The weather gods were shining down on New Paltz this past Sunday at the annual community Regatta event, with blue skies, luscious spring sun and a cool breeze keeping the crowds, boaters and kayakers happy. New Paltz’s homegrown band Yard Sale led off the parade, which had more than a dozen handcrafted boats being pulled down Main Street from the Village Hall to the Sojourner Truth Park off Plains Road, from whence they set sail — or sank, depending on how well the crafts were crafted.
Students from New Paltz Karate marched in unison, with their oars in hand and their floating mini–dojo behiwnd them. Other boats included Snug Harbor’s pirate craft covered with skulls and crossbones, as well as ShopRite’s festive Mardi Gras-themed boat, with employees tossing out treats to onlookers. New Paltz Taxi was enthusiastically sporting its “water taxi” down Main Street.
Then came some of the family floats, including the Watts family’s Ghostbusters boat, complete with a Ghostbusters masthead and a crew of armed phantom-hunting fighters shouting, “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! We came, we saw, we kicked butt!” There was a Hawaiian-themed boat with the Hasbrouck, Strothenke and Ridgeway swim-families festively squirting waterguns at the crowd.
As the boats rounded the corner towards their launch site, Family of New Paltz was busy selling more than 500 ducks for the rubber-duck race, which offers a handsome prize to the winner as well as serving as an important fundraiser. “This community is so wonderful,” said Kathy Cartagena, longtime director of Family of New Paltz, who was stationed at a booth on the Gilded Otter lawn, where hundreds of residents were lounging in the sun enjoying the day’s festivities. “I’m feeling the love,” she said with a laugh. “People are piling onto our table to buy rubber ducks. Does it get any better?”
Regatta co-chairs Deb Rauch, owner of In Good Taste, and Theresa Fall, owner of Jar’d, were thrilled with the turnout. “We made a pinkie-promise that this would be our last year,” admitted Rauch, who has been chairing the event with Fall for several years. “But then we took it back and pledged to do it for at least another five years! It’s the single biggest free community event that New Paltz has. It’s a family event.”
They hired the Latin band Soñando, which played at the Gilded Otter, followed by Snow Bear which helped wrap up the gorgeous day with its live music.
“The Woodcrest community came out again this year, and I can’t rave about them enough,” said Rauch. “They fed the first 1,000 people who came with grass-fed beef, chips, water, juice…all for free!” Any donations that Woodcrest received went directly to Family of New Paltz. “Last year they raised $1,300 for Family in donations, and it looks like they might top that this year. They’re such a wonderful asset to this community, so giving and generous.”
The Woodcrest Bruderhof also provided a bouncy castle for the kids, as well as free face-painting.
Of course, there was the panel of judges, who had a long list of categories to award those brave enough to enter the Wallkill River on their homemade craft. The judges this year were Michael Smith, director of the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce, along with Billy “Coach” Defino and Cindy Ricci of Ricci’s Barbershop in downtown New Paltz. “It’s been a blast,” said Ricci, who was taking notes as the boats paraded towards the river. “We have all kinds of great prizes: gift certificates to local restaurants, bottles of wine, haircuts — you name it.” Some of the categories included Most Elegant, Most Comical, Best Theme and Most Innovative, to name a few.
“The turnout this year is unbelievable,” said Fall as she looked out at the throngs of people gathering on the lawn of the Water Street Market and the Gilded Otter, along the sidewalks and bridge. “It’s the most well-attended and free event we have in New Paltz, and each year it grows bigger and more festive.”
Rauch noted that the organizers were also able to get a state-of-the-art website up for the first time, www.newpaltzregatta.com, where the Web designer was given vintage video and photos from the Regatta dating back to 1955. “Now we have all of these great photos and videos and can really have an archive for such a rich New Paltz tradition,” she said.