Regatta returns, reminds crowds that pumpkins can, in fact, float

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Competitors in the sponsor division of the the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta compete Saturday in Tualatin.It’s autumn in Tualatin, and you know what that means: A giant pumpkin weigh-off and the annual racing of the pumpkin boats.

Christy Nelson of Albany was the winner of the Terminator Weigh-Off. Fresh off a first-place win at the Bauman Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off on Oct. 5, with a 1,415-pounder, Nelson entered Saturday’s contest with a 1,316.5-pound squash.

Perhaps more impressive, Nelson reached her goal of growing 4,000 pounds of giant pumpkin this year, securing her place in an elite group. She made it by a hair: By choosing to harvest her Regatta entry on the morning of the competition, rather than the night before, she gave her pumpkin time to put on another pound. Indeed, this year’s harvest weighed in at 4,001 pounds TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden celebrates edging out Gary Kristensen during the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta on Saturday.

“Last year was my first year,” Nelson said. “I was Rookie of the Year. I had the biggest pumpkin for a first-year grower.”

Nelson said she was inspired to enter the contest because of her husband, who has participated for five years now.

“I got to where I thought if I was helping him, I might as well have my own,” Nelson explained.

Although she did not put her prize pumpkin out on the water, she did contribute another one of her squash, estimated to be about 1,000 pounds, to the race.

Sandy Wheeler, president of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers organization, took second place with a 1,029.5-pounder.

Nelson and Wheeler were among 16 growers who entered 20 pumpkins this year, Lori Sherwood of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers organization confirmed. But some of the group’s “heavy hitters,” like last year’s champion, Steve Daletas, did not participate.

And some champs, like this year’s Growers’ Heat winner Brent Savage, met with setbacks. Sherwood described how Savage’s best contender didn’t hold-up for the weigh-in. Still, Savage showed up to the Regatta with a 234-pounder and raced around the lake in one of Nelson’s vessels.

Another familiar but perhaps unexpected face was among the first round of racers at the Regatta. Kouji Euno traveled from his native Japan for the second year in a row to compete. According to Sherwood, he was awarded his second trip to the U.S. in as many years for winning a Japanese contest with a 1,070-pound TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Charity Marshall laughs along with friends and family as she rides the pumpkin duck during the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta on Saturday.

It wasn’t necessarily an inordinately good or bad year for growing pumpkins, Sherwood said. But growers were contending with a new world record: Tim Mathison of Napa Valley, Calif., was celebrated for his 2,032-pound pumpkin a week before.

“That bested last year’s world record — 2,009 pounds in Rhode Island, by a guy named Ron Wallace,” Sherwood said. “And so it’s back on the West Coast, which we’re very happy about.”

The giant pumpkin-growing process takes about six months from germination to harvest, Sherwood explained, with most growers starting in mid-April. At the height of the pumpkin’s development period — typically August and September — it’s not unheard of for the squash to grow 30 pounds in a day.

All “competitors” delivered early Saturday, and many hollowed out by 2 p.m. for the annual Grower’s Heat. After Savage reclaimed his first-place spot among his many costumed rivals, there was a friendly tussle for fourth at the finish line between Gary Kristensen of Happy Valley, who paddled his 826-pound pumpkin, and Mayor Lou Ogden, who ultimately crossed before him. Euno finished behind them.

Announcer Carl Switzer, Tualatin parks and recreation manager, observed that “wide and low pumpkins seem to do better” in terms of aerodynamics.

As per tradition, the Grower’s Heat was followed by the annual competition between Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and the Portland District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Switzer called it the Regatta’s “longest-running grudge match.”

But this year’s competition had a “capture the flag”-style twist, and the teams were tasked with rowing out to retrieve all four of their colored flags from a floating goal of sorts on the other side of the lake. TVF&R charged out ahead and was ultimately victorious.It was the last year for Amiee Moyers, a firefighter and the self-appointed TVF&R Regatta captain — and avid rower — who has organized the fire district’s team for the past five years.

“She wants to ensure we do our very best, so she pushes us and prods us,” Tom Herrington of the fire district said. “We have a very determined person driving our group.”

He added that the team was especially keen on a victory to honor Moyers in light of her upcoming retirement.

They faced off against eight members of the Portland District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who consistently won the heat until last year.

Army Corps team member Brent Welton echoed Herrington when he said there was little formal training for the Regatta.

“It’s just our work experience, I think, that helps us out a lot,” Welton said.

Observing the races, Switzer reminded the crowd that giant or not, pumpkins are not meant to be boats.

“They’re heavy,” he said. “But dang, they’re beautiful.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - From left, Jack LaRue and Ron Barker celebrate winning Best Costume for the viking ship during the West Coast Giant Pumpkin TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jennifer Hunter, playing Cinderella, waves to friends as she steadies herself in a pumpkin at the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta on TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Brent Savage celebrates his victory in the growers race at the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta on Saturday.
by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Local pirate Rich Mackin exits a pumpkin after a race during the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta on Saturday.
by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Ignacio Franklin, playing the Big Bad Wolf, waits for his turn at a pumpkin race during the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta.
by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jolene Hustead gives the thumbs up after a race as 'Soccer Mom' during the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta on Saturday.
by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue's James Smario leads his capture the flag team against the Army Corps of Engineers for another win at the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta.

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