WHEELING - Spectators will enjoy the cool spray of river water and the deafening roar of 50 vintage hydroplane raceboats peeding down the Ohio River at the seventh annual Vintage Raceboat Regatta on Labor Day Weekend at Heritage Port in Wheeling.
Boat enthusiasts, causal onlookers and children alike will enjoy three days of the indescribable excitement of watching hydroplane raceboats fly on the river, at least when they are not eating wonderful food, listening to some country music or building their own boats at Sea Quest Kids.
Boats coming in from distances as far away as Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Baton Rouge, La., will start to fill the Heritage Port on Thursday night before official registration on Friday.
Spectators will have the chance to get a good look at all the raceboats and chat with the drivers before watching them in action. Driving demonstrations of the boats, speeding at anywhere between 60 to120 mph, will run from 10 a.m. to noon and resume from 1:30 p.m. to approximately 5 p.m both Saturday and Sunday.
The addition of free music during racing breaks will enhance the Regatta this year.
People can enjoy the country tunes of local mother and daughter duo Loretta and Elli Friday at 6 p.m. or check out the concert Saturday night with the band Stack of Monkeys playing at 7:30 p.m. and Hot Pursuit capping off the evening.
Also new this year is a photo contest- Anybody who attended the Regatta can submit a photo from the weekend on the Regatta's Facebook page.
The photo can be of anything at the Regatta, whether it's of the hydroplanes, someone enjoying the food or children building their own raceboats and can be submitted until September 15.
The winner will receive a basket of Regatta merchandise and souvenirs.
Kids ages three to 12 can also participate in a coloring contest.
The blank drawing can be downloaded on the Regatta website or can be picked up at Heritage Port during the weekend.
Entries should be turned in to the coloring booth no later than 1 p.m. Sunday.
First place winners will receive cash prizes.
Children can also become boaters themselves at Sea Quest Kids, where kids ages five to 18 of all ability levels can build four by eight foot wooden boats that they can test out and race on the water while learning about boat safety.
In between boat viewing, participants can dig into a good meal at one of the food vendors offering chicken and rib dinners, hot sausage sandwiches, steak tips or ice cream and then take a stroll along the port to view the many craft vendors. Those interested in the arts can stop by and watch Paul Latos of Linn Pottery in Wheeling demonstrate how to throw a pot. Children can admire displays from toy and craft vendors by local toy museums including the Oglebay Institute's Schrader Center, the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum and Bellaire Toy and Plastic Brick Museum.
There will also be demonstrations from the Wheeling Police Department K-9 Unit, radio-controlled airplane shows by the Ohio Valley Hilltoppers and an autograph session with raceboat drivers with free posters being given to the first 100 people Saturday and Sunday during lunch.
Vintage raceboats like those that competed at the old New Martinsville Regatta for many years remain the main attraction, however. In fact, a few of the boats coming to Wheeling actually did race in New Martinsville.
Boats at the Wheeling event differ from those in modern hydroplane racing in that the old boats, often with wooden hulls, had drivers seated in open cockpits without safety harnesses. Modern racing mandates boats with enclosed safety capsules. Race organizer Debbie Joseph emphasized racers on the water in Wheeling will be making exhibition runs only, with no actual racing permitted. Still, she noted, speeds can top 100 mph.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Easter Seal Rehabilitation Center in Wheeling.