Savannah River's Paddlefest puts its focus on competition

  • Follow Rob Pavey

Last summer, 106 boaters turned out in canoes, kayaks and homemade rafts for the return of the Savannah River raft race, now called Paddlefest.

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This year, the event will be held Aug. 30, but its primary sponsor -- Savannah Riverkeeper -- is making a few changes to the rules for those entering rafts.

"Strictly speaking it will not be a race, but a competition," Riverkeeper director Frank Carl said. "There will be prizes for originality, design and control, but none for finishing first."

In spirit, the event is designed to encourage more people to visit and enjoy the river.

"We'd like to encourage families to get together to design a raft, or businesses -- or even groups of friends," Carl said.

Design prizes will be based on engineering criteria.

"We're looking for things like complexity in the drive train or non-standard drive mechanisms or unusual flotation devices or comfortable accommodations for the raft riders," Carl said.

There will also be an award for the "First Loser."

"It will be awarded to the raft that crosses the finish line second," Carl said. "That puts emphasis on both speed and control. Your raft will have to be fast enough to beat most of the rafts to the finish line, but be under sufficient control to stay short of the finish line until another raft crosses that line."

The raft race is the most visual component of the event and will be held in the flatwater portion of the river near downtown Augusta.

The other part of Paddlefest involves a canoe and kayak race that begins at the Augusta Canal headgates area in Columbia County and ends 9 miles downstream at the Boathouse.

Although many casual paddlers participated last year, this year's event will be more serious.

"We ask that only people who want to compete in the race register for the race," Carl said.

For those who simply want to enjoy the shoals on a leisurely tour, Savannah Riverkeeper is in the process of organizing periodic tours that will be led by experienced guides.

"We're going to call it the 'Shoals Shuttle' and we recommend short kayaks," Carl said. "With water levels as low as they are, longer boats are harder to get through."

The guide will be local paddler Chuck Elliott, a veteran river kayaker who is familiar with the shoals area. Tours will include up to six boats and can be arranged by appointment.

Although arrangements aren't final, Carl said the paddling tours will be under way later this summer.

Entry fees for Paddlefest will be $35 per person with a minimum of two people per raft.

All rafts will be checked for floatability and alcohol before launch. Failure in either case (lack of flotation or presence of alcohol) will disqualify the raft for entry into the competition.

Alcohol will be available at the finish line.

Participants can pre-register at the event. Online registration is available at www.savannahriverkeeper.org.

Carl is available to answer questions at either (706) 364-5253 or frank.carl@savannahriverkeeper.org.

VOLUNTEERS ARE HONORED: Two local volunteers were honored recently for their contributions in 2007 to outdoor programs conducted at the Department of Natural Resources' McDuffie Public Fishing Area and state hatchery.

Jackie Sewell of Grovetown and Richard Manning of Augusta received several honors, including the President's Volunteer Service Silver Award and a congratulatory letter from President Bush.

Sewell and Manning volunteer through the Senior Citizens Council of Greater Augusta.

Sewell volunteered 418 hours during 2007, and has logged more than 1,110 hours since beginning in 2004.

Manning volunteered 372 hours in 2007 and has put in 586 hours since first volunteering in March of 2006.

KIDS FISHING DERBY: More than 200 kids landed 626 fish during Fort Gordon's recent Kids Fishing Derby held at the post's well-stocked catfish ponds.

The biggest individual string was caught by Antonio Doggett, whose 41-pound, 11-ounce weigh-in earned him first place in the 13-15 year old class.

Other first place winners were: Kirk Smith, 5-and-under, 4 pounds, 10 ounces; Wren Campbell, 6-8 year old, 16 pounds, 14 ounces; and Breana Bradley, 9-12 year olds, 23 pounds.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.


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