Q. Whatever happened to the boat race on the river during Riverfest? I recall years ago that people constructed non-motorized boats that were raced on the river. When did this stop and why?
A. Gene Merritt, who organized the first Riverfest in 1979, said the raft race was a popular event with homemade “boats” floating from Rumsey Marine drydock to the dock at the foot of Nun Street.
“During the second or third raft race,” Merritt wrote in an email, “a woman fell off her raft and the current took her under a barge attached to the Coast Guard Cutter. She was unharmed, but the Coast Guard came down on our head, out of fear for public safety (they said) and the next year made us take off at slack tide. Because of the involvement (regulations) of the Coast Guard, the public lost interest in the event, because slowing it down took all the fun out if it.”
The raft race was resurrected in 2002, but was never the same, Merritt said, because of the necessary safety precautions.
“I would love to see it happen again; there was so much community involvement,” Merritt wrote. “The reason we created Riverfest was to get people in this area to return to the river, recognizing how much of an asset we have with the Cape Fear-not just for shipping, but for recreational and other purposes.”
Date posted: March 21, 2013
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