A cloudless day and calm waters should have made for a relatively straightforward boat races during Saturday’s DeSoto Bottle Boat Regatta.
That wasn’t the case, though. In fact, the races turned out to be a bit crooked as adults and children alike couldn’t seem to figure out how to steer their ships straight to the finish line.
The 37th annual event at Palma Sola Causeway Park attracted more than 200 participants and spectators who cheered on the rowers of custom-made vessels made to float with the help of hollow plastic bottles.
“It’s just to get the kids out building boats and having fun,” said DJ Hager, chairman of the event put on by the DeSoto Historical Society, who added that watching them have fun was his favorite part.
And they did have fun. Morgan Lovelace, a fifth-grader at Ida M. Stewart Elementary, said this was her first year participating, but she'd love to try again next year in the middle school races.
"We did pretty good," said Lovelace, who helped row Stewart's 'Shooting Star' boat. "This is my first time but I like pretty much everything about it."
Stewart's boat has been around for about a dozen years and was prepared by John Schultz, who couldn't attend the event due to a lacrosse event. Every year, he refurbishes the Shooting Star by replacing the bottles that keep it afloat and replacing the straps.
Jay Lespasio filled in for Schultz and said it was his pleasure because the kids at Stewart are "the nicest in the world," though he did say conditions could have been a bit better.
"It's beautiful out, but there's a crosswind going on," Lespasio said. "We'd prefer no wind."
Announcers said that in previous years racers had to fight against the current, but this year it just made it harder to stay on track — and even harder to correct your course, according to Lovelace.
"It's really hard to stay on track," she explained. "Some people row differently and once you get off track, someone on the other side has to go harder to make it right."
While the kids struggled to stay straight, the adults fared even worse, falling off of their boats and losing their oars multiple times during their races, thanks to a few pirate shenanigans.
As the DeSoto Historical Society battled the Anna Maria Privateers head-to-head and looked like they were going to win the race by a mile, onlookers waded into the shallow water and held their boat. That wasn't enough to prevent a DeSoto victory, but it was all in good fun, said Tiffany Stripling.
"Of course they cheated! But it's still not bad for the Privateers," she said. "This is our first time building our own boat and we hope to build another and come back next year."
The competition was broken down into bracket-style tournament with heats between elementary school, middle school, high school and adult racers. Hager said losing your first race didn't mean you were done for the day, and each team raced at least twice before being knocked out.