testing and training.
CFMETR supplied and did most of the work of customizing and testing the tub in which Simoes ran the race. The tub was outfitted with a boat-shaped frame and an 8.5-horsepower engine, and was designed with a minimalist aesthetic that reflects the “go-to” attitude shared by both NUWC Division, Keyport and CFMETR, said Simoes.
Maintaining balance in a bathtub boat is a constant struggle due to the tub’s compact size and limited stability. This challenge is amplified when adverse weather conditions, such as strong crosswinds, come into play.
“It doesn’t take much to put you in the water, and once you’re in the water, you’re most likely done with the race because your engine will get flooded,” said Simoes.
Stretching 58 kilometers through waters several hundred feet deep, the Nanaimo racecourse can be especially challenging. Depending on the weather, it can easily take a couple of hours to complete, and there may be many boats that don’t finish at all, said Simoes.
Fortunately, weather conditions were ideal this year, according to Jeffrey Steiger, skipper of NUWC Division, Keyport’s Torpedo Weapons Recovery-8 craft, which served as the event’s anchor boat, trailing behind the last of the racers to ensure no one was left behind.
“We had great weather,” said Steiger. “It was a little breezy, like ten knots of wind. The seas were calm, so it was a great day for them to run. It was a great time to get back into the bathtub races.”
The TWR-8 was one of many support vessels ready to help racers in the event of mechanical failures, falls overboard and other mishaps. Each tub had its own support boat, and a fleet of other vessels oversaw the race’s overall safety. Among the entities involved in providing safety support were NUWC Division, Keyport, CFMETR, the Nanaimo Port Authority, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue.
Also on hand were three Navy divers from the NUWC Division, Keyport dive locker, one assigned to the TWR-8 and the other two manning the escort vessel that accompanied Simoes’ tub. Simoes said their presence was crucial to his success during the race.
“Knowing that I had safety swimmers with me helped me feel some semblance of calm and confidence,” he said. “They also helped with some of my pit stops to make sure that the boat could finish.”
Simoes faced some complications due to awkward placement of the tub’s tiller that he believes would have prevented him from completing the race, if not for a clever solution devised by the personnel on the escort vessel.
Simoes took two hours and 14 minutes to cross the finish line, coming in second to last out of a total of 36 racers. He said he’s happy with this outcome, since his goal wasn’t to win but merely to show that NUWC Division, Keyport and CFMETR could “have a boat entry and finish the race without flipping and flooding the engine.”
“From our perspective, mission accomplished,” said Simões. “We had an entry, we got ourselves back out there in terms of outreach and community, we represented [NUWC Division, Keyport and CFMETR’s] joint range to the community and we finished the race.”
From a safety standpoint, the race went “as well as it could have,” said Steiger. “From what I heard over the radio, there were a few vessels that had to drop out due to mechanical issues, but all in all, I believe it was a safe event. Nobody was injured, and no boats had any issues other than the race boats.”
Simoes said this year’s event was “a good step” toward making the NUWC Division, Keyport community more aware of both the race and the command’s partnership with CFMETR.
He added that he would like to see the command continue raising awareness about the race and CFMETR by broadening its involvement in the event through participation in some of its other activities, which include vendor booths and a lively parade called the Sailpast.
“I would like to see a parade entry where we put a little bit of effort into it and maybe even have a booth to demonstrate what we and CFMETR do for the community,” said Simoes.
Simoes said he would also like NUWC Division, Keyport and CFMETR to have a stronger competitive presence in next year’s race by entering two tubs rather than just one.
US Navy photo