Get ready to paddle ... and then party

As Safety Harbor prepares for its fifth annual Canoe and Kayak Festival, organizers pray to the weather gods for no rain or wind.

Published April 13, 2007

SAFETY HARBOR - Time to wake up and smell the sea spray.

Safety Harbor launches its fifth annual Canoe and Kayak Festival from the Safety Harbor Marina on Saturday. Weather permitting, a flotilla of paddlers - both racers and easy-going ecotourists - will be seen on Old Tampa Bay.

Organizers just hope the wind and rain gods lie low this year.

"Last year, the wind blew the kayakers into the shore so we had to call the race," said Joe Cooper, the city's special events coordinator. "We had the post- race party early and made the most of it."

The year before, the event was postponed a week because of gusty conditions.

New to the float fest is Boat Day, a "touch a boat" event with offshore race boats, a Coast Guard vessel, a Florida Fish and Wildlife patrol boat and a large sailboat. Agencies will be handing out boater safety information and kids and their families will be able to board some of the watercraft.

Kayakers can race individually or tandem in 1-, 5- or 7-mile races. Canoes and outrigger canoes - those that have lateral supports attached to the hull - will have their own divisions.

So far, teenagers through septuagenarians have registered to compete.

Chad Onley, 14, says he'll be churning up waves as quickly as he can.

"I'll have to be very fast as I am in the Sound of Music, which starts at 1:30," he said of the musical, which is being put on by Calvary Christian High School.

Lynn Snowden, 74, is a former triathlete who has entered the race. Recently she has added kayaking to her biking and swimming exercise regimen.

"I enjoy it and it helps me keep in shape," she said. "I can do a lot more than if I didn't keep active - like play with the grandchildren when they're here."

Other participants can opt for a guided ecotour, which can often include manatee and dolphin sightings.

"It the recreational paddle is a nice alternative for people who don't want to race but want to be a part of the festivities," said Ken Bambery, owner of Tocobaga Tours in Safety Harbor. "We'll likely head north to Mullet Creek where there are usually some rosette spoonbills, ibis and great blue herons. Then head up to the grass flats near Philippe Park.

"The weather messed us up the last two years, so were hoping for a nice day."

Terri Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com

Fast Facts: Paddle UpWhat: The fifth annual Safety Harbor Canoe and Kayak Festival takes place Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. The Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers Club supervises the race, ecotour and post-race party and awards ceremony.Where: Old Tampa Bay; Race starts and ends at the Safety Harbor Marina, 110 Veterans Memorial Lane.Registration: Race fees range from $20 to $40 depending on the division. Ecotour fees are $15 to rent a single kayak and $20 for a tandem. Day-of-race registrations begin at 8 a.m. Preregistration is encouraged with forms available at Safety Harbor City Hall, the Safety Harbor Community Center and online at www.cityofsafetyharbor.comRentals: Kayak rentals are available from Tocobaga Tours (727) 389-8687.Call: (727) 724-1572 for more information.