Paddling pumpkins across Otsego Lake earns winner bragging rights

A packed field of people paddled pumpkins across Otsego Lake — all trying for their shot at glory


A packed field of people paddled pumpkins across Otsego Lake — all trying for their shot at glory.

“Go Nicole,” shouted a spectator.

“Get the seaweed off your paddle,” shouted another.

“I don’t want her to tip over,” worried one father.

The competitors stroked their paddles to propel their hollowed-out giant pumpkin to a target a couple hundred feet away, where they touched a rope and then reversed direction and powered their way back to the dock.

It was a photo finish, but Kristen Dahlem of Long Island claimed victory.

Dahlem has experience kayaking but racing in a pumpkin is definitely not the same.

“It’s round, wobbly and wet,” she said.

Dahlem was one of about 50 people who competed in four heats in the Pumpkin Regatta event on the last day of this weekend’s PumpkinFest 2010, sponsored by the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s only $250 for the first prize but it’s also bragging rights. You can put your picture up on the wall and say, ‘I won the great Pumpkin Regatta,’ ” said Chamber Executive Director Susan O’Handley.

Despite the unusual nature of the vessel, there is not much concern about sinking, O’Handley said.

“As long as you scoop some of the inside meat out, they do tend to be buoyant,” she said.

“We try to match up a pumpkin to the size and weight of the person who’s paddling it,” O’Handley said.

The pumpkins were decorated much like race cars with the logo of their sponsors. The one sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame was painted like a baseball. Others sported shamrocks or other designs.

The pumpkins used for the race came from local growers and competed in Saturday’s pumpkin weigh-off. An average pumpkin in the competition weighs about 700 pounds.

This year’s top prize went to Becky and Todd Brownell of Edinburgh, whose gourd weighed 1,541 pounds.

Todd Brownell said it is a mix of factors that create a good pumpkin, including genetics.

“Your soil has got to be proper, and you’ve got to have good weather and you’ve got to have good luck,” he said. “The guy that won last year — he didn’t do so good this year but he still had the same talent.”

This is his second year growing pumpkins. “I thought it would be interesting to try to grow them because people are kind of amazed by it.”

He started the pumpkin plant in the house on April 20 and then on April 25 put it in the ground in a special hoop house made out of PVC pipe and plastic. He installed it about a foot down in the ground with some soil-heating cables.

The pumpkin grew at about 25 pounds a day and came out on Sept. 24.

“You can pretty much watch them grow in front of your eyes,” he said.

The race sponsors and growers carve out the pumpkins the morning of the race and race against each other in the first two heats. Then, members of the general public get their turn to ride in the pumpkin vessels.

This is the seventh year for the festival, which O’Handley said helps draw attention to the farmers and agriculture industry and provide a fun outing for families and children.

April Johnson of Fort Plain brought her grandchildren to watch the races. Johnson said she was amazed that the pumpkins can actually float.

“It was pretty cool,” she said.

When asked if he wanted to try racing in a pumpkin someday, her grandson, 7-year-old Ethan Schoch, thought about it and said yes. Maybe he could race his 6-year-old sister Hailey, or Johnson suggested they race together in a “two-seater.”

There was also food, games and music for families. Children could try to putt golf balls into pumpkins or stuff a scarecrow with hay.

Sean Taylor, an ice sculptor by trade, was demonstrating how to carve a pumpkin. He said it is important to have patience and the right tools. People should also start off with a suitable pumpkin for carving. “You want something that has a nice rind to it to be able to dig in and get a nice 3-D piece,” he said.

It takes about two to three hours to carve a 200- to 300-pound pumpkin. A bigger one could take all day.

John Fava, 12, of Whitesboro, said he likes pumpkin carving. Last year, he made a face that looked like it was breathing fire.

Liz Bulger of Schenectady said she enjoys coming to the event. “All the decorative pumpkins are amazing,” she said.

Nicole Naticchia of Newton, Pa., was in town to visit a family friend and decided to try her luck at the pumpkin race. She finished in last place but was not discouraged.

“I like to do things I never did before,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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