Saturday, September 23 2017

Published on July 6 2017. Living
Sea Festival and the Raft Race
The crews paddle furiously in a previous raft race

Sea Festival and the Raft Race

It is nearly the last chance to enter the Festival of the Sea Raft Race and also the Tug of War so go to the Festival web site and get those entry forms filled out! Here, Dennis Leeds-George gives a brief history of the Rye Raft Race.

The first race was in the late seventies and was organised by Edna Sperring, the landlady of the Queens Hotel and John her husband, who were friends with then harbour master, Colin Marsh, together with help from some of their regular lady customers who had decided to raise money for the NSPCC.

Launching the rafts at Strand Quay in the 1980s

In the eighties it was run from the Inkerman Arms Rye Harbour, and then in the nineties the Lions Club became involved – mainly because Harbour Master Carl Bagwell was a member of the Lions. After that it lapsed for three years, and then the Bonfire Boys organised the race for one year but only three rafts turned up to race.

All the raft races in those years started at the point where Rock Channel meets the Rother (with the rafts launching at the slipway at Strand Quay) then heading down river to the slipway at Rye Harbour. 

In 2002 the lions reinstated the race with the first one over the original course from Rye to Rye Harbour. Then in 2003 the race started at Star Lock finished at Rock Channel. However, the rafts had difficulty getting under the railway and the road bridges at high water so in recent years it ran between the bridges.

Elsewhere, there was a regular raft race on the river Rother in West Sussex at Midhurst which began in 1981 and continued until 2010. Another raft race is held biannually on the Military canal at Bonnington. It is good to see the Rye race returning and that not all raft races have been sunk by health and safety red tape. The race has had a checkered history over the last 35 years, but perhpas a raft-building workshop with basic instruction and lists of suitable minimal-cost materials together with where they could be acquired would encourage even more entries

Photo: Rye Festival of the Sea

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