Brandon Leigh grew up around the bathtub races and found himself competing in 2012. This year he took home the trophy in the “super-modified” class after finishing at one hour, 30 minutes, and 42 seconds—over 15 minutes ahead of the competition.
The Navigator: Was this your first time in the bathtub races? What inspired you to compete?
Brandon Leigh: No, this was my second time. Last year was my first time, but my dad has been involved in it for quite a while and my uncle actually won in 1988. I’ve been involved with our sponsor, Tom Harris Auto Group, Tom’s son had raced and I was on the escort boats. I’ve been a part of it since I was young.
N: What do you do when you’re not racing tubs?
BL: I’m a first year carpentry student at VIU and a paid on-call firefighter for the city of Nanaimo.
N: What kind of work went into modifying the bathtub?
BL: I don’t really like to release this stuff, but we’ve got a few tricks here and there. Everything is by the rules of course, but basically with the super-modified class that I won in you can change anything on the motor.
N: What else went into preparing for the race?
BL: Just knowing what the weather was like before and doing a couple test runs here and there before the race mostly. Making sure I had all the equipment that was needed by the rulebooks, and some tuning and testing of the bathtub.
N: What kind of skills do you need to pilot a bath tub?
BL: You need a lot of endurance. It’s really rough out there and it really puts a beating on your body. I’d say just general nautical knowledge, for example you have to be friendly with the water. You can’t fear it.
N: How did you feel after winning? Were you expecting it?
BL: Well, after I saw the guy that was next to me, who was kind of my biggest contender pass the checkpoint, I realized he had flipped. This was about half an hour into the race. I kind of thought that I had a good chance, but I didn’t know for sure. You can’t really see anybody unless they’re within 100 metres of you. I had a good feeling once I passed the checkpoint and everybody on the boat was holding up a number one on their fingers.
N: How did you feel after you crossed the finish line?
BL: Sore. There’s a lot of adrenaline and maybe some mild hypothermia, but it felt good. It’s been a long time since our little team had won and I think my uncle was the last to, so it felt good. Last year I finished second. I was in first the whole race and ended up running out of fuel before the finish line and in the end I came in second after the refuelling.
N: Are there any perks to being a bathtub champion?
BL: Not really, it’s a little bit of bragging rights between the other tubbers and friends, and you get some little trophies but for most of the guys it’s just the aspect of a big weekend in Nanaimo. You get to go out and have fun and get involved with the parade and all sorts of things like that. A lot of the guys live for it, there are circuit races in Washington, Campbell River, and Victoria and they go out and race in those too, so it’s a big deal to some of them.
N: You mentioned there was one guy last year who was your “big contender,” is there much communication between racers before and after the race?
BL: Well at the loading ramp in the morning, that’s where we all are before we go mill around in Swy-a-lana, that’s when all the heckling takes place. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of trash talking but there’s definitely some competitive words being thrown back and forth, and that’s the last time you talk to anybody. Afterwards you get to the shore and there’s the trophy ceremony so you get to talk to everybody after—everyone who made it.
N: Where do you think bathtub racing fits in Nanaimo’s culture? Is it something the city should put a lot of pride in?
BL: I think it is. It’s something that used to bring a lot of people out to Nanaimo. The whole marine festival in general was a huge reason for people to come from out of town and enjoy the festivities. It still is but it’s definitely died down. When my dad first started doing it, there were 200 tubs leaving in the harbour and this year I believe we only had 43. It’s been a slow decline between those years.
N: With your father and uncle having a history with the races, what did your friends and family think of you winning the race?
BL: I definitely received a lot of text messages from my uncle and all my family members congratulating me. It was really cool to be able to share something like that with them.
N: Are you going to be competing again next year?
BL: Yeah, I’ll probably be competing for as long as I can handle sitting in that thing. As long as it’s still going, I’ll still be out there.
N: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the kids at home?
BL: If you can find a sponsor and you know someone with some good machinist skills, there’s no reason not to go out and take a kick at the can.