One of the more unique events I’ve had the pleasure of covering for New England Boating was the 2010 Rochester Memorial Day Canoe Race, held in the neighboring towns of Rochester and Mattapoisett in Southeastern New England. The race takes place each Memorial Day on the Mattapoisett River, which flows from Sniptuit Pond to Buzzards Bay. The race starts at Grandma Hartley’s pond, off Sniptuit Road and south of the official headwaters, and ends at the Herring Weir at Rte 6. in Mattapoisett, about a half-mile from the river mouth in Mattapoisett Harbor.
The 11-mile course twists and turns through bogs and shady woods, and is so narrow that a person could jump across the river in some spots. Portaging over roads and riffles is common, and there was a lot of that in 2010, despite all the heavy spring rains the area received. Spectators gather along the banks of the river as they racers make their way south, concentrating at Hartley Road, Rounseville Road, New Bedford Road, Wolf Island Road, Tinkham’s Lane, Acushnet Road, along River Road and at the Herring Weir.
The canoes used in the race are unique. Most are home-built of plywood, although a few high-tech designs built of lightweight Kevlar and fiberglass have emerged in recent years.
Last year saw 92 teams competing in the race, which was first held in 1934 (the event missed a few years during World War II). This being my first experience with the race, I was amazed by how well attended and competitive it was. Naturally, there’s some rivalry between the 2 neighboring towns.
The winners of last year’s race were Sean Shaw and C.G. Hedges, who finished the 11-mile course in just over 2 hours. The pair are veterans of the race, having competed as a team since they were 9 years old. This was their 10th win in 30-some years, and they still hold the record for the fastest time at 1:47.02, set in 2005.
The canoes used in the race are unique. Most are home-built of plywood, although a few high-tech designs built of lightweight Kevlar and fiberglass have emerged in recent years. As a rule, the canoes feature flat bottoms and shallow drafts, and are extremely light and narrow.
While the Rochester Canoe Race is a lot of fun, anyone who thinks this race is just about having a good time only needs to look at the exhausted faces of the paddlers as they cross the finish line. But once ashore, it’s time to join friends and family and grab some much needed food and a cold beverage in what is truly a unique Memorial Day tradition.
To learn more about the history of the Rochester Memorial Day Canoe Race and its rules, read this article by longtime race organizer Arthur Benner at WickedLocal: Rochester (History of the Race).
Have you participated in the race before?
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