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All in gourd fun

Riding a giant pumpkin is a lot like riding a grumpy bear -a tricky business at the best of times.

Still, nine brave souls gave it their best and braved the dark and muddy waters of the pond at Hugli's Blueberry Ranch during Sunday's fifth annual Giant Pumpkin Boat Races, a tradition in which the entries in Saturday's Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off are hollowed out to become boats.

The driving rain, which kept spectators as wet as some of the competitors, let up shortly before the start of the first of two races held this day. The lineup was an impressive gathering of Ottawa Valley folk and a pair visiting from Mississauga.

Sam Pizzolato and his daughter Larissa were up from the Big Smoke and decided to try their hand at the paddle category of the races. They shared one of the bigger pumpkin shells, as did Margaret Stewart and her daughter Jorah, who hail from Eganville. Filling out the field was Dan Visneskie from Renfrew and Jamie Haas of Cobden, who attends Bishop Smith Catholic High School in Pembroke.

While Visneskie quietly made his way around the course on the far side of the pond, all eyes were on the drama surrounding the remaining three pumpkins.

Haas made it out to the midway mark, but made little headway after that, eventually tipping from his craft. The Stewart and Pizzolato family teams made it to the opposite shore but got hung up on the shallow bottom of the pond, and in a heartwarming display of sportsmanship, members of each team helped free the other's pumpkin, getting out and pushing the vegetable vessels into deeper water.

Visneskie glided to an easy win, while the Pizzolatos, with Larissa acting as the pumpkin's propulsion system by pushing it while swimming, came in second, followed by the Stewarts.

Larissa Pizzolato said the water was warmer than she expected, so the experience wasn't as bone chilling as feared.

When asked why she was doing this, Margaret Stewart said she was inspired by comedian Rick Mercer, who took part in it last year during a visit to the Ottawa Valley.

"I wanted to come out here in person and see it for myself," she said, then decided to throw caution to the wind and try it out.

"Carpe diem," she said.

The celebrity/media challenge attracted three competitors. Star 96's Brian Burton, Chris Kyte, a last minute substitute for MyFM, and federal independent candidate Hec Clouthier.

After sorting out how the electric motors attached to the pumpkins worked, the three headed out from the start line, where Kyte leaped out to an early lead, leaving behind Burton, who was progressing slowly, and Clouthier, who wasn't moving at all, due to a battery failure.

Then Kyte ran into trouble on the opposite shore, and was unable to free herself, instead slowly spinning around.

This enables Burton to catch up, but he seemed to get into similar trouble and also staled.

Clouthier, in the meantime, with the help of Hugli's pit crew, got his craft going at a good clip, and quickly caught up to Kyte and Burton, then passed them.

The pair did free themselves and began to pursue him, but by then he had put too much distance between them and him, scoring a sweet come from behind victory, seemingly against all odds.

Asked for his secret, Clouthier said it was easy.

"Make sure you have the pumpkin with the fastest motor," he said.

The Giant Pumpkin Boat Races have become a regular attraction during Rural Ramble, as well as part of the Fall Family Fun Festival held at the blueberry ranch.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer reporter