For many years the Maritime Festival was a much-anticipated event of the summer scene and it was sorely missed when the organisers decided, for good reasons, that it could no longer be run last year.
But after a year without a festival (and how can a seafaring town as old as Rye not have a sea-related festival?), new organisers came forward and the Festival of the Sea was born. The main innovation was to once again run a raft race. This has had a long and somewhat chequered history, but its resurgence was generally welcomed and the hundreds of spectators who turned out at 11am to throng the Monkbretton Bridge and the South bank of the river, were not to be disappointed.
Some eight rafts turned up to compete, showing the varying degrees of inventiveness and originality of the would-be naval architects who had designed them. They ranged from the simple, but effective, raft from the Crown pub which consisted of a cut-down pub garden table astride some plastic drums, to the ultimate dreadnought from the Mermaid, to the colourful entry from the Creative Centre. Stability was clearly going to be a problem for some, with one raft capsizing on launch, another with a worrying list to port and several with a roll from side to side that, if nothing else, gave the onlookers a sense of anticipation that at least one disaster – and possibly several – was imminent.
Flour and water bombs between the competitors were in evidence at the start, with the Skinners Ggarage entry endeavouring to sink their rivals by turning a water hose on them. The course was over two laps from the bridge to a buoy about 100 metres away, and back. All bar one reached the buoy on the first lap – the exception being the Creative Centre who decided that paddling downstream was so last year and upstream would be better, and were last seen heading in the general direction of Iden Lock. It became quickly clear that the winner was going to be the raft whose crew were the most co-ordinated in paddling. In order to try and achieve this, there were cries of one-two, one-two, although in some cases, the meaning of this had obviously not been explained to the crew.
The main battle was between Skinners and the Mermaid with the lead changing many times. While others either capsized, headed, out of control, into the bank or simply couldn’t organise their paddling, the race was finally won by Skinners who demonstrated that, when it comes to paddling, brute force and sustained effort can be a substitute for perfect timing. But, well done to all the teams who provided a great spectacle that was much enjoyed and appreciated by the watching crowds.
Next, it was the turn of the Ryebellion drummers from the Bonfire Boys to lead the way back to Strand Quay where there were the usual stalls – including food and drink – plenty of boats to look at (although, maybe due to the RNLI open day happening at the same time, not quite so many as in the past) as well as a dodgem pond with small boats instead of cars (brilliant idea) for the children – who also had Captain Pugwash in the Heritage Centre. There had, of course, to be a tug of war and this was held in The Strand. With each tug being started by the Festival Queen, Ali Adams and cheered on by a packed and partisan audience, it was finally won by a team of large, but clearly very fit, guys from the Harbour Health Club.
All this took place with the background of continuous live music ranging from the appropriate nautical shanties to folk to ballads, to popular and more or less everything in between.
Heidi Foster writes: But Rye is always good at music and in the evening a stroll through the town to the Queens Head in Landgate which was buzzing with the band Deep Sea Drivers. The lead singer was Chantelle Duncan with a great voice who plays with this band in venues around Hastings and Rye. (The Queen’s Head has now a new evening of jollity. It has started an Open Mic Night on the last Thursday of every month, 8-11pm. Anyone who wants to amuse or entertain people with their talent is welcome to come and enjoy their moment in the spotlight.)
Congratulations are due to the organisers of the Festival who have worked extremely hard and whose thoughts, one suspects, are already turning on how to make it even bigger and better for 2018. Long may the new Festival of the Sea continue.
Photos: John Minter and Kenneth Bird