aka: "Duckweed Fest"
by Monica Orso
September 25, 2016
It was a crisp but comfy morning at the Rutgers Boathouse where the town was busy preparing for the 36th Annual Raritan River Festival and Rubber Ducky Race. Janet L joined myself and south Jersey guest Cie S for the paddle. We had premium parking steps from the Boathouse ramp. Janet got a little lost finding the ramp, but was astounded at the helpfulness and friendliness of the festival folks who assisted her in getting to the right place...which involved driving over sidewalks in restricted areas.
We were greeted at the ramp with duckweed. Not just a little patch, but massive amounts covering the ramp at low tide plus all the surrounding waters. The good news was that the boats slid quite nicely on the stuff so there wasn't a lot of carrying down to the water.
Once launched we headed out with the falling tide towards Edison, passing along the way a couple of Rutgers Crew boats, police boats and a few pleasure craft. We passed under Route 1 and the Turnpike, going by the site where the old ferry Mary Murray once stood. There was also a great variety of bird activity. Spotted were many osprey, heron, egrets, kingbirds, and cormorants along with the usual duck, goose and gull populations. Upon researching duckweed, it apparently is a valuable high protein food source for waterfowl, so these guys were quite fit!
Arriving at the Edison docks, we took a leg stretch and a walk along a short and little known water trail. Janet briefly dozed off in the gazebo... It was turning out to be a lovely and relaxing day. We headed back to our boats, and spotted a very funny and huge Great Dane (I think) in a car, halfway out the sunroof and clearly having a grand old time!
Heading back to the boathouse on the incoming tide, we took a detour to explore Lawrence Brook, which runs from the Raritan back under the Turnpike and continues on eventually to Farrington Lake. We went as far as the Turnpike then headed back to the boathouse, overshooting just a tad to view the festival activity from the water.
The festival was being broadcast live on WOLD radio, so we were greeted with really loud oldies being played on the river. We packed up our boats and wandered over to the festival where the kids were busy building their cardboard canoes, and the corporate sponsor "glam" canoes were already displayed and ready to go... (my personal favorite was the "Santa Martini"). Janet left early and Cie and I hung around for the race. One lucky soul in the race benefited from our staying...they were short one PFD so I grabbed mine out of the car so he could participate.
As suspected, things went downhill quickly for some participants immediately following the launch, but there were some well built boats and seasoned kids out there that ran the short course without capsizing. Those that did go for a swim, did so in thick duckweed but didn't seem to mind. Except for one little girl that was terrified from the get-go and screamed bloody murder to get out of her boat, refusing to paddle so much as an inch. (Thanks mom and dad...no kayaks or canoes for your little darling in the future!)
We did not stay for the rubber ducky race, but the giant egg was positioned and ready to go. I assume I didn't win the $1,000 first prize as my phone has not yet rung. :-(
All in all, the day turned out just ducky!
Pics by Monica and Cie: https://goo.gl/photos/un5Twn2FSZLCvuVK8