MOSES LAKE – It’s not every day that adult pirates cast adrift on giant, motorized pumpkins, but in Moses Lake the phenomenon happens every year at Halloween.
“It’s a lot of fun, it’s pretty crazy and we get to live out some of our adult fantasies,” said Richard Teals, a retired English teacher, who pioneered the race with his good friend, Dennis Parr.
On Saturday, as 100 or more spectators watched, several contestants sat in pumpkins and on homemade barges built on top of pumpkins, with trolling motors attached. The pumpkins were so heavy, the boats had been set on the lake by crane.
“It’s all just silliness, grown people out in pumpkins,” said Parr’s wife, Nancy Parr.
Five years ago, the two transformed a pumpkin-growing contest into a regatta by hollowing out a giant homegrown squash. Teals tested its buoyancy.
Since then, the two have attached trolling motors and jury-rigged a variety of seats and platforms in a bizarre hydro-race that pits man and vegetable against the elements. In the past four years, a few other contestants have joined in the race.
“It’s a very unusual thing. I’d be afraid that I’d go under,” said Bob Bozeman, a friend who watched from the shoreline.
When the starting gun sounded, three motorized crafts and a non-motorized swimmer with pumpkin floats competed for top honors, which included a trophy featuring a fluorescent orange women’s pump. Two other contestants dropped out because the wind and waves wreaked havoc with their pumpkins.
Contestants made their way across the south side of Moses Lake, braving winds and the deep abyss of Davy Jones’ locker.
Within moments, two men on a craft with a hull of three pumpkins drifted off course. As they struggled to right their course, Parr’s pirate barge took the lead.
“My money is on Bluenose the Sailor man. He obviously has the maneuvers,” said Fran Palkovic. “He’s never lost when there are other boats in the water.”
Parr sported a blue tweed dress jacket accented epaulets embellished with foil-covered chocolates. A blue Beanie parrot was mounted on his right shoulder.
His barge, a concoction of cardboard, wood and mesh wire, was topped with an elaborate mast and contained a life preserver. It relied on three whole pumpkins, weighing from 225 to 350 pounds, which were positioned under the wooden planks for buoyancy.
After blasting his competition with icy water delivered via a spray nozzle, Parr took the lead, his 2 1/2 -horsepower Mercury churning fiercely.
Teals struggled against the wind in his hollowed-out 807-pound pumpkin. His electric motor worked silently.
The non-motorized contestant, the wet-suited Lars Bergstrom, inched ahead. But then he lost two of his beach-ball-sized pumpkins.
Meanwhile, the two-man, triple-pumpkin float took on water. Within minutes its occupants were in the drink.
Parr inched toward the finish line, even as his craft listed decidedly to port. A minute behind was Bergstrom, now swimming with just one pumpkin, and seconds later, a third place Teals, who got a large fake coffin as a consolation prize.
“To get beat by a non-motorized vehicle, that’s pretty bad,” joked Richard Teals’ wife, Brenda Teals.
Others expected Parr, who’d won three previous races, to prevail, perhaps because he’s an engineer.
“It was a foregone conclusion. We all knew that Bluenose would be taking it again,” Rie Palkovic quipped.
Back at the Teals’ house, Kyle Price, a Tacoma resident who sunk with his pumpkin-mate, Jason Page of Kennewick, revisited his past three years of competing.
“I’ve actually sunk two out of three years now. It’s pretty chilly out there.”