Whenever I tell people about the Giant Pumpkin Regatta, they invariably respond: "Oh, that I'd like to see." Burlington, Vermont, used to be the place to see Vermonters rowing giant, hollowed-out pumpkin boats on Lake Champlain. Unfortunately, Vermont's Giant Pumpkin Regatta has not been held since 2012. Now, if you want to see a spectacle like this, you'll have to head to the Pumpkinboat Regatta, held every year on Columbus Day in Damariscotta, Maine, in conjunction with that coastal town's Pumpkinfest.
I took these photos at the 2010 Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Vermont, and they'll give you a sense of this unique and slightly insane New England fall event. Seeing goop scooped from 1,000-pound pumpkins is an experience in itself. When costumed paddlers climbed inside these pumpkin boats for a madcap relay race on the waters of Lake Champlain, well... let me show you in these photos, rather than spill any more seeds.
Speaking of seeds, you might be tempted to buy giant pumpkin seeds from the Vermont Giant Pumpkin Growers Association, which supplied the colossal pumpkins for the regatta. Attend an event to learn more about membership in this competitive organization, which still hosts an annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off.
What's the Weight?
I know you are wondering: How much does a giant pumpkin weigh? This champion pumpkin, which was on display but not destined for racing, weighed 1,254 pounds. Grown by Dan and Holly Boyce of Benson, Vermont, it set a Big E record in 2010.
Let the Carving Begin
Most of the pumpkins that racers rowed in Vermont's Giant Pumpkin Regatta weighed about 1,000 pounds. As you might imagine, carving a giant pumpkin is no easy feat. It takes a team, a serious knife and some strategic planning.
Great Gobs of Goop
Watching racers prep their pumpkin boats was half the fun of the Giant Pumpkin Regatta. You would not believe how much goop comes out of a giant pumpkin. Even dogs were curious about the labor-intensive goop scooping process.
Scent of a Pumpkin
Studies have shown that men find the aroma of pumpkin pie, well... sexy. Google it! You haven't been overpowered by pumpkin, though, until you've caught a whiff of a just-carved 1,000-pounder.
We didn't understand why this woman was spray painting one of the hollowed-out giant pumpkins. Soon, we'd see that each boat entered in the Pumpkin Regatta had a theme. This photo shows just how thick the walls of a giant pumpkin can grow.
Will They Float?
It took a Bobcat with a crane to transport the giant pumpkin boats down to the shores of Lake Champlain, where they were carefully lowered into the water. After seeing these monster pumpkins up close, it was tough to believe they'd float.
Well, Shiver Me Timbers
Giant pumpkins DO float! Even with a pirate aboard. Each team of paddlers dressed in costume to match the theme of their pumpkin boat, and after they were introduced, they tested the seaworthiness of their pumpkin vessels by navigating to the starting line.
And They're Off!
The first pumpkin boat race gets underway! Although the Pumpkin Regatta was a playful event, the competition was serious. Each pumpkin boat was sponsored by a local business or organization. You had to have an in if you wanted the chance to row.
Paddling a giant pumpkin isn't exactly something you can practice. Still, it was instantly apparent some competitors had a better handle on the task than others. The rower who took an early lead seemed to have skills and pumpkin hydrodynamics on his side.
Quite a Scene
Lake Champlain was a spectacular location for a Pumpkin Regatta. At least for spectators, who enjoyed stunning views of the lake's shimmering waters and the autumn-spattered Adirondacks. For the rowers, though, I'll bet the water was pretty cold in October!
Keeping Their Cool
Remarkably, the Pumpkin Regatta competitors seemed to keep their cool, even though the water was cold, giant pumpkin boats aren't terribly stable, and the hilarity of their undertaking must have hit them at some point.
A Dead Heat
Although one pumpkin racer took an early lead, this trio was in a dead heat in the first lap of the race. Pumpkin Regatta paddlers must navigate their giant pumpkins out to a marker, turn them around, paddle back, then trade spots with a relay partner.
Can you guess which sponsor the Giant Pumpkin Regatta competitors dressed as cows represented? Venerable Vermont ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's, of course.
Row, Row, Row Your Gourd
A utility worker, a pirate, a skier and a cowgirl... rowing giant gourds. You don't see that every day! As a spectator, it was hard not to smile at the novelty of the Pumpkin Regatta, and, as you can see, the rowers were all smiles, too.
No Steering Wheel
The buoyancy of the giant pumpkins wasn't the only thing that surprised me. Racers did an impressive job of steering these enormous orange fruit boats (yes, pumpkins are technically fruit!) back to the docks for the second leg of the relay.
Unusual But Not One-of-a-Kind
Burlington, Vermont, was never the only place to see a Pumpkin Regatta. There have been people crazy enough to race giant pumpkins in Nova Scotia, Maine and Oregon, too.
For a Good Cause
The Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Burlington, Vermont, wasn't just for kicks and giggles... it was for a good cause. The race and accompanying festival raised money for the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce's PILOT youth leadership program.
We saw some wobbly maneuvers, but not one pumpkin boat capsized during the first round of races at the 2010 Giant Pumpkin Regatta.
Remember that pumpkin we watched being spray-painted brown? It became this trusty horse, which was one of the most creative of the pumpkin boats at the Pumpkin Regatta in Burlington.
A Festival, Too!
While the giant pumpkin races on the lake were the event's highlight, the Giant Pumpkin Regatta & Festival, held the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend, also featured craft vendors, food booths, kids' activities, contests and more giant pumpkin fun.