Model boat enthusiasts racing in Reserve today

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 19, 2010



RESERVE – For the fifth straight year, St. John the Baptist Parish is playing host to what is often dubbed by competitors as one of the premier events for gas powered model boat racing.

Model boat enthusiasts from across the country have descended on Reserve this week for the annual North American Model Boat Association Nitro/Gas Nationals tournament. About 70 entrants have been racing more than 300 boats around an 8-acre retention pond behind St. John Airport. The final class races for the weeklong event will run most of today.

“These are not like those remote control toy boats you’d find at K-Mart or Wal-Mart,” said,” Carlo Catalanotto, director of Voo Doo Model Boaters, the local branch of NAMBA. “These boats are intricately assembled from the ground up with quality parts and equipment.”

Mark Grim, NAMBA vice president, said the boats are broken down into 30 different classes based on size, weight, hull shape and engine size. Competitors run a six-lap race around the pond, and the fastest times advance deeper into the tournament.

“Competitors start the boats, drop them into the water and they have 30 seconds to get lined up to race,” Grim said. “It’s similar to a rolling start in a NASCAR race.”

Grim said competitors pay an entry fee based on class and how many boats entered, but none of the races are for any prizes other than the respect of being national champion for a year.

“The top boats get a trophy and the recognition,” Grim said. “The events are about the camaraderie of boat racing. In competition they are all racing to win, but after it’s all said and done everyone gets together and parties like old friends. It’s a laid back, stress free atmosphere.”

Catalanotto, who has been racing boats since 1995, said boat owners can sometimes pour anywhere from $500 to $2,000 into parts and equipment in order to get the performance they are looking for. Most of the boats are about 43 inches long and can log speeds anywhere from 50 to 80 mph on a 6 horsepower motor.

“These are basically re-conditioned weed eater motors,” Catalanotto said. “We just add the frame and the propellers.”

Grim said NAMBA consists of 20 districts across the United States and Canada. Each district has individual non-profit clubs that run their own heat races throughout the year leading up to the Nationals tournament. Catalanotto said the Voo Doo Boat club is one of two in the Fifth District.

“The popularity has grown dramatically since the beginning, and the club gets bigger and bigger each year,” Catalanotto said. “We’ve grown from a small group of buddies into a group of 45 with members all over the state.”

Catalanotto said the club secured use of the Reserve retention pond in 2005 after fellow boat enthusiast Mike Cantevespri spotted the land as he flew into the St. John Airport.

“He saw the pond and wanted to do something with it,” Catalanotto said. “We were looking for a place locally to race boats, and the land was perfect. We are out here racing regularly.”

For those who can’t make it out today, Catalanotto said the Voo Doo club is planning a heat race event in November the weekend before Thanksgiving.