The second annual Boat Building Seminar took place under clear skies on Saturday, April 4, a perfect spring day in the lot next to the Rochester Fire Department. Art Benner, chairman of the Boat Race Committee, greeted each visitor and got them started with registration, a map of the Mattapoisett River course, race rules, and boat-building tips.
“The race was founded in 1934 by Jim Hartley,” Benner recounted. “I got involved with the boat-building when I was a kid in 4H. … There is no charge to enter the race, so the raffles really help. Even road races have registration fees … but we’ve been doing it this way all along.”
Many visitors were quietly purchasing $5 raffle tickets – sometimes one ticket, sometimes 20. The sunlit array of boats, paddles, great info, and the nearby RMS playground drew people to visit the Rochester Fire Station to learn more.
The race is legendary in the Tri-Town, and a point of pride for Rochester, with close ties to the Rochester Fire & Rescue Department. Among the boats on display was a well-worn craft from 1978, which was much wider and more flexible than the ones built in more recent years. Paddles have also changed and carbon fiber paddles are now favored for being extremely strong and lightweight. Two different types of these paddles were on display to be raffled.
“These paddles are the best. I made these and I make several different kinds which are similar,” said Rochester Firefighter Bill Watling, III, as he held his son David while his daughter, Katelyn, hugged his leg.
Long-time participants like Gary Stopka of Rochester spent years paddling with their kids, and then handed the paddles off when their teens were eager to pair off and set their own records.
“Yes, they’ll be back this year to defend their record,” said Stopka of his daughter Caitlin who is from Rochester, and her race partner, Emma Knox of Mattapoisett. Both are college freshmen and living in different states.
There is always a great party at the finish with food and beverage concessions provided by the RFD. Proceeds benefit Rochester Fire & Rescue.
Important dates for this year’s race include the following: Registration dates are Friday, May 10, and Friday, May 17, 6:30 pm at the Rochester Senior Center. Starting position drawing is Friday, May 17, 8:00 pm at the Rochester Senior Center. Ham and Bean Supper is Saturday, May 25, 5:00 pm at the Rochester Senior Center. Race date is Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, 8:30 am. The Awards Ceremony is Monday, May 27, 7:30 pm at Rochester Memorial School.
Submitted by Erin Bednarczyk