High stakes on the high seas at Oak Bay Tea Party

By Victoria News
Published: May 29, 2013 05:00 PM

It’s an event that runs wild through Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen’s mind, a moment defined by public pressure, physical exertion and the bitter sting of icy sea water snuffing out the flame of a dream: to win the mayor’s teacup challenge at the Oak Bay Tea Party.

Unfortunately Jensen made the rookie mistake of unleashing his unbridled strokes and fell victim to former Oak Bay mayor Christopher Causton’s teacup savvy moves.

“I thought I was doing really well until the point where I took on too much water,” Jensen said of his first race last year. “It was one of those slow motion times where the cup’s going sideways and I’m going, ‘This is probably not the way things are supposed to go.’ Down it went and out I came. Let me tell you, that water is cold.”

Jensen, wearing a period bathing suit in honour of the Tea Party’s 50th anniversary, hit the water then swam to the nearby Oak Bay Sea Rescue boat. One week before the 51st annual Oak Bay Tea Party slated for this weekend (May 31 to June 2), and battling a chest infection, Jensen is reliving the painful past in an effort to avert another capsized cup. He’s scheduled to face off against teacup challenger, MP Murray Rankin at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Willows Beach.

Rankin claims to be working under the care of a sports psychologist to surmount the mental requirements of the race.

“I’m feeling the pressure in the House of Commons but quite frankly, the pressure of facing the mayor in a teacup is much greater,” Rankin said.

Since its inception in 2002, Oak Bay tea partiers have delighted in watching their mayor race a challenger in a fibreglass teacup.

Long-running Causton finally shelved his cup and saucer after 11 years of challengers of all stripes including Penny Farthing owner Matt MacNeil, who proudly displays his victory trophy from the ceiling of the pub; Olympic rower Silken Laumann, by whom Causton was obliterated; and former B.C. Ferries CEO David Hahn, who managed to sink his teacup.

In 2010, former NHL-er Geoff Courtnall took down Causton after his teacup tipped halfway through the race.

Oak Bay Tea Party chair Bill Murphy-Dyson has become an expert in race strategies and believes the famed Courtnall spill was intentional.

“He dunked his teacup so he could swim back to shore, ring the bell to win the race and take off his wet T-shirt so the women would faint, which many did. He’s still got a six-pack.”

The teacups themselves have quite a story to tell, having first set sail in 1986 when former Oak Bay mayor and then B.C. attorney general Brian Smith climbed aboard one of four cups in the Inner Harbour.

“I remember he was smoking a pipe while he sank,” Causton told the News prior to duelling his first challenger, former Victoria mayor Alan Lowe.

Causton’s pre-race strategy at that time included swilling tea. Jensen has yet to refine his tactics. His game plan: “Try not to tip the cup,” Jensen said.

Back in the law offices of Cox, Taylor, file folders eclipse the desk of Murphy-Dyson, a full-time lawyer in addition to Oak Bay Tea Party Society chairman. The most gargantuan stack of papers is devoted to the Tea Party, an event which, despite the considerable efforts of organizers, doesn’t change much from year to year.

“It’ll be more of the same, except, I hope, better,” said Murphy-Dyson, who started volunteering with the event in 1990. “People keep coming, which means we’re doing the right thing. We don’t mess with a good formula.”

One new item on the weekend itinerary: midway amusement rides will now be open from 4 to 9 p.m. on Friday night. They continue through the weekend as usual.

Otherwise the schedule of events should be no surprise to loyal tea partiers from the time the parade rolls down from Windsor Park to Willows Park on Saturday.

Once again, a team of about 30 core Tea Party volunteers (who are always open to more help) have arranged for multiple musical acts, children’s activities, the bathtub race, air show and Sunday pancake breakfast. The event, which is always a draw, rain or shine, is best accessed via transit, bike or by foot, and remains a major fundraiser for multiple local charities.

As for those teacups, Murphy-Dyson recently received a phone call from a City of Victoria employee who had found the remaining two of the original four from the Smith race of ‘86. Murphy-Dyson seized the opportunity to gather more teacups and though they won’t be refurbished in time for the weekend, they could quite likely up the ante for a 2014 battle royale. But until then, Murphy-Dyson is focused on Jensen’s current task at hand.

“I hope he’s not thinking of himself as too much of a veteran, because he’s liable to get into trouble again for being too confident,” he said. “We’re hoping he’ll do better this year.”

For more details, including a full schedule of events, visit oakbayteaparty.com.

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