A favorite brag by sponsors of long-running community events is often that this year’s is the tenth or 20th or 50th annual whatever-it-is. But the longer it has been around, the messier the recordkeeping can become, when years have been skipped for one reason or another. In the case of the New Paltz Regatta, some of the hiatuses lasted a decade or more. Nobody’s really sure anymore what number-th this year’s will be.
What we do know is that its return to the Wallkill River on Sunday, June 12 will be the 67th anniversary of the very first one, which took place in 1955. It began as a fraternity stunt, and in the Regatta’s early years, only students were allowed to participate. Empty beer kegs were reportedly the favored flotation devices.
Like many of its entries, the Regatta sank about as much as it floated, but in the early 20-aughts it was revived with more of a communitywide appeal and a less boozy flavor. This time it stuck around…until COVID happened. “We lost the last two years, but we’re very excited about it coming back,” says longtime Regatta Committee organizer Theresa Fall. “Now we’re doing it in June instead of May, hoping for better weather. And it will give people more time to build a boat.” Most of the college students won’t be around, but Fall says that they haven’t been participating much in recent years anyway, being too busy with final exams and such.
Who does enter homebuilt floating objects? The most reliable competitor for the last decade – and the only one Fall was able to confirm had already submitted an entry application as of presstime – has been the STEAM Club from Circleville Middle School in the Town of Wallkill. Some years these kids even enter more than one boat, and they’re typically models of sustainability, repurposing all sorts of found materials. According to Regatta rules, returning teams can use the same base for a boat for more than one year, but must redesign the theme and the décor.
After being paraded through the streets of downtown New Paltz, the boats are launched from the landing at Sojourner Truth Park on Water Street, with the ultimate goal of staying afloat long enough to pass beyond the Carmine Liberta Bridge. While the Fastest boat qualifies for a trophy, it’s not intended to be a race. Creativity matters a lot; think of this event as the wet equivalent of Kingston’s Artists’ Soapbox Derby. Other award categories include Most Creative, Funniest, Most Theatrical, the Green Award, Best Design, Most Likely to Sink, Best in Show, All You Need is Love and Spirit of the Regatta. “We also make some up each year to make sure everyone gets a prize!” says Fall.
A much-loved sidebar of the Regatta is returning this year for the first time since the 2016 retirement of the late Kathy Cartagena as director of Family of New Paltz: the Rubber Ducky Race! Formerly a fundraiser for Family, the event is now a project of the New Paltz Youth Center. A flotilla of hundreds of rubber ducks is launched – usually after the last of the boaters have docked; the winner is the first to float all the way under the bridge and emerge on the far side.
The festivities begin at 1 p.m. as the parade heads out from Village Hall, with music provided by the band Yard Sale. It’ll wend its way down Plattekill Avenue, turn west on Main Street and then left on Plains Road to Sojourner Truth Park. It takes time to get the boats unloaded and into the water, so the start time for the Regatta itself is malleable; Fall says that between 2 and 2:30 p.m. is typical. There are plenty of good vantagepoints for viewing the boats along the trails in the park. If you want to watch from the bridge, get there early, because it’s always jam-packed. The first stretch of the River-to-Ridge trail follows the Wallkill downstream of the bridge, but by then, some of the entries are sure to have floundered their way to shore.
Festivities follow, including the awards ceremony, with a bouncy house set up on the grounds of The Station Italian restaurant, tee-shirt sales and more live music at the Water Street Market. Kindie-rock favorites Ratboy, Jr. will be joining Yard Sale at the Market for the afterparty. Instead of setting up food concessions this year, the organizers are encouraging attendees to patronize downtown businesses for their refreshment needs. “We’re hoping for face-painting as well,” Fall says, “and we’re always looking for more music for the parade.” Interested performers can volunteer using the online form at https://newpaltzregatta.org/contact.
The registration fee for the boat race is $25. You can register your boat now online, or on the day of the Regatta at Village Hall before noon. Everyone on the boat over 18 years of age must show a valid ID. For more information, to register your homemade watercraft, become a sponsor or make a donation, visit www.newpaltzregatta.org.