Hydroplanes make successful return

You could hear them before you could see them.

Hydroplanes, with their distinctive whiny roar, rattled eardrums in Oak Harbor for the first time in nearly 40 years Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16 and 17.

The crowds that lined Pioneer Way and Bayshore Drive could not see the boats being launched behind the slips of the Oak Harbor Marina, but they could hear the drivers fire up their engines. Then, one by one, each boat appeared around the outer float to attack the race course.

As each day’s events unfolded, the boats got bigger. And faster. And louder.

The day opened with the tiny junior boats, engines whining like underpowered motorcycles begging to be shifted into a higher gear. It ended with the ear-thumping roar of the larger boats.

In all, 42 boats raced in 10 divisions.

Forty boats at a first-time event is considered a good turnout by the American Power Boat Association, according to Michelle Curry, event organizer. The number appearing in Oak Harbor should grow in future years, according to the drivers.

“I guarantee you there will be more boats next year once they hear about the course,” Steve Whisman, a driver from Seattle, said. “The atmosphere is great; the people wave at every turn.”

“Michelle Curry did an excellent job in setting it up,” he added.

Ed Kelson, a driver from Covington, echoed those comments: “Once we brag about this town, others will come. For never doing this before, they’ve done an excellent job.”

The race even attracted two “tunnel boats” from California, Kelson said.

“I haven’t seen any of those at our races in years.”

Both Whisman and Kelson said some drivers are reluctant to race in saltwater, and both said that is a poor excuse for not competing.

“It takes about 10 minutes to rinse your boat. Then you use a little Salt Away and you are good to go,” Whisman said.

Kelson, who has been racing since 1971, said it is nice to see new communities interested in hosting races, since the number of Region 10 (Washington, Oregon and Idaho) contests has shrunk to six from as many as 20 in past years.

Kelson said he competed in the last Oak Harbor race: “I think it was 1979 and was over there (pointing to Crescent Harbor).”

Curry called the event “a great success” and is already researching dates for next year. The tides and when other events take place will determine when the second annual Oak Harbor race will be held, Curry said.

The exact date will be announced in October when the APBA reveals the 2015 schedule.

Things went so well, Curry said, two other boating organizations approached her about possibly hosting races in the future.

As for this year, “everything went smoothly,” Curry said.

“There were a few small, little glitches,” she said, which could be expected in a first-time event.

Nearly 200 volunteers helped out, Curry said. About 50 percent of those are active duty and 25 percent from motorcycle clubs.

Among the spectators were visitors from California and Canada, according to Curry.

Curry was told that 15,000 people attended, but she settled on her own “more conservative” guess of 12,000. Organizers estimated about 20 percent of the spectators attended both days.

About 5,000 generally attend an APBA Region 10 event, Curry said.

She did not have an estimated attendance figure for ear plugs.

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