For the third year in a row, the Gasquet Raft Race garnered record-breaking participation on a sunny Saturday on the Smith River that drew hundreds of rafters and spectators.
Photos courtesy Youth News Network City Councilman Ron Gastineau, left, and his crew sported “Star Trek” shirts and their own version of the Starship Enterprise.
It was the largest fundraiser yet for race host Gasquet American Legion Post No. 548, with live music rocking the crowd and deep-pit barbecue pleasing taste buds at the legion’s after-race party.
“We made out like bandits,” said Jina Bowen, who’s been organizing the race for the past three years and designed this year’s T-shirt for the 213 racers.
What really added to the delight of spending a sun-soaked day on the river in Gasquet was the attire.
Many rafters, especially those less concerned with finishing the fastest, vied for best costume and best raft design. In the 44th annual event, best costume went to a group of women with glittery wings and brightly colored tutus, the “Super Fairies.”
The prize for best raft design went to the Starship Enterprise, a full-sized river raft that had a round, blow-up kiddie pool fixed to the front to mimic the Enterprise’s disc shape. Water noodles shooting out from the back looked like the spacecraft’s thrusters. The Enterprise was manned by the Gastineau family and friends, including Crescent City Councilman Ron Gastineau, who sported Spock ears.
“Sorry, we only have trophies for first place, but everyone is a winner here in Gasquet,” said Paul Nelson, the MC for the after-party, as he handed out awards.
Beyond learning my status as a “winner” just for being in Gasquet, I established three rules for participation in the Gasquet Raft Race.
Rule No. 1: Be prepared. Especially in a low-water year, you’re bound to hit some rocks, which might just rip your ride. A stash of repair materials, even it’s only duct tape, is key. Preparation also include snacks, cold beverages and — most importantly — firepower.
Squirt guns, fixed water cannons and other liquid projectors provide the only means of protecting yourself.
Some Gasquet residents with river-front property spent the afternoon hazing passing rafters with garden hoses and water balloons, which led to rule No. 2: Don’t trust anyone.
That nice old man with his granddaughter telling you that the deepest and best part of the riffle to run is on river left, might just spray you in the face when you get close.
My dad, Jack Spencer, who probably won the award for farthest distance traveled for the race, as he happened to be in Del Norte visiting during a road trip that started in South Florida, didn’t follow this rule.
He paddled toward the water-cannon-equipped Enterprise yelling “surrender” and hoping to chat with space travelers. I told him he was being foolish, after personally having some wet wars with the Enterprise that day.
“Gastineau!” I yelled. “You honor that surrender!”
But this obviously wasn’t the Enterprise of the diplomatic captain Jean-Luc Piccard, and my dad was quickly doused by Spock or one of his cohorts.
Earlier, it was my father who couldn’t be trusted. After losing Dad around a couple river bends, I pondered aloud: “I wonder where my dad is?”
Right at that moment, we heard: “Ambush!” And got sprayed in the face by Pop’s water gun as he hid behind a rock.
My dad also helped teach me rule No. 3: Respect the river.
Amid the costumes and carnival-type atmosphere, it’s easy to get careless. Dad got tossed from his inflatable kayak on the penultimate drop, giving his leg a rock-induced bruise of honor and losing him a pair of glasses. But he fully redeemed himself with a clean line down the biggest rapid of the run.
At the finish line parking lot, some rafters saw Dad’s license plates and hollered: “Hey, Florida! What are you doing here?”
He responded that he was just there to have a good time, which of course is the obvious, unspoken and most important rule of the Gasquet Raft Race: Have fun.
It’s never too early to start planning for the next Gasquet Raft Race, and Jina Bowen still has tubes for sale. Call Jina at 707-954-1836.
Raft race winners
• Best Raft: “Starship Enterprise” (Gastineau)
• Best Costume: “Super Fairies” (Vaughn)
• Kayak, ages 12–35, Isaac Blundell; ages 36-up, Scott Bowman
• Oar-Driven Raft: ages 12–16, Eric Wilson; ages 17–40, Zara Gastineau; ages 41–up, Sheila Vaughn
• Hand-Paddled Raft, ages 12–16, Ariana Castro; ages 17–40, Adam from Bayside; ages 41-up, Adair Benoit