Small boats and big ambitions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 17, 2009



RESERVE – For the fourth straight year, St. John Parish is playing host to what has been dubbed by competitors as the “Super Bowl” of gas-powered model boat racing.

Model boat hobbyists from 17 states and four countries will descend on Reserve this weekend for the annual International Model Power Boat Association Gas Nationals tournament.

“We’re not talking about little toy boats you’d find at K-Mart or Wal-Mart,” said Mike Cantavespri, founder and vice president of the local IMPBA chapter. “These boats are intricately assembled from the ground up with quality parts and equipment.”

Cantavespri said boat owners can sometimes pour thousands of dollars into their models in an effort to get the right parts and the best performance.

“Most boats run on engines big enough to power an average weed eater or lawn mower,” Cantavespri said. “Drivers can usually reach speeds that average at about 70 miles per hour.”

Event organizers said this year’s Gas Nationals tournament is expected to draw about 77 drivers piloting more than 300 boats. Cantavespri said the boats are split into classes based on size, shape, boat style, engine power and hull division.

The five-day event, which officially kicks off today and wraps up Sunday, draws in racing clubs from seven districts across the United States and Canada. There will also be a handful of racers from as far as Germany and Australia. The boats will race on a 4-foot-deep retention pond just east of St. John Airport.

“Its not just the racing that draws competitors,” Cantavespri said. “It is also the camaraderie we have with each other. Most of us have discussions through message boards over the Internet, and it is good to place a face with a name.”

Cantavespri said the event will feature a live band, food and drinks. Racing heats begin Thursday morning and carry on through Sunday. Competitors pay a fee for each boat entered, but Cantavespri said drivers don’t race for money – only for trophies and bragging rights.

“Most of the clubs are non-profit groups that don’t make any money anyway,” he said. “We’re just enthusiasts who get together for a good time, and then a boat race breaks out.”