Annual Rotary Race:
Spectators line river rails to
catch the drift
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – The weather late Saturday morning – light rain, gray skies and gusty wind -- was really for the birds… ducks specifically. About 2,000 of them.
Stars of The Great Duck Race event sponsored by the Westport Sunrise Rotary, the bright yellow rubber ducks were dropped from Parker Harding Plaza into the Saugatuck River where they rode outgoing currents through a defined grid to a channeled finish line. Each was numbered and tied up with the name of a person that had paid $20 to back. Owners of the top ten finishing fowl received prizing that overall totaled $10,000. All entry fees collected, various sponsor fees and revenue gathered from the sale of duck-themed merchandise benefited the Rotary and, in turn, will benefit area charities.
“This is the third year we’re hosting this,” said Roy Fuchs of the Rotary’s Publicity Committee. “It’s one of two major fundraisers we conduct – the other is a wine tasting at the end of October at Longshore,” he said. “The first year, we raised $20,000; the second year, $30,000. The event is wide open to the public, and an opportunity to enjoy some fun and downtown Westport, while supporting a good cause.”
With regard to the Rotary Club, Fuchs said the organization has over 1.2 million members worldwide and basically operates two kinds of service projects. “We do hands-on efforts in the community, like clean-up days, food drives and homeless shelter dinners,” he said. “We also give cash contributions to charity. At the same time, we have an active program with teens, honoring students-of-the-month at Staples High School and Greens Farms Academy, and a service-oriented Interact Club at Staples.”
Besides the featured duck race, event highlights included a dozen vendor tents, two moonbounce units, a live jazz band, kids’ craft activities and free 10-minute massages provided by Massage Envy. Among the vendors was RxEnergy sunscreen, Down Under Surf Shop, Fire House Hot Dogs, Izzi B’s allergen-free cupcakes and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Corporate sponsors also decorated large rubber ducks, to enter into a contest. Entries were judged by event visitors, who indicated their top three favorites on accompanying lists. Most popular entries were awarded small trophies.
Enjoying all the fun was three-year-old New Canaan resident Caroline Quill, with her grandfather Kevin, from New Hampshire. “My wife is shopping and we just happened to luck out seeing all the duck activity,” the elder Quill said. “Caroline wanted a duck but settled for a duck call.”
Norwalk resident Howard Rose, with his three-year-old son L.J., said he was drawn by the signs around town. “It seemed like a good family event and opportunity to enjoy the day,” he remarked.
Claudia Nielitz, visiting from Stuttgart, Germany with her friend Sandra Holzaepfel, had also seen the street signs and thought the event would be funny to see. “I let friends back home know about it and they said there’s a duck race there, too, but in October, in Tubingen,” she said. “We bought a couple of ducks and are hoping to win.”
According to Rotarian Sheila Keenan, weeks went into planning for the duck release. “It’s been timed for noon, coordinated with the outgoing current, which allows the ducks to travel down river,” she said. “It took a lot of measuring and calculations to get to this point.”
At the appointed hour, the ducks were loaded into the shovel of a front loader and, to much cheering, dumped over the side into a noose of tubing in the water below. This was towed into a larger channel defined by tubing, then opened. The initial forward progress of the flock was hindered by westerly-blowing crosswinds, making the “race” anti-climactic.
“It’s a bit like watching paint dry,” said one of more than 300 spectators crammed against riverside railings, as the ducks then started to clump up on one side.
“My heart is beating, it’s a blistering pace,” joked Bob Lasproga, emcee for the Rotary Club, calling the action over a P.A. system. “That first duck is just outside the chute… he’s got to paddle a little faster… he’s finally in! Give that duck a nice round of applause,” he said.
Results were radioed to tabulators Sheila Keenan and Frankie Smith, and announced by Lasproga. Finishing first and collecting a $5,000 Visa gift card was Scott Schaake of Southbury, CT; second was Nick Clarke of Westport, taking a $1,000 gift card; and third was Westporter Andy Boas, earning a $500 gift card. The top three decorated duck winners were retailers Melissa & Doug, Vintage Virtuosa and Ranney Michaels.
Despite the feather-ruffling weather, a ducky time was had by all.