'Animal House' party vibe coming Saturday at annual Great Dock Canoe Race

IF YOU GO

Where: Starting line will be by the dock on Cove Marina.

Schedule: Registration 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; Boat parade 11 a.m.; VIP Sprint 11:45 a.m.; Amateur 3-mile 12:45 p.m.; Professional 3-mile 1:45; Awards ceremony 2:45.

Parking: Trolley service from off-site parking areas along Eighth Street South at Sixth Avenue South and Eighth Avenue South will be available from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., running every 15 minutes.

— Life jackets and togas may not be the most natural combination on the water but they will be the attire of choice for the competitors at the 36th annual Great Dock Canoe Races on Saturday.

As an homage to the revelrous bacchanalia that typically surrounds the event, this year’s theme for the races will be based on the classic 1978 film “Animal House” and the debaucherous adventures of the Delta house fraternity. As part of the festivities, the contestants often decorate themselves and their vessels in the spirit of the year’s theme and participate in a parade prior to the event.

An expected crowd of nearly 5,000 spectators will cheer on the paddlers as they ramp up to ramming speed in a variety of events along Crayton Cove in Naples.

“This is one event that’s just for the fun of it,” Vin DePasquale, the event’s founder, said. “People of all ages, resident and visitors alike, tell us all the time what a good time they have here.”

The race will feature three set of heats beginning with the 700-yard “Tippycanoe VIP Sprint,” which features canoes paddled by local leaders at 11:45 a.m. At 12:45, the amateurs, youth and senior class racers will take part in a three-mile paddle.

The “Practically Professional” class, the final race — and main event — of the day begins at 1:45.

Proceeds from the event will be the Naples Zoo conservation and education program.

For the first time in the history of the event, a new class, dubbed “Truly Tenacious” was added this year for paddlers over the age of 65.

Among those participating on Saturday, will be Ed Barreto and his wife, Sandra. Now 75, the couple started taking part in the event years ago.

“I don’t think we have missed too many, if any, since we started,” Sandra said. “It’s changed over the years but it is still a great event and I think the competition will be pretty good this year.”

The opportunity to stay active while also being competitive is one of the things that has kept the longtime residents coming back every year.

“We are a very athletic family so doing things like this is just part of our normal day,” said Ed Barreto, whose three daughters, Leslie, Leigh and Linda also participate in the races. “To tell the truth, if we weren’t doing this we’d be doing something else. Our philosophy has been that we want to wear out before we rust out.”

And even though the Barretos like the competition, they agree that the event is meant to be enjoyable above everything else.

“We don’t really look at the event like it is something we have to win,” Ed admitted. “It is just a real fun thing to do. The people are great and there is a good energy from the crowd. We like to feed off that energy. We are trying really hard but it isn’t like we are trying to barge our way through to the front or anything.”

“The event kind of marks the end of season after everyone goes back north,” Sandra said. “It’s a good excuse for the people of Naples to let loose a little.”

“It’s an event that has become close to our hearts and we are glad that we can be a part of it,” added Ed.

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