WHEELING - Those looking for something fun to do in the Friendly City this Labor Day weekend need not look any farther than Wheeling's waterfront as a boat race and a musical concert are just two of the major events on tap.
Activities, free of charge, kick off Friday night, Sept. 2 and will continue through the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Heritage Port in downtown Wheeling. Boats from throughout the United States and Canada will begin pulling into the port area that Friday night, and pits will be open members of the public who want to examine the craft.
Then, at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, racers will take to the river for exhibition runs that will continue until 6 p.m. The same schedule will be used on Sunday.
Boats at the regatta are all inboard racing craft, some with big, highly modified engines. In contrast to most pleasure boats, with smaller outboard motors, the hydroplanes sometimes use engines in the 427-cubic-inch class. A few pack even more power - with some capable of speeds as high as 150 mph.
Another difference is that while almost all pleasure boat hulls sit in the water, the hydroplanes are meant to skim across its surface, with just the propellor and tiny spots on their sponsons touching the river. At some points, they can become entirely airborne.
Raceboats to be in Wheeling are from an era before modern safety equipment was required. American Power Boat Association rules now require race drivers to sit in enclosed cockpits where they are restrained in special safety cells. Vintage boats, some of them more than half a century old, have open cockpits - and no safety harnesses.
With colorful paint and equally colorful names - "Sidewinder," "Tijuana Taxi" and "Miss Dinomytes," for example - some of the boats are familiar to a few Ohio Valley residents who remember hydroplanes from the old New Martinsville Regatta.
But there will be much more than raceboats to the regatta. Free entertainment is scheduled at the Heritage Port on both the nights of Sept. 2 and Sept. 3. Performances will begin at 7 p.m. that Friday, and will feature Loretta and Ellie, as well as the Mark Gorby Trio. On Saturday, performances will begin at 6 p.m., featuring Uncle Eddie and Robin, Forty Plus and the Fabulous Bender Boys.
A variety of food vendors, along with attractions for children, will be on the regatta grounds. New this year will be mechanical "bull" rides - with one for adults and another modified to be safe for children age 3 and up.
During breaks in raceboat action on both Saturday and Sunday of the regatta, radio-controlled airplane shows will be staged by the Ohio Valley Hilltoppers.
An exhibition of classic cars and trucks will be held at and near the Heritage Port during the regatta.
Also this year, the popular Sea Quest Kids program will be held as part of the regatta. Sea Quest Kids is the largest boat building and water safety program for children in the world. It allows children age 5 and up, including special needs youngsters, to participate in construction of their own 10-foot-long wooden boats. During breaks in raceboat action, the youngsters, with adult supervision, stage races of their own. Joseph thanks Lowe's of Wheeling for providing material for the Sea Quest Kids boats, and commended a group of retired local carpenters who assist with materials preparation.
A new attraction this year, offered by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, will be "electro-fishing" in the river at the Heritage Port. Fish are caught without being permanently injured, and will be displayed in a 2,200-gallon water tank at the port.Boats will begin arriving at the waterfront on Friday, with the pits open all day to give visitors the chance to view the vintage craft up close and mingle with the drivers.
The venue for the always popular event is set for 6 p.m. Sunday the Anne Kuchinka amphitheater at Oglebay Park.
It is the last of the orchestra's annual slate of free community concerts in the area.
Inflatable rides and a rock climbing wall will be available at Schenk Lake from 1-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, as well, with fountain shows planned at the lake at 9 p.m. Friday and Sunday. Hargleroad also invites visitors to consider purchasing a day pass, and take advantage of everything the park has to offer, including paddle boat and train rides, and the popular baby zebra and komodo dragon exhibits at the Good Zoo.
The show gets under way about 9 a.m. Monday, and continues until about 5 or 6 p.m.
The event is named for Dague's husband, Dan, who started the event and also was a charter member of the Cruisers Unlimited Car Club in New Martinsville. His 2008 passing prompted the club to name the event in his honor.
When Dan Dague founded the show, there were fewer than 100 cars. The event has gained in popularity each year, and Eva Dague said about 1,200 vehicles pulled into the lot for last year's show, helping the club raise about $15,000.
Staff Writer Ian Hicks contributed to this story.