Rochester’s Memorial Day Boat Race makes a splash

May 31, 2022

Will Poirier of Marion had a motto for the Rochester Memorial Day Boat Race as he climbed into his boat: “It’s not about the race, it’s about the journey,” he said.

The journey took place in “perfect weather” on race day for the first time in years, said Aaron Benner, who volunteers to keep time.

He said that the past few years that he’s been helping out, it always seems to be pouring rain. This Memorial Day, however, was warm and sunny as 32 teams lined up at Grandma Hartley’s reservoir on Snipatuit Road.

All the boats for the race are homemade by participants, and they range from classic unpainted wood to a multitude of colors. Number 26, painted a deep green and white, received lots of compliments for its smooth and shiny paint job.

Cheering children at the starting line covered their ears as the race gun was shot into the air 32 times to signify the start of each boat. The racers would paddle their boats 12 miles down the river and end in Mattapoisett near the Mattapoisett diner on Fairhaven Road.

They would wave at checkpoints along the way, and about two hours later, cross the finish line to cheering families and friends.

The Rochester Fire Department sold hot dogs, chips, and drinks and accepted donations at the end, all to raise money for the department. Paul Ciaburri of Rochester’s Select Board was behind the counter, helping pass out hot dogs.

Ciaburri wasn’t the only face from the municipal government present – Mattapoisett Select Board’s Jodi Bauer could be seen paddling toward the finish line in her boat, number 18.

Bob Kirby, a timekeeper, reminisced on the past of the race, saying that the number of teams has dwindled over the past 40 years. “When I was a kid, there were over a hundred boats entered,” he said.

He also mentioned that back then, people would stand on the bridges and at the checkpoints and toss oranges to those paddling by.

“You would just pray for a slice,” he said.

Benner said that next year, they plan to do some more advertising for the race and will hopefully get more entrants.

Gliding through the finish line first was boat number seven, Alyssa Watling and William Watling III of Rochester, winning for the third consecutive time.

“Look at them, they’re not even breathing hard!” shouted someone in the crowd.

They will be awarded the Joe Ferreira Memorial Plaque and because they won for the third time, they also receive a Jim Hartley memorial trophy – Alyssa will be the first woman to receive this award.

The oldest person finishing the boat race receives the Old Man River Award, and this year it went to Judith E. Selwyn from Mattapoisett.

The winners of the Parent/Child Division were Henri Roy and Jonathan Roy from Rochester, who made this year’s win the third consecutive first place win in that division and will be awarded a special plaque in recognition of their effort.

The Woman’s division was won by Chelsea Allen and Megan Smith, who are from Spencer and New Bedford respectively.