Great Dock Canoe Race
When: The themed-canoe parade starts at 11 a.m. Saturday. Races follow. Awards will be presented at 2:45 p.m. Get there early for good parking.
Where: The Dock and Crayton Cove, 845 12th Ave. S., Naples
It’s arguably the most popular non-professional sporting event in Southwest Florida. By race time thousands of spectators merge into a sea of bathing suits and sunglasses. It’s standing room only on the docks, the Cove Inn balconies, anchored boats and, of course, at the Dock at Crayton Cove restaurant.
With announcers barking over the bull horn all day and plenty of adult beverages, the excitement is contagious for the annual Great Dock Canoe Race, which is at 11 a.m. this Saturday. The themed-canoe parade is a treat for the eyes as well. Local businesses put many hours into decorating outlandish canoes in hopes of claiming the top prize. The best-dressed canoe wins a $1,000 prize.
The Great Dock Canoe Race started in 1977 as an end-of-season party for workers, family and friends of the Dock at Crayton Cove. It’s since been an annual event, always held on the second Saturday in May. After the theme parade, three races are held: a VIP race that features management teams from area businesses and organizations; a 3-mile recreation race called the Next Generation with teams typically consisting of a teenager and parent; and the 3-mile Practically Professional race, which is quite competitive and draws racers from various corners of Florida and beyond.
Food & drink
The Dock kitchen serves its tasty coconut shrimp, which has become a highlight of the race for sponsors and organizers. A plate full of coconut shrimp and a cold beer are a great combination for a hot Saturday afternoon. Conch fritters are another popular choice. Mixed drinks and beer are served throughout the day, and various vendors keep plenty of bottled water on ice.
In any “recreational” race there’s bound to be at least one really funny canoe swamping. Some team, somehow will find their way into the waters of Naples Bay. Typically a dozen or so canoes bang and bump, flip and half-sink. And much of that excellent flipping action takes place just after the start — in plain view of thousands. Swamped paddlers usually walk away soaking wet and laughing, but that’s after someone hoists them out of the bay.
One will sink
The themed parade is where creative minds shine. Local businesses put together some outrageous costumes, and many decorate their canoe to the point that it no longer resembles a boat of any type. And someone will build a super tall structure on their boat. It will be tippy. They will swamp, or slowly sink into the shallow waters as their precious project disintegrates.
The best years include multiple theme canoe swampings. This year’s theme is “Rednecks and Royalty,” so there should be plenty of interesting costumes and canoe dressings.
A worthy cause
Not only is the Great Dock Canoe Race a fun time, but thousands of dollars are generated for a charitable cause each year as well. This year $5,000 will go to First Book-Collier County and will make it possible to provide 10 books per child to each of 13 classrooms of young children living in poverty in East Naples. The Lighthouse of Collier, a center for blindness and vision loss, was last year’s beneficiary of money from the Great Dock Canoe Race, which enabled the organization to create the first summer camp for children who are blind and visually impaired.
For the young and adventurous, a seriously hardy party ensues after the racing festivities. Boaters in various craft head to the island to party, build fires and camp. This nightcap of sorts is legendary in local circles. Visitors, beware!