CRC – Raft Race Report – RNLI Gala Day 2015

posted 10 Jul 2015, 12:13 by Enquiries campbeltownrunningclub   [ updated 14 Jul 2015, 05:28 ]
By James Murdoch

Although this won’t be as long as my marathon report I still got a little carried away.  Maybe just get yourself a glass of water before starting this one…

The 2015 RNLI Raft Race saw a team of CRC members, and one ringer, finish up 2nd overall.  We did better than we’d all hoped - with the target being to get through the first round and into the final.  The team was: Maryann Wylie – our diver, Emma Moran, Claire McFadzean, Dom Sharkey, Will Bowman and myself.  


Heading over to collect Maryann.

We were using the first version of the RNLI Raft – which was their winning raft a few races back.  The RNLI team are as-yet undefeated – thanks to both raw power and what we’ll call “generous refereeing decisions”.  They’ve made a few changes to their raft over the years but the oldest raft was a flying machine and along with some kindly donated paddles from the canoe club we were ready to go!  We even had the chance to get a couple of practices leading up to the race.  Although we hadn’t managed a practice as a whole team beforehand we had at least got ourselves to a point where we could get it moving where we wanted it to go…

At this point it’s worth mentioning Alix and Sid for their help in getting the equipment we used, arranging the practices and sorting the transport for the parade – THANKS GUYS!

Anyway, with a couple of practices behind us we got ourselves dressed up on Saturday morning and joined the parade.  

On looking round the other teams it was clear that there were a couple of strong teams taking part.  Thankfully, one of the stronger teams – HIAL – was unable to attend.  This didn’t really affect us as they weren’t in our Heat, but they would most likely have been waiting for us if we got into the final.  Mach Dunes were dazzling in their fleecy star-spangled onesies and even had a pet shark. The canoe club – well, what can be said about the minions…  The RNLI arrived in full overalls and helmets and made a point of letting us all see them.  We were confident that we would be okay after seeing the Fire Cadets arrive with a raft that looked like it weighed as much as a McKerrals lorry (fully loaded) – we wouldn’t be last! – and the fact that all the previous RNLI rafts were being used by other teams – surely a good sign?!?

Watching Heat 1 we were supporting the canoe club, they’d helped us out after all, and although Mach Dunes made a good start the RNLI were comfortable winners - with the canoe club and the Dunes also going through.  Not being that competitive – aye, right! – we’d noticed that the RNLI had taken an almost level starting position from the first buoy and that had meant they were not having to travel just as far to it.  It was only saving a few of metres, but still!  I’d also noticed the pummelling that they’d taken arriving first at the pier from the Fire-hoses with only one raft to aim at and had thought it could be nice to arrive second letting another team take the initial hit.

The minions of the canoe club with the Coastguard trying to catch them.

We had a chat with the canoe club to see how they found it – they’d loved it – and managed to get a borrow of their good paddles for the Heat – the paddles they’d loaned us originally weren’t the best…  After that, we had a long wait until Heat 2 so decided to try out the system that served Darren so well in Arran a few weeks back and got the beers in!

My whole family will no doubt be proud of this photo – another one for the collection…

One helicopter/lifeboat display and some beer later we were ready to go and got ourselves into position.  Tesco’s team had arrived with a trolley full of nonsense and one of the other teams had had the same idea.  Both were loading up on flour and eggs on the slip as we entered the water.  We paddled out away from the other teams and lined up with the buoy – would the RNLI strategy work for us as well?  We also made a decision to get out ahead of the teams clearly planning on baking their way round the course having already identified the Fire Crew and Coastguard as our main competition in the round.  

We were off.  And we really were!  We raced towards the first buoy and arrived there leaving the others behind.  Continuing on, we had a little shuffle back on the raft as we were slightly unbalanced and made for the pier to pick up Maryann.  At this point we were still dry – this was not to be the case for much longer…

About halfway towards the pier I looked up and was greeted by an almost manic grin of anticipation from Paul of the Fire Brigade as he lifted the hose, took aim and turned on the water.


If you’ve still got any of that glass of water left – empty it as hard as you can at your face, then repeat.  Lots…  (Maybe get someone else to do it for you a few times as well)

It was like being hit by a wall!  I was lucky, I had Dom and Claire in front taking the brunt of it but even at that I was nearly in the water.  We were pushed off course and pieces of the polystyrene boards the raft was made from were flying everywhere – big chunks of it in some cases.  The whole raft felt like it was lifting over and I was certain we were about to go swimming…  For what felt like minutes, probably only about 15 seconds, we were unable to make any forward progress and we beaten so far to the side that we were eventually sheltered by a moored boat and able to get ourselves going again. 

Actually able to see again I looked up expecting to see the Coastguard easing their way into the lead as the hose had stopped, no doubt it’d ran out of water after emptying itself at us…  They weren’t anywhere near us, although I did hear the hose starting up again soon after.  We got to the pier and Maryann leaped into the water.  Landing just in front of the raft as we started to turn she went under and appeared around the back of the raft and was hauled up.  With half of us still paddling we had turned and were heading back towards the slip.  One last push of power from us all to the far-buoy, to make sure we weren’t surprised by another team, and then we eased off towards the finish line.  We’d won our heat with ease and were already thinking about the final and how it would be different not having the ‘good’ paddles.  As I said earlier – we weren’t taking it seriously at all…  

We got back up to the slip, congratulated ourselves on getting into the final and watched the chaos of baking on water as flour and eggs were launched about and the other teams finished their lap.  We then decided on our new target – to beat the canoe club in the final!  (Sorry Alix & Sid)  Seeing as we were going back to our own paddles we thought this would be fairly fun challenge and would probably be pretty even.  The competition didn’t even get started as Alix came over a few minutes later to say that they were offering us the good paddles again as we had a chance at the final.  So, our target was now WINNING!

A short break and we were back in the water.  The three teams we’d identified earlier: Mach Dunes, RNLI and Coastguard were in the final with the canoe club, Raft 9 – I’ve forgotten their name – and ourselves.  As we lined up we noticed that the Fire engine had moved off the pier and hoped not to see it there when we arrived!  We were out in line with the buoy and the RNLI were with us.  Pleasantries (mild insults and jokes) were exchanged between the crews.  And then it all began again.

Good starts from all the teams as the final got underway.

Straight away we were battling with the RNLI crew, both making a line for the buoy, there might have been a few bumps between the rafts and paddles were crossed on more than one occasion (moderate insults and absolutely no jokes were shared at this point).  An instinct to jump on to the RNLI raft and try get a few of them in the water momentarily surfaced but we managed to push them a little off course, and they’re all bigger than me, so I got back to the business of paddling!  We got slightly ahead and tried to open up a little distance.  It was now a 3-way race between Mach Dunes, RNLI and us.  Although – I didn’t really notice the Dunes crew until we got to the pier.

We arrived first at the pier and Maryann again had a great jump in, nearly on to raft!  Unlike last time we’d had a clear run at the pier and the other crews closely followed us in – it was carnage!


If you look closely you can see Maryann getting dragged aboard by Will having somehow not been hit by another raft whilst we are trying to push away and get out of the stramash.  The Dunes are desperately trying to make contact with the pier to get their sixth person in – Dom wasn’t devious enough to swat that paddle away!  And the RNLI, well – they’re looking up confused as Ailsa wasn’t quite where she’d supposed to have been!  We tried to turn and got boxed in and that was where we lost the race…

In the frenzy of the race we tried to force our way out, pretty much through the Dunes raft, and that just didn’t work.  What we needed was a steady head and to just take a breathe – we did not.  The language was appalling; insults were flying every-which-way; paddles and rafts were being used as weapons; eggs started to appear, firstly in the air and then hitting theirs marks – still not sure who that was but they ruined my shirt!  We eventually got turned around and out but were battling for second place now with the Dunes.  RNLI had somehow managed to find their sixth and had turned and were streaking away towards another win.  We continued engaging with the Dunes raft for another minute or so and eventually got free of them and went after the RNLI.  By then it was too late – they were far ahead, we were getting tired from the scramble at the pier and we bobbed across the finish line in second place.  We were happy enough with what was really the best we could’ve hoped for – had we won we’d have been disqualified for something, as is the way of the race – but still a little upset as with a better turn we could have given the winners a race up to the finish line…

So that was the race.  First time out and we finished second.  We walked our raft back to it’s home for the next two years and celebrated our achievements later in the day with a few more beers.  It was a fantastically fun event and I’d urge anyone who’s thinking about it to enter it next time around!