Raft Race Teams get ready for July 4 fun

Willie Howard , Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Creative types from throughout the city are beginning to build homemade rafts and develop costumes for the Great American Raft Race, a July 4 tradition at Bryant Park.

New for this year’s 10th annual raft race will be a team from City Hall, including several city commissioners, City Manager Michael Bornstein and Public Services Director Jamie Brown.

Brown, a civil engineer, and Bornstein are co-designers of the city’s raft, which is supposed to be large enough for eight.

”I’m into budget cuts, so we’re building one boat because we’re all in the same boat,” Bornstein said.

The city’s raft theme is expected to be The Pirates of Penzance.

The Bryant Park Neighborhood Association’s team will portray the Broadway classic Can-Can.

The Lake Worth Kiwanis Club will dress in costume for The Little Mermaid.

”We’re ridiculously excited,” said Erica Whitfield, Kiwanis club president.

The raft-race team from Compass, the gay and lesbian community center, will portray Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

College Park Neighborhood Association President Mary Lindsey boldly declared that her neighborhood will enter “the winning raft,” but she declined to disclose its theme. The Downtown Jewel neighborhood also is keeping its raft theme close to the vest.

Raft-race contestants can win prizes for best of show (for costumes and decorations); best crowd-pleaser (for the best reaction from the crowd); and for being the first raft to cross the finish line in the race, which is typically 200 yards and takes about 10 minutes.

No manufactured boat hulls or sails are allowed in construction of the rafts, which usually are amalgamations of buoyant materials and plywood. Factory-made paddles are allowed.

Life jackets — and liability waivers — are required.

The race begins at 11 a.m. just south of the boat ramps in Bryant Park. Most people come around 9:30 a.m. to watch the contestants preparing to launch, organizer Herman Robinson said.

The raft that crosses the finish line first wins the coveted Grunge Cup, named for the Plunge Against the Grunge swim that former mayors used to do across the Intracoastal Waterway to call attention to poor water quality in the Lake Worth Lagoon.

Currently held by the Tropical Ridge and South Palm Park neighborhood associations, the Grunge Cup is a trophy made from the statue of a frog garnished with old cans, leaves and flotsam to depict the stuff sometimes found in the lagoon.

”There’s no socially redeeming value at all,” Robinson said of the raft race. “It’s just to have a good time and bring people together.”