Racers paddle through pandemic at the Rochester Memorial Day Boat Race

May 25, 2020

ROCHESTER — Though the race was shortened and events before and after were cancelled, coronavirus couldn’t stop the 86-year-old Rochester Memorial Day boat race on May 25.

A total of 42 teams paddled down the Mattapoisett River in handmade vessels, ducking under bridges and running across roads with boats in-hand.

To keep racers safe, organizers put two minutes of space in between each boat at the beginning and shortened the course to end just after crossing under Wolf Island Road.

Bill Watling of Rochester said he is “glad we’re able to have the race.”

He won six out of the last seven races in the open category and even earned the prized Hartley trophy for winning three in a row. This year, he competed with his wife, Alyssa, and they won both the co-ed and open competition with a time of 1:02:18. 

While waiting to start, spectators and fans alike wore masks and kept their distance as race organizer Art Benner fired off the starting gun for each boat.

“It’s definitely a unique event this year,” Benner said.

Nick Ferreira of Rochester looked to pull out a win with his dad Dan, who has competed in 40 Memorial Day races.

Dan said that America is a country with a lot of traditions for Memorial Day, and he was glad  organizers were still holding the race this year.

Fans cheered on teams at places like Roundsville Road, where racers had to carry their boat across the street, or near the finish line where teams had to dodge a pine tree that spanned the entire length of the river.

After he was finished, Will Porier of Marion said he liked the shortened course because it felt more like a sprint, and he could pace himself better with his son Graham, 21.

“He’s not the man he used to be,” joked Graham about his dad’s racing abilities.

Will said that even with coronavirus restrictions, the race was perfectly managed to keep fans and participants safe.

Tucker Roy of Rochester and Cliff Hedges of Marion won in the junior boys category for a third year in a row with a time of 1:15:34.

The full results are attached below.