It’s the Great Pumpkin…. Boat Race?

Shawn Taylor | 11.8.18


Fall has finally fallen, and to celebrate, the internet is covered with memes about the dominance of pumpkin spice lattes. Suburban front porches sprout festive seasonal gourds, and grocery store magazine covers declare the latest trends in pumpkin-themed crafting decor.

But aside from alerting trick-or-treaters that a house is open for candy business, or flavoring a thanksgiving pie or two, most people recognize the beloved autumn pumpkin for its seasonal symbolism, not for any practical application.

Well, most people just aren’t thinking far enough outside the box, or far enough into the squash. As residents of Windsor, Nova Scotia can tell you, pumpkins – really, really big pumpkins – can also offer a way to get across a large lake. And it just so happens that Windsor’s Lake Pesaquid is there to provide proof, in the annual Windsor Pumpkin Regatta.

The Lake Windsor region is known for pumpkins weighing hundreds of pounds, thanks to a local farmer named Howard Dill, who devoted much of his career to the breeding of larger types of pumpkins. His son Danny came up with the idea for the Regatta in 1999 to showcase the results and boost local tourism. The pumpkins used in the Lake Windsor Regatta often weigh in at 500 - 700 pounds, and that’s after they’ve been hollowed out. Straight from the farm, the same pumpkins may weigh over 1,000 pounds, and they require forklifts and trailers to move.

As part of the town’s annual Pumpkin Festival, growers from around the region – many using seeds originally patented by Dill Family Farms – work on a tight schedule to prepare for the big event. Once a pumpkin is hollowed out, it will only be watertight for a couple of days before it starts to decay, so work on the pumpkin boats can only be started shortly before race day. Once they are cleaned out and decorated, the pumpkins are weighed in by race officials, and then all of the entries are led through town as part of the Pumpkin Festival Parade.

 Photo Credit:  Chiot's Run

Photo Credit: Chiot's Run

Once the parade is done, the race begins – paddlers, alone or in teams (some of the pumpkins are big enough to hold two people) use plastic kayak paddles to navigate the half-mile course.

A half-mile might not sound like very far, but there is a reason most boats are shaped nothing like the average pumpkin. The truth is, other than their ability to float, pumpkins make pretty terrible boats. Steering them is next to impossible, and the round shape makes them prone to flipping over. Just finishing the course without falling out is a challenge, and it’s rare for a competitor to make it to the finish line completely dry. Everyone involved has a great time, however, and whether they row their boat across the finish line or drag it behind them as they scramble out of the water and onto shore, we can assume there is a nice warm latte waiting for them.

The Windsor Pumpkin Regatta is the longest running pumpkin boat race and more information about their events can be found at https://worldsbiggestpumpkins.com/Regatta%20Schedule.htm

Pumpkin boat racing has recently caught on in other regions of North America as well, and similar events are held in New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon, and West Virginia USA, among others. Photos with this article include events held in Burlington, Vermont and Damariscotta, Maine.

Shawn Taylor