On your marks, get set, GOURD!

27 Oct

Polish your deck shoes and straighten your ascot – it’s time for a regatta.  The 8th Annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta!

Last minute nautical adjustments made to the pumpkin mounted in it's sailing tube.

I spent a recent Saturday reveling in the beauty of a crisp fall day out on the UW’s Memorial Union Terrace.  Not only did I get a quick dissertation break to soak up some sunshine on the lakeshore, I got to add to my collection of fabulous Madison spectacles.  And be assured, like any yachting race, the Giant Pumpkin Regatta was a high society event – well, Midwestern style.  A small crowd ringed the pier, children dabbled in the water, and two burly gents rolled a giant gourd down the dock as an enthusiastic biology professor dared the college kids to mount their “dupas” into their “racing squash”.

Like any high society yachting race - the people are out in their finery.

The regatta is a fine bit of fall foolishness  put on in partnership of the UW’s Hoofers Sailing Club and the Department of Horticulture.  But the associate dean of the College of Agriculture asserts that the competitive gourd genomics is not a focus of the department.

“We have accomplished a great deal through the UW-Madison’s Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics Program (http://www.grad.wisc.edu/catalog/cals/plantbre.html) , but we have never had a line of research geared toward competitive sailing pumpkins.  We don’t select for buoyancy, low-friction skins, banana-shaped shells or the other traits associated with classic racing squash. We leave that up to nature and luck.” (Irwin Goldman quoted in UW news.)

Nature and luck are important, sure.  But so is physics – there must be some basic laws of motion defied by paddling a giant pumpkin boat!  Not to mention the shear physical ability to grow a seaworthy  pumpkin.  For info on the physics that make it possible – check out this Science Friday edition on NPR.

Here’s a bit of the action:

And they're off!

That's some serious paddle power!

Lead goard pulls ahead.

Fierce battle for lead as the pumpkins go 'roud the bouy.

Uh oh. Not gaining in the race.

Oh the price of victory in a pumpkin race!

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