Rafters ready to take to the river in race for the fun of it

Unconventional watercraft will get people back on the water and probably douse them in water at the same time.
Battle Creek DIY raft events had ended nearly 20 years ago -- long enough for some watercraft knowledge to be lost.

In 2013 the Battle Creek Metropolitan Area Mustache Society re-launched the Up The Creek Raft Regatta, an annual floating of DIY craft down the Kalamazoo River.

For their first raft, the BCMAMS crew made a recreation of the Flintstones' caveman car, with two barrels where the wheels would be.

"I don't recommend two barrels. They don't float together, they tip," Jeremy Andrews, BCMAMS Regatta Chairman, says.

More barrels would've helped keep the rafters dry. Also, they should've put some water in the barrels -- basic ship design requires stabilizing ballast.

These suggestions came from "one of our member's young daughter who is much smarter than us, apparently."

The trial-and-error, free-for-all regatta will float again on noon, June 27, from the boat launch 500 feet east of the bridge at Helmer/South Bedford Road and Jackson Street, down to Stringham Road, along the Battle Creek Linear Park.

New this year will be a beer tent near the Bedford bridge, with proceeds going to Community HealthCare Connections and the Boy Scouts. In April BCMAMS convinced the city government to allow nonprofits to fundraise with alcohol in city parks -- something that had been allowed back in the old days of BC raft racing.

The Battle Creek Jaycees held the original race from 1979 into the early '90s. Andrews remembers it from his childhood. "I thought it was weird and goofy and silly, and we need a lot more of that."

He realized at the start of BCMAMS, as they were brainstorming events, "We need a lot more people making ridiculous floating objects on rivers."

The BCMAMS began in 2008, with the goal of building "some fun events in our community, that maybe raised money for charity, but mainly raised a good time."

Their "fun-raising" events include Leilapalooza, Festivus and the Stache Bash. The Regatta was planned to debut in 2010, but then Enbridge Energy spilled over a million gallons of heavy crude into the Kalamazoo River system.

"We had a few years where we couldn't use our river," he says. "We want to get people back out there on it."
Up The Creek Raft Regatta
June 27, noon
Helmer/South Bedford Road bridge near Jackson Street
Free for spectators and participants

Andrews points out that Enbridge is one of the event's sponsors. "Enbridge did give us some money to put on the event -- which is a good thing, I suppose. I don't think it counterbalances what had happened, but it's a nice gift.... I certainly would rather not get their money and not to have had a spill happen, but we're happy to take it."

A community, with water balloons

The Mustache Society's goal for Battle Creek: "We want to create a community where young people feel like they can have a good time, where it feels like a place where they can create, do something that's a little bit different and maybe not follow all of the rules."

There are a few rules to follow at the Regatta. If one wants to win an award, rafts must be man-made, DIY. No motor, only human powered crafts. No pollution. "Don't put stuff in the river that's nasty, and if you don't know what that is, then maybe you shouldn't get in the river," Andrews says.

But, if the thought of building something holds you back from getting into the water, "you can enter with swimmies on your arms, an inner-tube, or a kayak that's dressed up, or something like that."

Though the event has has gone from 500 spectators to nearly 1,000 in the first two years, they've yet to break 15 rafts. To ensure a bigger regatta, there will be no registration or fees this time to enter.

Traditional lawlessness on the river will continue. Combat between rafts may break out with water balloons and super-soakers. The Battle Creek Fire Department will hose craft from the bridge.

Andrews says squirt guns will be given out to kids to ensure shenanigans. "Squirt each other, squirt their parents," he says. The event is all about "not being too uptight."

It's all in the spirit of "fun-raising," he says. "I think it brings out a creative spirit, it gets people outside, it gets people enjoying our river."

After the Flinstone's fiasco, the Mustache crew built "a massive platform" for 2014, a 16-foot-long deck with astroturf and lawn-chairs, crewed by 12 people, with a "party in the back yard" theme.

This year the're putting a Viking ship on that base, made of PVC pipes and cardboard. Now the craft is 35 feet long, but "it should be good... we hope it will at least take on less water."

Andrews knows there will be water balloons and firehoses directed at them. "And we've all gotten fatter since last year," he says, laughing.

Some rafts have been fancy -- a big fish with CDs as scales, a tiki bar, the  S.S. Minnow with rafters as "Gilligan's Island" characters. Some, not so much -- coolers duct-taped together, arrays of plastic jugs, and one year's Eco-Friendly-Award-winner, "just some logs tied together with twine."

Awards this year are based on the 2000 comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou? They include The Soggy Bottom Award for the worst raft, and the Big Dan Teague for the best.

It's also a race, so there will be an award for the fastest. "But stay away from all the naughty rafters who're going to try to take you out." Andrews has heard rumors of a "combat raft" loaded with water-based weaponry.

For spectators and the soggy-bottomed, local country/bluegrass group Double-Strung and other bands will perform. Along with Arcadia Ales and "liquor slushies," there will be local eats from food trucks, and Great Scott Ice Cream. Games include a duck race, a pie eating contest and "hillbilly yard games" with "weird prizes."

There will be fun on land, but Andrews emphasizes that he wants more people in the river. Don't take the rafting too seriously -- just float. "It's really a good time taking your time and playing."

Mark Wedel has been a freelance writer in Kalamazoo for 23 years.

Photos courtesy BCMAMS

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