Homer's Travels: What You Get When Art And Engineering Collide

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What You Get When Art And Engineering Collide

Saturday was the 10th annual Kinetic Sculpture Races at the Ventura harbor. I had never gone so I headed down with my camera to check it out. The kinetic sculptures are whimsically decorated man-powered vehicles. They are raced first in the water, then over the sand, then around an oval course in the Ventura Harbor parking lot, and finally across a mud pit. The weather was overcast and drizzly which kept everything cool and, early on, the crowds small.

I arrived around 10:00 am, parked near the stores and restaurants at the
Ventura Harbor Village, and walked down to the headquarters of Channel Island National Park. The race was going to start across the waterway from the headquarters. Since they were not in the water yet, I wandered around the visitors center and looked at the exhibits and the park store. I noticed a guy with a video camera set up videoing the crowds near the starting point. He had his camera and head covered with his jacket. I assumed this was to keep the drizzle off his camera. Then I heard him talking. I figured that he was just narrating his footage but things got a little strange when he started talking in a different voice - he was pretending to interview a spectator watching the race preparation. This was especially weird after the FEMA press conference bru-ha-ha. I should have asked him what he was doing but I decided to just moved along.

When the race finally started I realized that this was going to be a very slow race. If you've ever seen a paddle boat in the water, they don't move very fast. This is especially true when they are home made paddle boats. I could easily out walk most of the vehicles. I decided to walk around and look for some food. I figured I'd have a better chance to see the racers up close when they got on the sand. I stopped at a cafe and ordered a tasty double cheeseburger and had lunch.

After lunch I made my way to the beach in time to see the first two racers on the sand. They weren't moving much faster then they were on water. Many of the vehicles had wide tires which worked good on the sand but it still looked hard to pedal most of the vehicles. The contestants were allowed to make minor modifications when then transitioned from one medium to another. Some added wider treads to their tires when they hit the beach. I walked down to where the racers were coming on shore and took some pictures. The race was very informal and there was little security so you could walk right up to the vehicles and talk with the owners if you wanted to. All the contestants were having fun with their designs. I think the Homeless Piranha was the most interesting. It was also a repeat from last year when it was called the Holly Mackerel.

I headed back down the beach looking for the finish line for the sand segment. Part of the way down the drizzle became a light shower and I decided to go back to the store/restaurant area to get out of the rain. I looked through some stores. I found a hat store (The Harbor Hatter) and found a wide brimmed, packable hat that looked like it would be good on hikes. I made a mental note to add it to my Christmas list. I had been thinking about ice cream (it's rarely far from my thoughts) so I bought an ice cream cone at Coastal Cone Ice Cream & Yogurt and sat outside, ate the ice cream, read a local newspaper, and listened to some kids doing a play on a small gazebo/stage to a small audience.

The showers let up and I went to the mud racing area. The vehicles were being parked nearby in preparation for the laps in the parking lot. This gave me another opportunity to take pictures of the racers. There were about a dozen racers. They varied in complexity. Some of the engineering was impressive. One of them, a two wheeler call
Bounce For Glory, was powered by the rider bouncing up and down. It performed amazingly well. The number of wheels varied from two to six with three being a common number. They started the race around the parking lot. The lack of maneuverability of some of the racers resulted in crashes, collisions, and close calls that energized the crowd. Someone near me described it as a Ben Hur chariot race which was a pretty good description. The officials, some dressed in flashy costumes, were pretty loose with the rules as several racers cut corners to bypass traffic jams. One contestant even lost his front wheel and still was allowed to continue racing. The whole race had an air of informality which just made it more relaxed and fun.

The last race was through a mud pit. The fire department came in and helped wet down the track. This is when the crowds got thick. A lot of people showed up for just the last two races. As I waited for the the mud to fly I watched all the dogs in the park - there were quite a few, big ones and small one - and I watched the little kids playing with the automatic soap bubble blowers that were filling the race field with bubbles. Older kids were paying $3.00 to play with a
slot car track. I chatted with a guy who was there with his dog. He liked my camera. We talked about making movies with our cameras and I turned him onto the Red Bull Air Races. He said he would have to look into it as he had attended several air races in the past.

The mud races started and all the racers made it through but quite a few had to get in the mud and push. Everyone really had fun watching them get bogged down in the mud.
This was the last portion of the race and frankly, I don't even know who won. I don't think that was the purpose of the race. The purpose was to have fun and everyone there was had fun.

This was a fun day. There were several slow parts during the day and I would recommend that if you want to go see this race, show up around 2:00 pm for the parking lot and mud races. They are fast paced and fun to watch. The rest is just too slow. Of course, you can do what I did and do a little window shopping, eat some good food, and enjoy the day out of the house.
I took over 150 pictures and the best are here.


  1. Oh, man, that looks like fun! I should have driven up there on Saturday rather than doing the mundane and getting my oil changed on the truck!

  2. It was pretty fun but it also sounds like your party and the trip up to the apple orchard were interesting also. I know, you feel Blah, but it still sounded interesting.