Boats, hydroplanes and visitors fill riverfront for annual Madison Regatta

Updated: Jul. 6, 2018 at 8:49 PM EDT
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MADISON, IN - "I've been coming here all my life," said Rob Holt, a Madison, Indiana resident. Holt grew up in the riverfront community and says he's never missed a regatta.

Thousands of people come to Madison, Indiana over the weekend for the annual Madison Regatta.  Some travel a few miles, others a few thousand.

"I was working will call yesterday and we checked in some people from New Zealand," said Regatta board member Curtis Chatham.

Officially, it's the 68th year. But local race historian Dave Taylor says the Madison Regatta really began in 1911.

"I have photos of some of those early races where we had steamboats lined up along the river with the motorboats in the background," Taylor said.  "And that time, the boats were outboard, some of them were inboard boats with automotive engines and they plowed through the water. Today's hyd roplanes actually plane over the surface of the water. They're essentially a water-bound aircraft when you get down to it."

More than a century after the first regatta, boat racing is still the draw here for visitors and locals alike.

"Well the best part is the boats," Holt said.

This year, they're expanding the weekend with more live music.

"We added it last year on a much smaller scale and this year, expanded it to a lot more national talent," Chatham said.

The Madison Regatta runs through Sunday evening. Tickets are available for purchase for both the races and for the live music. For more information, visit the Madison Regatta on their website here.

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On Friday, it's pretty slow boating out on the Ohio. But on Saturday, the big boats and hyd roplanes will hit the water going up to 200 miles per hour, much faster than in 1911.

"Going back to the teens, some of the speeds were an average of around 14, 15 miles an hour," Taylor said.

Drivers and their boats guard their riverfront spots, getting ready to hit the water Saturday morning.

"Words really don't do it justice. There's really nothing quite like it," said hyd roplane driver Andrew Tate.

Tate and his crew stay busy, making sure their gear is ready to race.

"The left pedals, there's actually two for my left foot, no brakes," Tate said.

He won a race down in Alabama just two weeks earlier against some of the drivers he'll take on again this weekend. The boat he drives is just two years older than he is, practically family. 

"Definitely a working relationship, sometimes she's happy, sometimes she's not. So I guess it'd be more like a sister, a little bit more temperamental than a brother," Tate said.

And together, they're hoping to take home another win this weekend.

"We're hoping to have another go out and drag 'em out boat race," Tate said.

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