Sproat Lake Regatta: Revival at Sproat Lake
Stan Kujala was too young to remember the last time a racing regatta was held at Sproat Lake, even though he has spent his whole life living at the lake. But he remembers his father’s enthusiasm for the water sport.
He has seen the Super 8 video his father captured from the 1958 and 1962 races, which drew thousands of spectators, and he believes that can be recreated.
“When I think of Thunder in the Valley, they bring in 2,000 people,” he said.
Kujala is part of a core of boating enthusiasts who have revived the Sproat Lake Regatta. The 2014 version will hit the lake July 18–20, starting with a boat show and shine at Pacific Chevrolet (3800 Johnston Rd.) in Port Alberni on Friday, July 18 from 4–9 p.m. Racers will test and tune their boats on Saturday, July 19 then pre-race festivities start around 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 20 at Sproat Lake Provincial Park.
When the races start on Sunday, Kujala hopes to be part of them. He has been working on the 1982 Cougar flat bottom boat nicknamed West Coast Quickey, that used to belong to former Canadian champion Bill Beazley. The boat, fitted with a 402 cubic inch big block Chevy engine, has changed hands a few times and has been in storage for a few years.
“This is the first time it’s been on the water in many years,” said Kujala.
This will also be the first time he has drag raced a boat. Although he has competed in waterskiing and travelled to the United States to watch high-performance boat racing, this will be his first foray into racing. He will compete in the flat bottom class.
The Sproat Lake Regatta dates back to the summer of 1928, when the first event included races of up to five miles and boats as fast as 20 horsepower.
The Sproat Lake Motor Boat Club was formed in June 1930 with the object of expanding the event. The regattas, swimming and water sports competitions and dance, according to history compiled by Ray Nass, annually drew a large crowd.
Interest waned in the 1940s, but in 1953 the Sproat Lake Ratepayers’ Association noted a growing interest in boating and people on the water with fast boats, so they revived the regattas. Led by Frank Flitton, the association built up the Sproat Lake Regatta into one of the top fully sanctioned events in the Pacific Northwest.
The regattas were so successful, but organizers were “getting tired” despite changing leadership in 1959, so the final regatta was run in 1962.
While many of the oldtimers are gone now, there are a few, like Canadian record holder Joe Van Bergen, who remember the camaraderie and passion for the event. After years of talk, the Alberni Valley Regatta Association was formed, a 10-year permit was obtained from BC Parks to hold the event at Sproat Lake Provincial Park, and the regatta was planned.
The regatta association inherited much-needed equipment from the Fraser Valley Drag Boat Association when it folded, including a starting light tower, rescue ambulance craft, service boat and motor and a van load of other items.
The association was also successful in acquiring a land use permit from Island Timberlands for a four-acre parcel of land adjoining the provincial park, which they will be able to use as overflow for racers, said Van Bergen, who is part of the core group that has revived the event.
Admission to the regatta is by donation; organizers are not allowed to charge a set fee because the event is taking place in a provincial park. Concessions will be available at the site. No alcohol will be permitted. As parking on the site is limited, overflow parking will be at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport with free shuttle service between the airport and the lake all day.
For more information, go online to www.AlberniValleyRegatta.com, or check out their Facebook page.