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River rats of all shapes and sizes swarm mountain town for raft races

Some of the Gasquet Raft Race’s 200-plus participants maneuver around rocks as they lead a small pack of paddlers downstream Saturday afternoon. Boaters and floaters covered a 2.5-mile stretch of the Smith River in about two hours. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke
Some of the Gasquet Raft Race’s 200-plus participants maneuver around rocks as they lead a small pack of paddlers downstream Saturday afternoon. Boaters and floaters covered a 2.5-mile stretch of the Smith River in about two hours. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke
A family of clowns ferrying their kayak down the rocks were followed by Scotty and Mr. Spock hauling the USS Enterprise to the Smith River, glittering in the Gasquet sun.

There were zombies, guys wearing togas, fairies with gauzy tutus and glittery wings and members of the Justice League staging at the spot where the Smith River’s north and middle forks meet.

“Are you ready with the cannon?” shouted race volunteer Paul Nelson through a bullhorn.

More than 200 paddled or floated down the Smith River for the 45th annual Gasquet Raft Race on Saturday. It’s the largest fundraiser of the year for the Gasquet American Legion Post No. 548, which ended the event with live music and a deep pit barbecue.

Racers started near the Horace Gasquet bridge and hauled out below the Mary Adams Peacock bridge, 2½ miles downstream. Along the way, racers fired upon the competition with water balloons, cannons and squirt guns. They also faced a barrage of waterpower from shore as spectators joined in the fray.

“There’s not too many rules,” said Shara Soderlund, who’s been volunteering at the race for four years. “It’s for a good cause. It’s an awesome community. Everybody pitches in and does everything together.”

Event coordinator Jina Bowen said it’s too soon to tell how much money the race generated, but she’s sure the American Legion did well.

“Next year we hope to get more donations and more people involved in the Gasquet Raft Race,” she said. “We’re trying to upgrade our kitchen because we got approved for a Community Emergency Response Team center. In an emergency and (if) everything closes down, the American Legion will be feeding the whole community.”

This was the second year that Crescent City Councilman Ron Gastineau showed up at the starting point with his family and friends as the crew of the USS Enterprise. 

But theirs weren’t the only commissioned ship in the race. Jermaine Brubaker and several of her friends formed the crew of the USS Vagina Monologues.

 

Brubaker said she first participated in the raft race at 9 years old when her mom entered the race with her coworkers at the Triplicate. Back then, instead of inflatable rafts members of Brubaker’s team attached wooden pallets together, which promptly fell apart as soon as the race started.

“I rode a keg down river,” she said. “That was my first ever race.”

Brubaker, who moved back to Del Norte County after 18 years in Humboldt, compared Gasquet’s race to Humboldt’s Kinetic Grand Championship. Both turned 45 this year, she said, and both bring the community together.

“I hope someday to bring a kinetic race here,” Brubaker said.

Holly and Justin Wendt said they have been raft racers since they were in high school. Their 9-year-old daughter Simone has been racing since she was a toddler.

“I’ve been coming before I was Simone’s age,” Justin Wendt said. “We try never to miss it.”

The first round of boaters charges the starting line Saturday at the Gasquet Forks as smoke from a cannon hangs in the air. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke
The first round of boaters charges the starting line Saturday at the Gasquet Forks as smoke from a cannon hangs in the air. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke

This year, since they came painted as clowns, Holly Wendt said her family will likely enjoy a leisurely float down the Smith.

“If we don’t come up with a costume we just try and go fast,” she said. “We have a lot of friends going this time; we’ll just kick it with them.”

Kendra Rook, Bailee Jones and Chris Jones were among the first to haul their kayaks out of the water just below the Mary Adams Peacock bridge. When asked about the water conditions, Chris Jones said the Smith River is low, but added that it didn’t matter.

“We still had a good time,” he said. “There could be no water and we’d still have a good time.”

 

Raft race winners

Best raft: “Huck and Finn” -—  Lindsay Ford

Best costume: “Jellyfish”  — Claudia Rocha

Fastest time:

Inflatable kayaks: 

Ages 12–35: Isaac Blundell

Ages 36 and up: Chris Bertolini

Oar-driven rafts: 

Ages 12–16: Eric Gerardo 

Ages 17-40: Tyler Kennedy

Ages 41 and up: Claudia Rocha

Hand-paddled raft, 

Ages 12–16: Sarah French

Ages 17–40: Jed Kirsch

Ages 41 and up: Mark Shaugnesse

 

Reach Jessica Cejnar at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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