Since the Rochester Memorial Day Boat Race first began in 1939, the event has only been canceled four years and for one occasion — World War II. With the novel coronavirus pandemic putting a stop to countless events across the country, the 2020 edition was not expected to become an exception.
In fact, at one point, the race had been canceled. But with the state starting its reopening process, race director Art Benner got to work with his committee once the Rochester Board of Health gave the Fire Department permission to sponsor the event.
This year’s race came with changes. The distance was cut in half down to six miles, ending at Wolf Island Road. There was no registration session at the race, nor was there a hotdog stand, the ham and bean supper, or an awards program afterward.
“We thought that people would enjoy getting out and getting in the river and doing that sort of activity,” Benner said.
Along with the distance change, the biggest adjustment for contestants was the preparation for the event.
“People didn’t get the kind of practice time they would have normally, had we had a normal spring and they could have been making practice runs from April on,” Benner said. “When they did get a chance to train last week, the water had gotten so low it was not a good training run anyway.”
The typical winning time for the Rochester Memorial Day Boat Race is under two hours so this year’s top time of 1:02.18 was a bit off the typical pace for the midway point, and that can be chalked up to lack of preparation time. Yet, for all the changes to this year’s race, one thing remained the same: Bill Watling III was one half of the winning team.
This year, however, he wasn’t partnered with his friend and fellow Rochester native Dan Lawrence. The pair had won the Rochester Memorial Day Boat Race six of the last seven years, twice taking home the Jim Hartley Award, given only to those who win the Open Division three consecutive years.
“Last year we talked and my wife had wanted to do it, so we kind of figured it was a good time to split it up,” Watling III said.
Although his wife, Alyssa, had not participated in the event before, she had competed in a kayak race before. The Rochester Memorial Day Boat Race requires homemade boats, which are open, similar to a canoe, so there were some differences, but not enough to be a problem for the Watlings.
And they fully intend to contend for the title again in 2021.
“I think we’ll at least try to get the three-in-a-row co-ed (title),” Watling III said. “I think this year we were definitely a dark horse because people assumed I was switching it up for co-ed. I don’t think they expected us to come out as strong as we did.”
Lawrence, competing with Jake Goyette, also of Rochester, finished third overall in the race and third in the Open Division (1:03:32). Rochester native Andy Weigel and Jay Lawrence of Middleboro finished second overall and second in the Open Division (1:02:34).
Henri and Jonathan Roy of Rochester finished first in the Parent/Child Division (1:10:22). Dana Barrows and Paul Milde had the top time for an all-Mattapoisett pairing (1:04:22), finishing fourth overall. Kendall and C.J. Hedges IV had the top time for an all-Marion team (1:10:46), placing third in the co-ed division.
Rochester’s Tucker Roy and Marion’s Cliff Hedges V won the Boys Junior Division (1:15:34); it’s the third time they’ve won the Junior Boys Division.
Carolyn Pruchnik of Rochester won the Women’s Division (1:26:29) with Colleen Somers of Dorchester. Ellsea Roy of Rochester took first in the Girls Junior Division (1:38:45).
Rochester Memorial Day Boat Race
By Nick Friar