The First and Last Annual Early County Great River Raft Race was held in the Summer of 1979, as I best recall. I used the phrase "as I best recall because it was a long time ago, when I was a teenager, and I smoked a lot of pot. I also drank a lot but because drinking was more or less socially acceptable for any male over the age of ten, no one thought much of it. To his credit, my father tried to find ways to bring the family together, but he was too high strung to really enjoy anything for the sake of enjoying it. Building the raft was supposed to be some sort of male bonding thing for he and I but nothing I did was right when it came to building so he wound up male bonding with the my older sister's husband to be instead, and I'm pretty certain that didn't take. For that matter, neither did the marriage, but that's another story.
The raft was a fairly crude and simple device; four very large cubes of Styrofoam tied to two pieces of plywood. There was supposed to be a sail, and that was my father's secret weapon, but he wasn't much of a sailor having never sailed before. For all the work they out into it, the craft looked all the world like four very large cubes of Styrofoam tied to two pieces of plywood. "Streamlined" was not a word that leapt into the mind at the sight of this craft. "Build for speed" was not one of the comments made about this boat. "Titanic" and "Gilligan's Island" and "Wear life vests" were some of the things that were said. It wasn't very pretty at all, but I was reasonably sure it wasn't going to sink. Dammit.
The night before the big event, someone, and I say someone because I have no idea if there is some sort of statute of limitations on this sort of thing, took down all the signs leading to Odom's landing, where the race was to be held. These drunken and stoned vandals not only took all the signs down but they also stole the events signs that had been put in place the day before. Odom's landing isn't very easy to find if you aren't from Early County, and there were plenty of truly pissed off sponsors of the event who had to rush around and put up signs, and some of the out of town people, I think four or five, who got lost. This was long before cell phone, or GPS, and being most of the lost drivers were men, timelessly, they would not stop and ask for directions.
I was hungover, no, considering I had stopped drinking just hours before, I was likely still very drunk, and wanted to opt out because I had a very busy night but my father was ready to go at the first hint of daylight. It was always like that. No matter where we went or what we did we were always running late. Even if it was just a trip downtown the man acted like Jesus was on fire, and we were the last people on earth with water. The longer the trip, the more time in advance we had to leave, lest someone else get there before we did, or worse of all disasters, we were actually late. Almost always my father got to where we were supposed to be better than an hour ahead of time. I spent most of my childhood waiting for something to happen because we were always early, no matter what we did. Generally speaking, being very early doesn't impress people. It pisses them off. But that too is another story. We were the first rafters to get to the landing, so we watched the others come in. It wasn't pretty. Some people had built very elaborate rafts only to discover getting them to the landing was half the fun…or not. The road back to Blakely was littered with pieces parts of rafts that had blown off and the twenty mile stretch of River Road looked like the world's longest shipwreck.
Building a watercraft that will not sink when placed in water isn't easy. Things that float, when connected to others things that float, sometimes will not float. Things that float connected to things that float sometimes will float while connected but won't float when boarded by human beings. Floating things are not necessarily things a human, or a group of humans, can navigate down a river. Do you see where this just might resemble a flotilla of fools rather than a fleet? One man had tied a bunch of logs together and made a Huck Finn type raft, and it did look good. But he made it out of green logs and they didn't float so well with his little hut on top. Moreover, something tied securely on land will behave much differently when wet and the logs came apart from their lashings. The little hut sank into the waters of the Chattahoochee River and was never see again. Now we had a variety of calamities as each person discovered the lack of seaworthiness of their craft, and to make it more interesting, there were loose logs floating around from Huck's bad luck. A group of middle school kids had conned their parents into making a raft in the shape of a school bus. Long is bad, in water, and the school bus raft quickly became a short bus raft as the pieces broke apart. A man who had welded a metal bathtub to two steel pontoons had the right idea, and he even had a battery operated propeller sealed in a box underneath it. But the Tubtanic partially sank and turned over so all that was sticking out of the water was the propeller, and it spun around threatening to decapitate anyone who got near. Repeated diving attempts to turn the damn thing off failed, and so there this thing was, the Darwinian Device destined to hum along issuing death to any rafter who didn't adapt. The owner finally threw one of Huck's logs into the blade. Pieces of splintered log, broken propeller, and the man's pride and dignity went flying everywhere. But it did stop the spinning death. The starting time was moved as to allow the engineers in the group to try to right their ships, to somehow raise the dead, or merely collect the pieces as they slowly, and sadly, drifted away. It was not an auspices beginning.
Arrrrgh! Part two tomorrow, you scurvy dogs!