MIDDLETOWN - A group of city kids hope to make a splash aboard their 28-foot homemade boat that resembles two giant bananas at today's Connecticut River Raft Race.

Kids set to make a splash in River Raft Race

By JAMES TINLEY, Press staff

MIDDLETOWN - A group of city kids hope to make a splash aboard their 28-foot homemade boat that resembles two giant bananas at today's Connecticut River Raft Race.

Members of the North End Action Team (NEAT) daVinci Club spent countless, painstaking hours turning slabs of Styrofoam and fiberglass into a seaworthy vessel. After modifications over the past few years, they are ready to put the daVinci Club Amazing Rowing Machine and their brawn to the test as they paddle against other rafts in the 33rd Connecticut River Raft Race beginning at 10 a.m.

The race features off about 20 homemade, self-propelled vessels that range from outrageous to semi-serious, said Bob Niland, spokesperson for the race.

The race will start at Gildersleeve Island, and competitors will paddle past Harbor Park on their way to Riverside Marina in Cromwell, about four miles away from the start. Spectators are welcome to join the post-race festivities, which will include a band, at Riverside Marina.

The race, which used to be known as a huge party and drew about 1,000 rowdy spectators, actually got its start as a bet between two people in a bar, said Thomas Foote, vice president of the race.

One person in past years actually entered a raft made entirely of beer cans, said Lydia Brewster, a NEAT community organizer.

After years of fighting against the reputation of the race being more of a booze cruise than anything else, organizers have scaled back slightly and transformed it into a more family- friendly affair, Foote said.

"We don't really cater to the party crowd anymore," Foote said flatly.

This fits perfectly for 14-year-old Jerod Gaskins, who was core member of the daVinci Club team that spent hours in a warehouse shaping the slabs of concrete and fiberglass into an actual boat and helped paddle it to a first-place finish in the double canoe class last year.

Gaskins has his eye on reclaiming the first-place trophy, and he is the self proclaimed "motivator" of the team. The Middletown team, made up mostly of kids from the NEAT daVinci Club, will be joined by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, and if Gaskins has any say, will all paddle like mad in an attempt to win the race.

This sort of community involvement and re-emphasis on the race itself instead of alcohol is exactly what Foote has tried to bring to the race, who wants to make people aware of what a treasure the Connecticut River is.

"There is a special thing about the Connecticut River," he said. "Most people don't realize what a great resource it is, and I hope this race has brought attention to the river."

Copyright © 2007, The Middletown Press


MLA citation: Tinley, James. "Kids set to make splash in River Raft Race." Middletown Press 03 Aug. 2007, Print.

MLA in-text citation: (Tinley)