Monday, May 3, 2010

Bridgewater Raft Race - 2010

I have a guest writer today, my wonderful Sweetie. He wrote this for his Facebook page, and I thought it was so good I would honor him here. (That, and I'm too lazy to write my own.) More photos can be seen at

Having run the usual gauntlet of law enforcers in Woodstock we pulled in to the anything-goes cantina atmosphere of the Bridgewater Raft Race.

We unloaded our simple rig and registered. The race, now in it's 36th year is growing in popularity and there were about 50 "boats". I d
rew poorly, getting a starting position of 42. We were there early so we observed the melée of last minute construction by many motley crews.

Pipsqueak dressed smartly with a wetsuit and grass skirt while I sported safariwear, a pith helmet and "binoculars" fashioned from a couple of empty Bud "Pounders" we'd picked up on our Green Up day rounds. Cameras and videographers were in abundance so we hung around the boat to hang ten on demand. We also spoke with some returning entrants from Boston and NYC. Seems I'm not the only flatlander with a taste for the offbeat.

The entry forms read "no alcohol please" but by the looks of many of the entrants we have a literacy problem in Vermont. Even the racemaster interrupted his reading of the rules for a "social" which became the euphemism of the day. We walked around looking at the wild creations and, better, wildlife. If Pip learned some new words she didn't tell me.

The rules state that the hulls and paddles must not be commercially built and that crews provide the only power. Beyond that, pretty much anything goes.

A raft race vet informed us that the early races were started with the firing of a Colt Special and the awards were rocks taken from the river. A loaner cannon (the usual one was lost in action this past year) shattered the silence and the race was on.

Starting near last and with the river a bit low (or is it always this way?) we were caught up in a bollix of rafts. Everyone bumped rocks here and there, some lost parts or coolers (horror of horrors!) and some sank.

We soon found deeper water and read the riffles to stay off the stones. What became immediately clear was that Pip was not in this for a casual float downstream. Every raft was a challenge to be passed. It was crucial to be on the lookout for submerged boulders; drift over one and the craft stops until dislodged. Pip is a chatty sort and, being young and beguiling attracted the attentions of other rafters as we drew close. Being her father I have learned to ignore such attentions, if only briefly, and stayed on task. It wasn't long before our opponents were hung up on a stone and we poled by them. I dubbed the strategy "distract and attack" and Pip fell off the raft in laughter. "Keep going Dada", she said as she pulled herself aboard, "I can get back on, just keep on paddling".

We did a lot of passing. One longboat was constantly dogging us, but his craft had a sink/bail cycle every 10 minutes allowing us to stay ahead.

We crossed the finish line in just under an hour feeling both spent and triumphant. At the awards ceremony the winner received a $100 cash prize. Pipsqueak, as the youngest entrant, also received a prize, a family gift certificate for one month at the new Upper Valley Aquatic Center, value $127!

Starting from 42nd position we had maneuvered and powered our way past 26 competitors finishing sweet 16th!

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