For more than a century, Muskoka cottagers have been getting together for a little friendly competition on the water. In the early years of cottage in particular, the local regatta was a social and sporting highlight of the summer – in the days when many families stayed up at the cottage for weeks or even months on end, gathering for a day of events was a welcome occasion.
Most lake associations still have an annual regatta. The largest of them, run by the Muskoka Lakes Association, is one of the oldest annual aquatic events in the country, having been run for 128 years.
In-person regattas were cancelled last year, for obvious reasons. And while there are few if any taking place this year, there’s no reason you can’t have a little family fun with some competitive games on the water this weekend.
You can engage in some conventional races — swimming, paddling, and so on. But part of the fun of regattas is the chance to engage in sports that you don’t normally do. These are games that anyone can win because nobody is really good at them. The goal is to be silly and have fun.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
Build it and float it
Racing a boat is one thing, but racing a boat that you had to build first is quite another. Cardboard and duct tape are always great boat-building materials — you’ll be amazed at how far a paddler can get before sinking, particularly a lightweight paddler. Or you can try making a “boat” out of anything else — plastic lawn furniture, buckets strapped together, a plastic storage tote, or whatever else you can find: as long as it’s not actually designed to float, it’s fair game.
Depending on the number of people you have in your family, you can work in teams or just have everyone build their own. Or you can challenge neighbouring cottagers to a socially-distanced race as you paddle to each other’s docks and back.
Standing canoe race
Sure, you can paddle, but can you paddle standing up?
If that’s too easy, take the challenge up a level: try paddling while standing on the gunwales (pronounced ‘gunnels’) of the canoe. You can also try a gunwaling challenge, taking turns to stand on the gunwales and seeing who can stay up the longest.
In and out race
This is a popular event at the MLA regatta. It starts out like a conventional canoe race, but at irregular intervals the judges on shore sound a horn. When they do, everyone needs to jump into the water and then climb back into their boat.
If you don’t have multiple canoes, try it with anything that floats — air mattresses, tow tubes, or whatever else you can find.
Put your lifejacket on like it’s a diaper — with your legs through the arm holes. Sure, you can sit like that, but how far can you paddle?
Don’t forget the prizes
At the end of a day of silly fun, you’ll want to wrap it up with some equally appropriate prizes. Homemade trophies can be assembled out of anything — toilet rolls, tin cans, sticks, pine cones, whatever you can find. You can even make trophy-building into an event, with each person getting to award a trophy to someone else.
Wrap up the day with an awards presentation and celebrate with a victory barbecue. Who won? Everyone did, with a day of fun that may just become an annual family tradition.