At the echoing crash of a cannon, the 45th Annual Bridgewater Raft Race on May 4th will begin as it has for several decades: with whooping, hollering costumed competitors rushing through billowing clouds of gun-smoke to their vessels; homemade, self-propelled rafts awaiting in the icy water of the Ottauquechee.
Historically, no one seems to mind the water temperature, which ranges from 40 to 50 degrees – participants are running high on a mix of camaraderie and unbridled joy. If you compete or even join the crowds of onlookers, you’ll quickly understand why.
Most barges are a patchwork of seaworthy essentials and decorative flair, spanning the pop-culture ages from the Flintstones to Donald Trump. You see, this time-honored tradition, which sends rafters on a three-mile spree from the bridge near Long Trail Brewery to the Bridgewater Mill, is less about the competition than reveling in the journey.
This is no zero-sum game. Although prizes await winners at the finish line, there’s also music and merriment for all who participated or cheered at the sidelines. There, you may meet a local who has competed nearly 40 times. Someone might regale you with the raft race’s history, which began in April 1974 when two locals – Hippy Jim Cloninger and William Bear Massey – took to the chilly waters in homage of “the phantom duck of the rivers” inspired by Mojave folklore. But no matter what happens or who you meet, by partaking in this piece of local heritage, you’ll get your own dose of that old Vermont pride.
- Registration: May 4th, 2019 at 11 AM
- Race begins: May 4th, 2019 at 12 PM
- Starting location: 5313 US-4, Bridgewater Corners, VT 05035
- Ending location: Bridgewater Mill Mall, Woodstock, VT 05091
- Race rules: No dogs, no alcohol, life jackets and helmets recommended (participation at own risk), all garbage brought in must be brought out, participants under 18 must have guardian consent
- The 45th Annual Bridgewater Raft Race benefits the Alex Abraham Music Scholarship at WUHS