Raritan River Paddle and Festival
New Brunswick, NJ
by Monica Orso
Sunday, September 23, 2012
The sun was shining and all indicators were pointing towards a cool and relaxing Sunday. We met at the Rutgers Boathouse by Boyd Park in New Brunswick at 10am, some a "bit" earlier although I dare not mention who and how much earlier (I love the enthusiasm!). Attending in kayaks were Sumonnat Kongchatree, Tom Babos, Andy Anderson, Robyn Lowenthal, Phil Brown, Stefan Gutermuth, Al Grenley, Lori Baumann and myself, and in a canoe were Jim McLoone and Joan Vieni. The Raritan was at low tide, and the ramp was a bit muddy, but some of our handy paddlers got out some plastic paddles and cleaned a path for us. We launched at 10:30 in a moderate wind and current and headed east.
Paddling was pretty easy, passing under Route 1 and by the Edison Boat House and onward to the Turnpike bridge. An osprey soared overhead, and later we paddled by a nest. A couple of jet skis passed by, and a power boat or two. The New Brunswick Marine Police zipped by at full speed giving a few little waves to break things up.
The Mary Murray is an old Staten Island Ferry that was parked in the Raritan just off of Exit 9 in the 70's. A young man bought it and had plans to turn it into a restaurant, but after realizing the costs, abandoned the project. The boat is still visible on Google Earth, but we found out that not much was left of her anymore.
We paddled around the wreckage, then continued up Lawrence Brook for a bit to see if there was any wildlife there, and if the tide would permit. One side of the Brook was fenced with a rather ugly orange plastic fence. Later at the festival, in talking with the Raritan Riverkeeper, I found out that this fence was put up temporarily to keep wildlife from eating newly planted native grasses. Older invasive non-native phragmites had been removed in an attempt to restore the area. The fence would be removed once the native vegetation was established.
After a short break on the banks of Lawrence Brook (not many places to get out), we headed back to the boathouse. I chased a kingfisher on that stretch, trying to get close enough to snap a photo but he would have nothing to do with me. We also spotted heron, swallows, cormorant, ducks and geese-o-plenty on the trip.
Paddling back proved to be tougher with the wind picking up and coming right at us, but thankfully the current was not fighting us. Jim and Joan pushed through it in their canoe, and were probably glad to reach shore. Paddling past us in the opposite direction were 3 or 4 sculling boats from Rutgers, shouting away. Some more pleasure boaters passed by, most were courteous enough to slow down.
The Raritan River Festival was by now in full swing, you could smell hot dogs quite a distance away as we approached. We arrived back at the boat ramp to an easier takeout at almost high tide. Most of us stayed to enjoy the festival at our own pace.
The Festival was a lively place! Groups of hopeful canoe designers were frantically taping together cardboard boats in hopes of winning a trophy. Robyn fell in love with the "Best Design" trophy which featured a gold canoe on top. Although I couldn't convince the group to move forward with building a canoe right then and there, it was decided that next year it will be done! Al has designs churning in his head already, and I'm trying to figure out who in our club will be the sacrificial lamb that we will ask to paddle the creation. But that trophy sure would look good on the club's bookshelf. Wait, does the club even have a bookshelf? Oh well, we have a year to build one...
We ate, drank, and wandered around listening to all sorts of live music...rock, jazz, classical...something for everyone. We each sponsored a rubber ducky for the upcoming rubber ducky race...prizes were great...$1,000 1st, Ipad 2nd, $250 third. More importantly, we contributed to the Beez Foundation to research brain cancer. The ducky bucks we got for adopting a duck were given to some of the kids to spend on ducky related games that were set up. Ahh...if only I were shorter...
At 4pm the parade of cardboard canoes proceeded to the river, and I was able to sneak into the restricted dock area to get a video. Amazing what you can do if you just act like you are official. On cue, the canoes went in... some went down, some paddled on, some drifted far away from the goal and had to be rescued by the marine police. All were laughing hysterically (even when they fell in). With crowds cheering, the winners were declared, although it was not very clear to the general audience WHO actually won. Soggy paddlers dragged limp cardboard out of the river and the crowd departed to catch the rubber ducky race.
Ever see a giant egg hoisted by a crane above the D&R canal dropping a thousand or more rubber duckies into the water? Well, you haven't lived yet. I'll let the video speak for itself. Needless to say, none of us won any prizes, I think our duckies were amongst the ones that were jammed up against the banks...kinda like Cedar Creek if you know what I mean.
All in all, a good day...a little paddling, a little festivaling, and a lot of sunshine. And next year, locals look out...there's going to be one heck of a cardboard canoe out there!