The 2019 Tea Cup Race, part of the Tea Party, is a competition between first term mayors Kevin Murdoch, Rob Martin (Colwood), left, and Cliff McNeil-Smith of Sidney. They will row the unstable fibreglass cups on Sunday, (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Oak Bay Tea Party: Mayors are up to the challenge

Mayor Kevin Murdoch challenges counterparts to Mayor’s Floating Teacup Race

This year’s Floating Tea Cup Challenge at the Oak Bay Tea Party is going to be a first for all involved.

Joining first-term Mayor Kevin Murdoch are a trio of new mayors from around the region, Colwood’s Rob Martin, Saanich’s Fred Haynes and Sidney’s Cliff McNeil-Smith. New North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr will be unavailable as he’ll be attending a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City.

But four is good, because that’s how many hand-crafted, precision-made giant seaworthy teacups Oak Bay owns and has ready to go for the 2019 edition of the Mayor’s Floating Teacup Race.

It all starts at 3 p.m. off Willows Beach on Sunday, June 2.

“The concept of a round boat is rather interesting, I hope not to end up going around in circles,” said Sidney’s McNeil-Smith, who has yet to witness the event. “[Sidney] engineers are working on the definitive paddle stroke.”

McNeil-Smith does have some waterborne experience with kayaks and canoes, possibly one better than Murdoch’s mariner history on sailboats.

Having seen the race for decades Murdoch is excited to get in the teacup and row himself.

“I’m honoured to have the other mayors take me up on this challenge.” Murdoch said. “A lot of good people have gone into the water in this race over the years.”

The distance is no small feat, a good 200 metres out and back and to where the depth is over your head, Murdoch said.

Some years there has been a theme to the dress of the competitors but all Murdoch has to offer so far is no speedos allowed.

“I might wear a flotation advice,” said McNeil-Smith.

From what Murdoch has seen the best advice is not to stand up and to row gently.

“I’ve seen a big row end up tipping the cup backwards,” Murdoch said.

For Martin, despite the fact he’s never watched the tea cup race the Tea Party is a family affair. His father-in-law Frank Gower, who died in the fall, is a former math teacher (who taught Murdoch) and rugby coach at Oak Bay High, and whose family is in Oak Bay. The Gower half of the family are known for having Wafflerama, where friends and family gather on a front lawn along Oak Bay Avenue and eat waffles before the parade.

“[Like McNeil-Smith] I haven’t seen the tea cup race but I plan to win it,” Martin said. “Colwood also has an expectation that their mayor dominates.”

Martin does have rowing experience from the waters off North Saanich.

Of course, none of the first-term mayors can claim a stronger connection to the homeland of tea than Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes (who was absent from the photo preview).

“With my English upbringing all things about tea come naturally, though the size of the cup is somewhat larger than usual,” Haynes said. “I am sure the outcome of the Oak Bay Tea will be delicious to the last drop.”

Oak Bay mayors have challenged numerous guests from around Greater Victoria at the Mayor’s Floating Tea Cup Challenge over the years. Past participants include NHL star Geoff Courtnall (who dunked) and Olympic medalist Silken Laumann.

Last year Oak Bay Police’s Deputy Chief Ray Bernoties and Oak Bay Fire’s Deputy Chief Darren Hughes joined former mayor the late Nils Jensen.

Others on the list include former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard, former Esquimalt mayor Darwin Robinson, former MLA, Ida Chong, former B.C. Ferries president David Hahn, 100.3 The Q’s Ed Bain, actor Meg Tilly, former Oak Bay mayor Christopher Causton, Victoria riding MP Murray Rankin, outgoing Saanich police chief Bob Downie, former Deputy Oak Bay Police Chief Kent Thom, 2010 Firefighter Calendar “Mr. May” Duane Adsett, high school band directors Jeff Weaver from Oak Bay High and Jamie Davis from Spectrum Community School (now Reynolds), and Dave Flello from Reynolds Secondary School, Oak Bay councillor Hazel Braithwaite, Tea Party Chair Sandy Germain, and former Tea Party Chair, Bill Murphy-Dyson.

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