Tag Archives: Great Duck Race


If you’ve never been to a Sunrise Rotary Great Duck Race, here’s the poop:

You pay $20 for a toy duck — one of these:

Duck - ducks

They’re dumped in the Saugatuck River. The one that races fastest downstream earns a $5,000 Visa gift card. Nine other prizes are worth $5,000 more.

This year’s winner was American Pharoah. (Just kidding.)

There was lots more going on at Jesup Green today too. Staples’ Interact Club — a community service organization that works with the Rotarys — sponsored a 5K race.

A dunk tank featured celebrities like Planning & Zoning Commission chair Chip Stephens:

Duck - Chip Stephens

Non-profits, local businesses, even the Fire Department staffed booths. Here’s Charlie Colasurdo, student liaison at Wakeman Town Farm, showing off (of course) ducks (lower right) and an egg:

Duck - Charlie Colasurdo

There was a climbing wall too:

Duck - climbing wall

It’s all for a good cause. Before the race, Sunrise Rotary handed out $34,500 in grants, to 26 area organizations and charities.

Duck - grants

Recipients include Andrew’s Army, CLASP Homes, Connecticut Challenge, Earthplace, Mercy Learning Center, Positive Directions, Project Return and the Susan Fund.

So even if your duck didn’t win, there was plenty to smile about downtown today.

The Great Race: From Disco Days To Ducks

For a number of years, Sunrise Rotary has sponsored a Great Duck Race. It’s a fun fundraiser — you bet on rubber duckies that are dumped into the Saugatuck River. The day is filled with kids’ activities like a bouncy house, a climbing wall and dunk tank.

This year’s event — on Saturday, June 13 — will be preceded by a 5K run, sponsored by Staples High School’s Interact community service club.

It’s a wonderful town event — something that makes money for good causes, and brings plenty of Westporters together.

But those who were here back in the day remember its predecessor: the Great Race. That was to the current incarnation as Gloria Gaynor is to Taylor Swift.

You don’t believe me? Check out this video.

You can see a lot of bizarre stuff on YouTube. But this ranks right up there.

In tones befitting Marlon Perkins on “Wild Kingdom” — or, this century, an endangered-species documentary on the National Geographic Channel — a narrator breathlessly describes what seems to be a very odd tradition in our coastal community.

“Just another lazy day along the river in Westport, Connecticut,” the 1977* video begins. “Except that this is the day of the Great Race.”

After describing the event — a 1-mile run, a 3-mile row or paddle out to Cockenoe Island, picking up 1 pound of garbage, then rowing or paddling back for a 1st-place prize of $1,000 — the narrator declares that on Great Race Day, Westport is the center of “high international drama.” (Cut to an interview with an Australian guy.)

Just a couple of Great Racers being interviewed.

Just a couple of Great Racers being interviewed.

There are classic quotes — “We run to the liquor store to get our bodies in shape” — interspersed with vintage shots of downtown, and the not-sure-if-it’s-tongue-in-cheek-or-not description of a team that trained “in a handmade aluminum craft for an entire year, just for this race.”

In fact, I’m not sure if the entire video is serious, a satire, or just a goof. When you see 2 teams fighting over a piece of garbage on Cockenoe, you’ll wonder too.

Running down Taylor Place, to the start at the Post Road bridge.

Running down Taylor Place, to the boat launch at the Post Road bridge.

But — as the narrator notes — “constant seamanship and vigilance” were keys to winning the Great Race.

And, at the end, “the townspeople have come together with their picnic lunches to cheer and debate their favorites. The memories will keep for a whole year.”

See you June 13 at the Great Duck Race!

Paddling ...

Paddling …

...and partying at a house on the river, as the racers go by.

…and partying at a house on the river, as the racers go by.

*YouTube says the video is from 1977. However, the bicentennial flag, and several comments, would indicate it is actually from 1976.

(Hat tips: Jack Whittle, Ted Friedman, Rich Stein)


Dunkin’ Ducks

Got a bone to pick with schools superintendent Elliott Landon, or former Board of Ed chair Jim Marpe?

Don’t like the way Eileen Flug runs the RTM?

Think Charlie Haberstroh is the worst 3rd selectman in history?

Now’s your chance to stick it to these public figures — and many others. (Just added to the list: Rev. Ed Horne. This is a very wide-ranging group.)

They’ve agreed — see, they are nice people! — to sit in a dunk tank tomorrow (Saturday, June 22). You get 3 chances, for just $5.

Great Duck RaceIt’s part of the Sunrise Rotary’s 5th annual Great Duck Race. The free event — from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Parker Harding Plaza — includes kids’ arts and crafts, games, music, face painting, a magician, a bouncy castle, and food.

There’s also a $10,000 raffle. For $20, you get a rubber duck. The 1st 10 (of 3,000) to float across the Saugatuck River finish line win Visa gift cards, ranging from $5,000 down to $500.

It’s all for charity. Sunrise Rotary helps a passel of good causes.

But all that pales in comparison with the chance to dunk the superintendent of schools.

Macaroni Kid

In January, Cathy Siroka’s 5-year-old son was diagnosed with celiac disease. The news changed her life.

After learning all she could about the condition, she was motivated to promote healthy nutrition. With years of experience in marketing communications, writing and editing, she researched parenting newsletters for good ideas.

One — Macaroni Kid — appeared in every search.

It’s a national template with content covering health, travel, fitness and safety. But there are opportunities for local content too. “Publisher Moms” provide information on family-based activities — classes, shows, events — as well as home-based stuff like cooking projects, and arts and crafts.

There was no need to reinvent the wheel. Cathy became editor/publisher of the Westport-to-Greenwich edition.

In just 6 weeks ago, she’s already signed up a couple of hundred subscribers.

It’s not easy work. In addition to marketing Macaroni Kid to readers and advertisers, she hunts down all those family-friendly activities. Keeps up to date on new store openings (and closings). And asks organizers and merchants for discounts, coupons and free passes (for contest prizes).

She also writes appealing copy each for each week’s free e-newsletter, and oversees the Macaroni Kid website.

The current newsletter includes information on a kids’ triathlon at the Stamford JCC, a summer youth job fair in Bridgeport, Westport’s Great Duck Race, and the July 15 Westport Y Point to Point Swim.

The Westport Y Point to Point Swim is a great family event.

There’s also a giveaway: 2 family 4-pack tickets to Stepping Stones’ Summer Jam Teen Concert. The age range for Macaroni Kid is “newborn through high school,” Cathy says.

Newsletter subscribers gain access to a 24/7 family forum. It’s intended for posts like “Can anyone recommend a good swim teacher?” and “It’s 7:30 on a Saturday night. I need a dentist — help!”

In just 6 weeks publishing Macaroni Kid, Cathy — an 8-year Westporter — says she’s learned a lot about this town.

“People in Westport care a lot about their kids,” she notes. “But they’re very giving. They appreciate what they have. They don’t take living here for granted. They realize that with this life comes responsibilities. They really like events that have charitable aspects to them.”

Particularly if — as the Macaroni Kid tagline says — they “entertain, stimulate and exhaust” their kids.

(Got an idea for an article or event listing? Email catherines@macaronikid.com)

The Great (Duck) Race

Tomorrow’s 4th annual Great Duck Race (Saturday, June 30) is a great excuse to go downtown.

Starting at 10 a.m., there’s here’s children’s arts and crafts, face painting, a bounce castle, “duck decorating,” music and food.

At 1 p.m. 3000 ducks — each with a number — will be dropped into the Saugatuck River near the Post Road Bridge. A boom will be pulled away; they’ll “race” 200 feet. (Fear not: The ducks are made of “an environmentally sensitive compound.”)

Dumping the ducks into the boom.

If a duck you bought ($20 each) with your number is one of the 1st 10, you’ll win a prize. First prize is a $5,000 Visa gift card; 2nd prize is a $1,000 card, and 3rd through 10th are $500 Visa cards. (You don’t have to be present to win.)

All well and good (and for a good cause: Westport Sunrise Rotary, and all their good works).

But Westporters with long memories remember a different “Great Race.” And the racers were humans, not ducks.

The 1st Great Race was held in 1976, as part of America’s bicentennial celebration. It lasted a few years.

In 1991, Sunrise Rotary resurrected it. It was an all-hands-0n deck competition. Kayaks, canoes, dinghies, windsurfers, catamarans — and everything else, from Tom Sawyer rafts, to boats in the shape of Smurfs and Elvis, to science experiment failures — were launched from the library park.

They made their way (hopefully) to Cockenoe Island. There, sailors dodged rats and gnats as they picked up a trash bag of garbage.

Every July from 1991 to 1999, Great Racers cleaned up garbage.

Then — powered only by their own muscle (and, sometimes, prodigious amounts of beer) — they returned to the Post Road bridge. Prizes were awarded for fastest time, most garbage and silliest boat.

The event required tons of work. Sunrise Rotary member Pete Wolgast quickly ascended the Great Race organizational ladder. One year after overseeing Port-o-Potties, he was general manager.

The job entailed everything from finding the right day (the tide had to be high around noon) to overseeing the Jesup Green fair. There were live bands, plus 15 to 20 booths featuring face painting, horse rides, slides, a dunk tank and food stands. (The Daughters of the British Empire sold strawberries and cream.)

The Great Race also included skydiver Howard Burling (the former Westport cop aimed for a spot between the green and the river), and post office booth to cancel special Great Race stamps designed by local artists. For a while, the race itself was even broadcast on WICC.

During its time the Great Race raised well over $100,000, which the Sunrise Rotary distributed to local and international charities.

In 1999 Pete became president of Sunrise Rotary. No one had all the time needed to organize the Great Race, so it was “suspended.” (The club turned to a more traditional fundraiser: a wine tasting.)

Four years ago, Sunrise Rotary resurrected the event — this time as a ducks-only affair.

But — whether you’re paddling your own boat, or hoping that duck in front has your lucky number — it’s still a great race.

Life Is Ducky

Of the many ways to look cool, standing on the side of a river cheering for a rubber duck is way down the list.

On the other hand, it could win you a $5,000 Visa gift card.

Ducky’s not so dorky after all, is it?

The event is the 2nd annual Great Duck Race.  It takes place this Saturday (June 12, 1-4:30 p.m.) in Parker Harding Plaza.

Here’s the deal:  You pay $20 for a “duck”  raffle ticket (at Fairfield County Bank, Christie’s Country Store or from any member of Westport Sunrise Rotary, the sponsor — click here for complete list).

Ducks behind the boom.

Around 3:45 p.m. a boom in the Saugatuck River just north of the bridge will be lifted.  3000 ducks — each with a number corresponding to a ticket — will be freed, to float south with the current.

The 1st 10 to cross the finish line win Visa gift card prizes ($5,000, $1,000, and 8 more worth $500 each).  You don’t have to be present to win.

In addition, there’s a free drawing for swim lessons at the Westport Y, a 3-month Y family membership, a gift basket from Whole  Foods, and 20 copies of Stewie Learns the Duck to Swim.

There is also a corporate race.  The 1st 3 winners get bragging rights, and a small trophy.

Proceeds help support Sunrise Rotary’s nearly 60 charity partners.

Besides the race, there are kids’ arts and crafts, games, music and food.

Downtown Westport is a summer festival (no, I’m not working for the Chamber of Commerce).  There’s an art show, sidewalk sales, music on Bobby Q’s roof and much more.

You can start it all off by betting on a plastic made-with-an-environmentally-sensitive-compound duck to float down the river.

Who said there’s never anything to do in Westport?


A recent rehearsal for the Great Duck Race

A recent rehearsal for the Great Duck Race

Nice weather we’re having — for ducks.

Well, you’re finally in luck.  Tomorrow a duck could win you 5000 bucks.

The Great Duck Race is a (sort of) new event.  It replaces The Great Race, in which homemade boats goofily made their way down the Saugatuck River.  The Great Race sunk a decade ago.

Tomorrow, up to 2500 rubber ducks will float — er, “race” — from Gorham Island to the Post Road bridge.  Tickets cost $20 per duck; the 1st 10 ducks earn their owners $500 to $5000 Visa gift cards.

The main event will be preceded by a preliminary race for corporate sponsors.  Family activities begin at 11 a.m., with children’s arts and crafts, games, music, food and drink.

The Great Duck Race is sponsored by Westport Sunrise Rotary.  Proceeds aid several non-profit initiatives, including Help End Polio.

(For more information, including how to buy a duck, click here.)