MARIETTA - Twenty-one homemade rafts and makeshift floatables drifted down the Muskingum River from Indian Acres Park to the Marietta Harbor during the fourth annual Mighty Muskingum River Raft Race on Sunday afternoon.
Amanda Hambel, of Stockport, pedaled her way to the overall victory aboard the "Live Action," a bicycle-like, paddlewheel-driven contraption.
"This race was too long - my legs feel kind of noodly," Hambel said as she sat on the Marietta Harbor docks following the race.
Andrew Donchatz and Frank Rose, of Williamstown, launch their vessel into the Mighty Muskingum River Raft Race from the Indian Acres Park boat ramp in Marietta on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Sam Shawver)
She said the wake from boat traffic passing by made progress difficult.
"I kept getting knocked back by that current," Hambel said. "And I thought the first bridge (Washington Street Bridge) was the end of the race, but it was only halfway."
In spite of the setbacks, Hambel crossed under the Harmar Railroad Bridge finish-line way ahead of the second-place rafters in the heavyweight vessel category.
That raft, dubbed "Muskingum River Towing Service," was another pedal-powered vessel mounted atop two P-51 Mustang airplane wing tanks and co-piloted by Vic Smith and Tim Dehnart, of Waterford.
"This raft was built back in 1983 - we dug it out last week. There were multiflora roses and weeds several feet high growing through it," Smith said.
He said the raft was originally built to run in the annual Marietta Jaycees raft race from which the Mighty Muskingum River Raft Race is patterned.
The first place winner in the lightweight vessel category was "Flagship," a camouflaged raft built of 4-inch PVC pipe and plywood, paddled across the finish line by Beverly Cernus and Wendy Frye, of Marietta.
"We named it 'Flagship' in tribute to those who served in the military," Cernus explained, noting that she and Frye both come from military families.
Their raft also took first place last year. Cernus said the wakes from passing boats also affected their progress downriver.
"We had to stop paddling until the raft stopped rocking," she said.
Those who didn't win still had a lot of fun.
Josh Payne and Casey Stines from Williamstown joined the race for the first time Sunday.
"We just started building it two days ago and named it 'The Dirty Gopher,'" Payne said of the raft constructed from PVC, foam board, and a lot of duct tape.
The Marietta Family YMCA also entered the raft race for the first time this year.
"We called it the 'Y Goldy,'" said YMCA director Suzy Zumwalde.
Her daughter, Samantha, captained the vessel with Y staffers acting as crew.
"We built it out of PVC and plywood at the Y, and tried it out in the pool, so we know it floats," Zumwalde said. "If it wins we'll bring it back next year - if not, we'll tweak it a little and still bring it back next year."
Sunday's weather couldn't have been better for the raft race, and crowds lined the Harmar Railroad Bridge to watch the rafters cross the finish line.
"We've had a great turnout, and this just keeps growing every year - we only had 11 participate in the race last year, and only nine the year before," said Jesse Daubert, watershed coordinator with Friends of the Lower Muskingum River, which coordinated the race.
He said the race is a fundraiser for the group, but more than that it's a way to raise awareness about Friends of the Lower Muskingum and the Muskingum River watershed.
As first-place overall winner, Hambel takes home the trophy from the original Marietta Jaycees raft races that ended nearly a decade ago, as well as a $100 cash prize for being the first-place heavyweight vessel winner.
Cernus and Frye also received a $100 prize for piloting the winning vessel in the lightweight category.