The American Bus Association once ranked it as one of the top 100 events in North America. Meg Rhoades of the White Pine Tour and Recreation Board described it as an “only in Ely” kind of event.
To locals, it’s a fun weekend get together to watch people sail, peddle, paddle, cruise and sometimes sink into the cold waters of Cave Lake.
It’s the fifth annual Great Bathtub Boat Races and festivities will begin on Friday at the Ramada Copper Queen with Bathtub Boat Show at 6 p.m. followed by bathtub races at Cave Lake on Saturday beginning at 3 p.m.
“You won’t find something like this anywhere other than Ely,” Rhoades said. “It’s a great way to spend a day with the family.”
The annual racing of bathtubs consists of people bringing their homemade decorated boats to the lake to race around buoys. Different categories divide the races between men and women, as well as motorized and nonmotorized bathtubs. Kayaks and canoes will also have separate races.
The top three fastest boats in each category will receive cash prizes, from $250 for first place, $125 for second and $75 for third.
While some competitors race for the money, others, such as Eric Skye, have set the bar a bit lower.
“We have been in the races every year since it started. Every year we build a sailboat and every year we just try to finish the race, let alone win,” Sky said. “We love taking junk out of our backyard and see if it floats.”
As the radio host of the local AM station 1610 “The Loop,” he said it’s his favorite event of the year.
Strangely enough, the idea for racing bathtubs originally came from looking at the frozen lake during the annual Fire and Ice event.
“We looked at the bonfires that we held on the lake during Fire and Ice and thought, wouldn’t it be cool to try and create a floating bonfire during the summer?” Rhoades said.
“So several people built a fire inside a bathtub and floated it out onto the lake. And though the floating fires looked cool, it sparked the idea of switching the fire out with people and racing them. No one was going to want to do that I thought. Turns out I was wrong.”
The event, which started in 2009 has grown to be recognized by organizations such as the ABA as one of the top 100 things to do in North America. This year’s event is expected to draw a larger turnout than last year’s, with an estimated crowd of 1,500 to 3,000, so Rhoades recommends that people get to the lake early.
Vendors such as the Jailhouse Casino will begin selling food and beverages at 11 a.m.
Competitors will be charged $25 to race in each category and park admission will be $10. Those looking for a race on a smaller scale can also buy a rubber duck from the Tour and Recreation board for $5. The board will sell 200 ducks and then dump them into the middle of the lake. The first duck to reach the shore will earn its owner half of the total prize money.
The event is not considered to be a big moneymaker for the board, according to Rhoades, but continues to live on based on the how much fun the community has.
For more information on the Great Bathtub Races, contact the White Pine Tour and Recreation Board at 775-289-4325.