PORT TOWNSEND — Butterflies on the bay. Dragons on the street. Mermaids on bicycles — it could happen.
The 38th Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race is on for the weekend of Oct. 2-3, so now is the time to build, paint and modulate your speed.
“This is not NASCAR,” head judge Marilyn Kurka said of the 38th annual race of human-powered contraptions, of which she and partner Ric “Veg” Peregrino have built many.
This year’s race theme is “rising from the ashes,” after the cancellation of the event in 2020, and Kurka and her compatriots are ready to rise.
The kinetics weekend in Port Townsend traditionally includes a parade — of 12 to 15 movable art feasts, built by artist-engineers — and a waterborne race at Union Wharf on the first Saturday in October.
Then comes a land race Sunday, when spectators can behold the kinetic sculptures’ progress from downtown to Uptown to Fort Worden State Park, the Point Wilson Lighthouse and, at last, to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds Obstacle Kourse.
Kurka said these outdoor events could be doable safely, with precautions and fresh air.
“We’ll have masks to hand out,” she said, adding she hopes people will look out for one another.
It’s Saturday night’s indoor bash that’s on the bubble. The Rosehips Kween Koronation Ball, normally held at the American Legion Hall at Water and Monroe streets, could turn into an event under a large tent nearby, Kurka said.
The proceedings will depend on COVID-19 vaccination numbers and case counts through the summer, she said. And, as with the Wooden Boat Festival scheduled for Sept. 10-12, now is the time to shift into higher gear.
At ptkineticrace.org are details about events, courses, rules and, under PTKSR Grant Program, information on financial help.
Grants are available for new builds, Kurka said, as well as additions to existing kinetic sculptures. In past years, organizers have awarded $2,500 in monetary support to racers, although she noted this year’s grant amount has yet to be set. The application deadline is Sept. 1.
This past weekend, Kurka and Peregrino joined Colin Bartle, a fellow seasoned sculptor, at the storage units where their sculptures lay in darkness over the winter. With the warm sun shining down, they wheeled them out: Bartle’s “Kin-Gnat,” a highly nontraditional trike, and Peregrino’s “Plan C,” a two-seated, somewhat recumbent machine.
Both were taken for a spin around the parking area, with both men turning their faces to the blue sky. As Bartle came to a stop, a wheel fell off his machine, which let him know all is well.
That’s a lot of what this race is about, he and Kurka agree: Things go awry, your machine breaks down in the middle of the race, and your friends rush in to help you fix it.
The biggest prize goes not to the fastest racer but instead to the ones smack in the middle: the pinnacle of mediocrity.
“I’m excited, really excited,” said Bartle, a sculptor as well as an electrician at Platypus Marine in Port Angeles.
He travels to other kinetic sculpture events in Corvallis, Ore., and Arcata, Calif. Besides the Kin-Gnat, he’s built an ultralight machine out of two sleek new bicycles, upon which he and his wife, Rose Hips Kween emerita Amber Bartle, survey their domain.
“We’re all just one big family, the whole West Coast,” he said.
Kurka, for her part, concentrates on the mobile art aspect of all this. For past races, she has fashioned a mermaid whose iridescent tail swished its way down the race course; a butterfly, Mary the Monarch, possibly her most popular creation, and a sea dragon stretching some 52 feet long.
Other themes: the “Thelma and Louise” duo, a band of rollerskating Muppets and the dazzling yellow Toon Taxi.
She also admires the ingenuity of others, such as the man who, when it came to the waterborne race, used plastic milk jugs as flotation devices on his machine.
“There must have been 25 of them,” Kurka recalled.
It’s been “interesting,” she added, to be shut down for a year. After taking part in kinetic sculpture races for more than two decades, “this COVID year has been hard on the creative juices.”
Yet Kurka and her fellow artist-engineers will face the challenges and pedal “for the glory,” as they faithfully say.
“This,” she said, “is an exercise in hope.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]