Hydroplane racing boats - some capable of more than 150 mph - will be flying, sometimes literally, up and down the Ohio River at Wheeling this Labor Day weekend, during the city's annual Vintage Raceboat Regatta.
By this week, 53 raceboat owners had committed to attend the event, which is free to the public. Proceeds benefit the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center in Wheeling.
Activities kick off Friday night, Sept. 2 and will continue through the afternoon of Sept. 4 at the Heritage Port in downtown Wheeling. Boats from throughout the United States and Canada will begin pulling into the port area that Friday night, and pits will be open members of the public who want to examine the craft.
Then, at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, racers will take to the river for exhibition runs that will continue until 6 p.m. The same schedule will be used on Sunday.
Boats at the regatta are all inboard racing craft, some with big, highly modified engines. In contrast to most pleasure boats, with smaller outboard motors, the hydroplanes sometimes use engines in the 427-cubic-inch class.
A few pack even more power. Another difference is that while almost all pleasure boat hulls sit in the water, the hydroplanes are meant to skim across its surface, with just the propellor and tiny spots on their sponsons touching the river. At some points, they can become entirely airborne.
Raceboats to be in Wheeling are from an era before modern safety equipment was required. American Power Boat Association rules now require race drivers to sit in enclosed cockpits where they are restrained in special safety cells.
Vintage boats, some of them more than half a century old, have open cockpits - and no safety harnesses.
With colorful paint and equally colorful names - "Sidewinder," "Tijuana Taxi" and "Miss Dinomytes," for example - some of the boats are familiar to a few Ohio Valley residents who remember hydroplanes from the old New Martinsville Regatta. A few of the drivers who will be in Wheeling competed at New Martinsville.
But there will be much more than raceboats to the regatta. Free entertainment is scheduled at the Heritage Port on both the nights of Sept. 2 and Sept. 3. Performances will begin at 7 p.m. that Friday, and will feature Loretta and Ellie, as well as the Mark Gorby Trio. On Saturday, performances will begin at 6 p.m., featuring Uncle Eddie and Robin, Forty Plus and the Fabulous Bender Boys.
A variety of food vendors, along with attractions for children, will be on the regatta grounds. New this year will be mechanical "bull" rides - with one for adults and another modified to be safe for children age 3 and up.
During breaks in raceboat action on both Saturday and Sunday of the regatta, radio-controlled airplane shows will be staged by the Ohio Valley Hilltoppers.
An exhibition of classic cars and trucks will be held at and near the Heritage Port during the regatta.
Also this year, the popular Sea Quest Kids program will be held as part of the regatta. Sea Quest Kids is the largest boat building and water safety program for children in the world.
It allows children age five and up, including special needs youngsters, to participate in construction of their own 10-foot-long wooden boats. During breaks in raceboat action, the youngsters, with adult supervision, stage races of their own. Joseph thanks Lowe's of Wheeling for providing material for the Sea Quest Kids boats, and commended a group of retired local carpenters who assist with materials preparation.
A new attraction this year, offered by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, will be "electro-fishing" in the river at the Heritage Port. Fish are caught without being permanently injured, and will be displayed in a 2,200-gallon water tank at the port.