WHEELING - When the unmistakable roar of powerboat engines rocks the Friendly City for the seventh straight year this Labor Day weekend, only the soundest of sleepers will be able to slumber late near downtown Wheeling.
But Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta organizers Dan and Debbie Joseph wonder why in the world you'd want to sleep in when you could be at Heritage Port watching dozens of very loud - and very fast - vintage hydroplanes tear up the normally tranquil surface of the Ohio River.
This year's regatta is set for Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 with about 50 boats expected to be on hand, and Debbie Joseph said the event committee and its 30-plus members have been meeting since February to hammer out all the details. Heats run from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. through late afternoon Saturday and Sunday, with vendors and plenty of family-friendly activities planned throughout the weekend.
For something new this year, Debbie Joseph said the Wheeling Police Department K-9 units will offer demonstrations during the lunchtime break between heats Saturday and Sunday, an idea brought up by Pfc. Josh Sanders, who has been helping the committee out with safety and security this year. And the annual Sunday car cruise now will be a competitive car show, with judging and cash prizes for the winners.
Many of the regatta's popular side attractions will be back, as well, including the Sea Quest Kids program - which gives youngsters the chance to build their very own boat and take it out on the river. The Ohio Valley Hillhoppers and their remote controlled airplanes also will return to entertain festival-goers during breaks in the action, and several area children's museums will be on hand with exhibits at the waterfront.
After the heats wrap up Saturday night, the bands Hot Pursuit and Stack of Monkeys will perform free concerts at the Heritage Port Amphitheater.
Once again, WesBanco will be the regatta's naming sponsor, and Debbie Joseph said she is grateful to them and all their sponsors for their continued support. As each year passes, she said, the event grows in popularity and notoriety, thanks in no small part to the hospitality local residents display to the drivers, many of whom travel many hours to attend.
"We're in our seventh year, which is hard to imagine. Now, people are calling us to ask about it instead of the other way around," Debbie Joseph said. "The boaters that come in, everybody says that this is the event they want to attend."
As always, the pits will be open throughout the day Friday, giving the public a chance to mingle with the drivers as they arrive and learn a bit about the art of driving the vintage watercraft. But a word of warning - you just might get a taste of how addictive the sport really is and catch the bug yourself, Debbie Joseph said.
"That's how a lot of our drivers get started," she said. "They see how much fun we're having - in a safe venue, because we're not racing."
Not in the literal sense of the word, anyway - despite their age, many of the boats run at speeds in excess of 100 mph. There are no restraining devices, and the only thing drivers are tethered to is the engine's kill switch.
The design of the boats' hulls, made mostly of wood, allows for minimal contact with the water.
Because air is less dense than water and thus exerts less drag on the boat, hydroplanes can achieve greater speeds than other craft - at top speed, the propeller and two spots on the bottom of the craft no larger than the palm of your hand are the only things touching the water.
Restoring a vintage hydroplane is a lengthy labor of love. The process sometimes can take years, as parts true to the boats original design can be next to impossible to find, and because the boats often have deteriorated from years of neglect and exposure to the elements before a potential buyer discovers them.