The Amazing Race: Canoeists take to Naples Bay on Saturday

Great Dock Canoe Race celebrates its 30 year with circus theme

Some go to sun, some go to drink, some go just to dress up like it's a mid-day Halloween party on Naples Bay in May.

Others, oddly enough, go to swing a canoe paddle, and sweat and cramp and breathe heavy and sweat some more.

Bob Best, right, and Dave Carpenter from the East Naples Kiwanis paddle by the crowd gathered on the Naples City Dock for the Great Dock Canoe Race in 2004. Their boat, celebrating World Series champions Florida Marlins won the theme boat contest. This year's event, with the theme 'A Day at the Circus,' kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Photo by DAVID AHNTHOLZ, Daily News file

Bob Best, right, and Dave Carpenter from the East Naples Kiwanis paddle by the crowd gathered on the Naples City Dock for the Great Dock Canoe Race in 2004. Their boat, celebrating World Series champions Florida Marlins won the theme boat contest. This year's event, with the theme "A Day at the Circus," kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Thousands of people are expected to descend upon Naples Bay tomorrow for the 30th Great Dock Canoe Race.

What started in the late '70s as a end-of-season party for Dock Restaurant employees has become an icon that represents the beginning of summer in Southwest Florida.

The Naples tradition is about 80 percent festivities and 20 percent race.

This year's theme is "A Day at the Circus." The theme canoes will be paddled around the bay at 11 a.m. and the actual race will follow.

Thousands of pedestrians spend the day roaming the quaint shops and restaurants of Tin City and nearby retail strips. Others go aquatic and anchor up in Naples Bay by the dozens. Boaters chain together in a partying flotilla and spend the day drinking and socializing.

Most people go for the hoopla.

Rebecca King is spearheading the theme canoe for local development consultant Wilson-Miller and said the race is OK but it's the festivities that bring people back year after year.

"It's just a day of fun in the sun. Some people who've been to the race before and left Naples come back every year just for that day," King said.

Last year, company employees decorated a canoe with a covered wagon to fit last year's theme, Blazing Paddles. The two paddlers dressed to fit the theme as well, but other employees didn't.

  • What: The 30th Annual Great Dock Canoe Race
  • When: Saturday. Theme boat parade begins at 11 a.m., VIP race at 11:45 a.m., amateurs race (including teams with one parent and one child age 12-17) at 12:45 p.m., and the professionals race at 1:45 p.m.
  • Where: Naples Bay
  • Cost: Free for spectators; $30 per team (Note: Teams may register Saturday.) Proceeds benefit the Early Literacy and Learning Model, a program that promotes children's literacy
  • Information: 261-4191 or greatdockcanoerace.com
  • Calendar: Great Dock Canoe Race celebrates its 30 year with circus theme

King said this year much of the staff will don hot costumes and sweat in the scalding sun for a shot at the top theme boat award and $1,000 cash award that goes along with it. King, however, wouldn't divulge details of Wilson-Miller's canoe because she doesn't want to give the competition any ideas.

Serious paddlers will certainly show up to tackle the 3-mile course. Naples resident and athlete Ed Barreto likes the atmosphere, but he'd still like to capture first place, even at 70 years of age.

"We've gotten a third place before, but we've never done that good," said Barreto, who races with his wife, Sandra Barreto, also 70. "But to me it's a happening more than anything else. This is a time when sports shouldn't be too competitive and we should just enjoy the day."

Not too competitive?

That's a surprise coming from Barreto. His family once jogged across every state in America, and Barreto holds the title of the oldest man every to play NCAA college football.

"I was a fifth year senior and figured I try out for the squad," Barreto said. He was 65 at the time, and actually practiced at full speed with pads, competing against guys one-third his age.

He'll be in "the big yellow canoe" with the business name Naples Ship Store on the side.

Frank Adiutori and Chris Maritato are competing in the race for the first time. Adiutori said he's always liked the event, but this year he'd like to take a swing at finishing in a respectable time.

Kim Kelsey and his daughter Kristina of Naples paddle toward the finish line to win the Ambitious Amateurs race at the 2004 Great Dock Canoe Race.

Photo by DAVID AHNTHOLZ, Daily News file

Kim Kelsey and his daughter Kristina of Naples paddle toward the finish line to win the Ambitious Amateurs race at the 2004 Great Dock Canoe Race.

"I've been going for years and had a great time, but this year I figured I'd compete and get hit with some water balloons," Adiutori said. "It's exciting, and it's a Naples event."

Spectators traditionally toss water balloons at race competitors, both for the pure fun of it and as a way to keep participants cool.

Phil Valdario with the Naples Police Department said officers will be on the lookout for anyone tossing any objects.

"One of the things that's been re-occurring is the balloon throwing ... and we're going to watch for that more this year," Valdario said.

Drinking is another concern for authorities. The dock race draws about 1,500 spectators, some of whom get drunk and rowdy.

"Typically there's underage drinking, and sometimes drinking leads to fighting," Valdario said.

Valdario said the department plans to have at least 30 officers patrolling the Naples Bay area.

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