LOCK HAVEN - Besides all of the other fun activities that surround the annual Lock Haven Area Jaycees Boat Regatta, there would be no event without the boats.
And they're coming again this year, from as far away as Maine, Florida, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, California and Canada, ready to race on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in the city.
Lisa Jennings, of the American Power Boating Association's Central Jersey Racing Association, said the Lock Haven event was the biggest one of its kind last year with over 500 boats. This year's count is expected to dip somewhat to between 300 and 350 due to the high price of gasoline.
But the regatta remains one of the largest on the East Coast, and most competitors consider it the second-biggest boat race of the year, close behind The Nationals.
The local regatta will again feature numerous North American Championship boat races.
Jennings reported the fastest boats on the river Labor Day weekend will be the the Alcohol Pro Class 125 cc and 250 cc. The latter boats can get up to speeds of around 92 mph.
"We are really pleased to have the Alcohol Pro Class boats here again this year," said race Chairman Scott Johnson. "They will be the fastest and the loudest boats out there, so they should generate a lot of excitement for the fans."
Other boats will be several classes of modified and stock outboard boats, and J Class boats, which are specifically designed for younger riders.
The J Class is based on the stock outboard A Class, but with a restrictor plate behind the carburetor to hold down speeds. In addition, all the propellers for this class are supplied by APBA. The reason for this, officials say, is to equalize each boat's performance.
There are two classes of outboard boats:
n Runabouts make use of a flat bottom hull. They have strict length and design restrictions, turn on the inside, and require the skilled movement of the driver's weight to control turns. The crafts are stable, enabling drivers to run very close together and increasing the drivers' and spectators' excitement.
n Hydroplanes have fewer design restrictions, but are typically built to trap air under the hull. This trapping of air causes the boat to actually run above the water's surface at top speed. The Hydros make use of a side fin for turning the boat in a level position. Turning in a group of boats is a different story. The side fins on a group of boats can produce a spray worse than riding through a car wash. Hydros are very tricky to run close together because of the delicate cushion of air they ride on. Too much air and you're over backwards, a sudden change to no air under the boat can cause the bow to dive and the boat crashes, according to the APBA.
Races normally run two heats of three laps in a counterclockwise direction. The consistent course rules allow drivers to design and rig their boats to turn left effectively.
The starts at the Lock Haven event will be clock starts, where drivers are given three minutes to get their boats on the course and in position for the start under a green flag. After the three minutes have expired, the clock ticks down from one minute under a white flag. The object is to get to the start/finish line when the clock strikes zero. Too early, the boater jumps the gun and is disqualified; too late and the boater has given the advantage to competitors. There are no lanes assigned to racers. They fight to get lanes and have to clearly establish it 500 feet before the start line. This can often be the most exciting part of the race for the spectator.
Once the boats start, it is on to the first turn with boats still battling for their lanes through the turn. The inside lane is the shortest route and the toughest to obtain.
Boaters say one of the unique things about racing is that, while the outline of the course remains the same, the water is constantly changing, forcing drivers to stay sharp, watching the waves as well as the other boats.
The main highlight for the boaters at the Lock Haven event is the "Dash for Cash," which is scheduled for about noon Sunday. The race, pitting between 15 and 30 C-Stock Hydro boats against each other, carries with it a purse of between $1,000 and $2,500.
"Donations are also accepted for that race," Jennings said. "People can donate by going down by the boat ramp or at the judges' stand."
The boaters will race three laps each at about three-quarters of a mile from just above the Veterans Bridge to just before the Tidlow Dam on Grant Street
Jennings said a lot of boaters enjoy the festive affair that surrounds the regatta.
"It is a favorite among all of our drivers," she said. "The wives of the boaters love to come due to the craft show and the kids love the carnival. Most of the racers make their reservations for the next year before they leave that year."
Numerous boaters have remarked to Jaycee members that their event is one of their most anticipated, with spectators flocking to the Corman Amphitheatre to watch the many races. At most other places, they say, no such venue exists and doesn't bring the excitement that Lock Haven does.
That love affair with Lock Haven will, hopefully, overshadow the increasing cost of gas, which adds to the enormous expenses for boat racers, according to Jennings.
"Many racers have been coming to this race for years, bringing with them their families. It's more than just a race; it's like a family reunion," said Jennings. "It's the last race of the summer and most of us take a very long weekend and come up early Friday or late Thursday night. The pits are beautiful and the area is a prime location for shopping and hanging out."
Preparation for the race usually starts in May, Jennings said, as she starts making phone calls to get the officials - referees, inspector, risk manager, chief scorer and race director. All paperwork must be submitted to the APBA headquarters 45 days prior to the race date for approval.
In addition, the Lock Haven Area Jaycees are responsible for getting a "special use" permit from the state Fish and Boat Commission for use of the river for the races.
The race sanction was approved on July 15, according to the APBA Web site. That site is at www.apba-racing.com.
"The paperwork must be signed off by the appropriate catergories and the region chairperson," Jennings said. "Then, the APBA will post it on their Web page and the circulars will get mailed to the racers.
"I have to get lodging for the officals and make sure all the club equipment and rescue boats will be towed to the race site," she continued. "I also have to touch base with the Lock Haven Area Jaycees and make sure everything is OK for this year, since they handle the ambulance and fire departments, concession stands and setting up the judges' stand.
"We couldn't do it with out their help."