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.
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
"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
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
Reach Adam Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Raft race winners
andbull; Best Raft: "Starship Enterprise" (Gastineau)
andbull; Best Costume: "Super Fairies" (Vaughn)
andbull; Kayak, ages 12andndash;35, Isaac Blundell; ages 36-up, Scott Bowman
andbull; Oar-Driven Raft: ages 12andndash;16, Eric Wilson; ages 17andndash;40, Zara Gastineau; ages 41andndash;up, Sheila Vaughn
andbull; Hand-Paddled Raft, ages 12andndash;16, Ariana Castro; ages 17andndash;40, Adam from Bayside; ages 41-up, Adair Benoit