Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 7, 2013

Bramwell boat race draws 23 competitors

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Click here for video.

Twenty-six years ago when Donnie Goins and the late Denver Stoker ushered about 40 homemade water craft creations around the big bend in the Bluestone River at Bramwell, the idea of the inaugural Bluestone Millionaire Yacht Club Race was to provide a fun activity for children and families.

The Millionaire Garden Club sponsored the race, but in the summer of 1988, the water wasn’t deep enough to hold a fast-paced race, and interest in the event started to wane. A few years ago, Kelly Eller, a member of the Bramwell town council started an effort to resurrect the idea of the old Yacht Club races, and Mayor Louise Stoker eagerly brought her Yacht Club polo shirt out of the closet and joined in the effort to resume the racing.

“The water still wasn’t deep enough — not even last year,” Donnie Goins said. “The little boats got hung up on the rocks and we had to keep taking them off the rocks so they would keep racing. The river’s up this year so they should go pretty good.”

There were a total of 23 boats entered in this year’s race, — ranging in design from a Styrofoam take-out dinner box taped around a few aluminum soft drink cans, a pontoon houseboat floating on plastic soda bottles, to an aluminum serving tray molded in the shape of a boat.

“Me and my Pawpaw came up with the idea, but I cut the boards, glued and nailed them together,” Brandon Bailey, 10, of Princeton said. “He told me how to do the things I needed to do, but I did it. I made one last year.” Bailey’s grandfather, Herley Bailey, was present to root his grandson on. Sadly, his creation did not place among the top finishers — but everyone won a prize, Mayor Stoker emphasized.

Autumn Spangler, 12, designed her boat out of an aluminum cooking pan. “I just cut it and tried to make it look like a boat,” she said.

Coltan Kanode, 14, used the same design as he used in the 2012 race. “Last year, it was the one in front until it got stuck on a rock,” Kanode said of his design involving two plastic 16-ounce soda bottles taped together. “Last year, I used Duct tape, but this year, I used masking tape.”

Kanode’s strategy paid off — landing him in the top three with a third place finish. The race was competitive all the way, with Riley Harvey, 4, earning first place; Eli Spangler, also 4, finishing second; Kanode in third and Ava Spangler, also 4, finishing fourth. Harvey’s craft was also a bottle craft, while the two Spangler crafts were of the dual Styrofoam soup bowl design with their open ends glued together like flying saucers.

“This is just so much fun,” Stoker said as she drove her golf cart at front of a line of children marching to the boat launch point. She explained the rules that the race was open to all kids; that people would follow the race to free the boats from “the bull rushes,” and saying that the first boat to reach the tree was the winner.

Jesse Vanover took a rope to the far side of the river, while his sister, Savannah Vanover held the rope on the shore where all the boat-builders stood. George Sitler, also of town council, lifted the rope to start the race after all 23 boats were in the water.

A crowd of 40 or more people followed the competing crafts down the river, cheering from two bridges before the winners reached a tree that had recently fallen across the river — marking the finish line. Everyone gathered at the fallen tree to cheer on all of the boat builders and to take part in yet another Bramwell tradition.

— Contact Bill Archer at