Last week’s Friday Flashback featured a 1967 poster It advertised a rally at Town Hall, to “Save Cockenoe Island” (from an electric utility, which wanted to build a nuclear power plant there).
This week’s Flashback also features a poster. It too references an August event — almost exactly 30 years ago today. And — go figure — it too has a strong Cockenoe connection.
(Poster and photo courtesy of Andrew Estey)
Well, check out this video:
There’s 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.
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 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.”
…and partying at a house on the river, as the racers go by.
It was a tradition that lasted from the ’70s into the ’90s. If you participated in the Great Race — as a boater, a spectator or the guy who delivered the kegs — we’d love to hear what you remember. (If, of course, you remember anything.)
Click “Comments” below. Ahoy!
(Hat tips: Jack Whittle, Ted Friedman, Rich Stein)
Bonus photo: Schlitz sponsored the Great Race. The guys dressed up as Schlitz cans were high school students (the drinking age in Connecticut was 18 back then). They did not win the race — but they did win the Best Costume award.
In his younger days, Richard Hyman was a diver with explorer Captain Jacques Cousteau aboard his famed ship Calypso. He later wrote a book about his adventures, called Frogmen.
These days, he brings his passion to area teenagers. Future Frogmen is a 501(c)(3) organization — but don’t be put off by the name, which came from students themselves.
Future Frogmen welcomes everyone. In fact, most interns and volunteers are female. And not all are scuba divers.
The student-focused organization fosters ocean ambassadors and develops future leaders, through environmental education and action around climate change, plastic pollution and species survival.
“We work to improve ocean health by deepening the connection between people and nature,” Hyman says.
“That includes the Sound, the Saugatuck and more. All water is connected.”
The Frogmen website includes links to their Conversation Series — discussions with experts on water-related topics. (They’re also available on their YouTube channel.)
There are also instructive blog stories on topics like Earth Day, fossil coral, the intersection of science and politics, microplastics, rising tides, and reports from Florida and Alaska.
A screenshot of some of Future Frogmen’s many blog posts.
Undergraduate, graduate and post-grad students from dozens of colleges and universities are involved in the Frogmen, plus high schools like Staples. Hyman says Advanced Placement teacher Bethann Camillo has been particularly supportive.
Her Environmental Club is engaged in many ways, including the Frogmen’s monthly coastal cleanups at Compo Beach and Sherwood Island. Cleanup findings are catalogued and submitted to the NOAA’s Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project.
The organization also has a strong relationship with Patagonia. Store manager Emily Geeza joined with the Frogmen and Save the Sound on a “Virtual Coastal Cleanup.”
From June 25 through July 2, participants from Maine to Florida will pick up trash in their communities, particularly from coastlines and inland waterways. They’ll post photos with a hashtag to Facebook and Instagram.
A public kickoff call is June 24 (7 p.m.). Westporters will join many others along the entire US coast and inland waterways. Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey will talk about plastics, and the importance of keeping trash out of our waterways. Click here (and scroll to “Local Events”) to join the call.
The Future Frogmen also planning panel discussions for Patagonia and the Westport Library. They hope to record their “Blue Earth” podcast to the library’s studio.
Some of the Future Frogmen, at a cleanup project.
They’d even like to bring back The Great Race — the fun, funky townwide event in which people ran through town, rowed or sailed or paddled out to Cockenoe Island, picked up a bag of trash and raced back.
Hyman — who did 2 races in the 1970s — envisions a new model, perhaps based on Cousteau’s Involvement Days. “Food, music, education and action,” he says. “Like Cousteau I’d welcome other related nonprofits to exhibit, free of charge, all for the greater good.”
The Frogmen are also involved in this week’s United Nations World Oceans Day. They’re hosting free virtual events tomorrow and Friday (June 11-12), as well as next Wednesday (June 17) on topics like sea level rise, the impact of climate change on marine species, and the “blue economy” (using Long Island Sound seaweed in a variety of products). Click here to register for any of the 12 p.m. web sessions.
Despite the COVID pandemic, students and schools are contacting him for internships for this summer, and the upcoming school year.
“As we grow to the next level, we want to ensure quality work and mentoring too,” he says. “That’s why we’re also seeking folks who may still be in their career, as well as retirees who can volunteer their expertise.”
Hyman also recognizes the current environment. He says:
In light of recent events underlying systemic racism in our country, and as a mentorship-driven conservation organization rooted in inclusivity, we at Future Frogmen feel the need to affirm that we are against injustices towards black people. Prejudice contradicts the mantra we so passionately strive for: harmony between humanity and nature.
From the beginning, the young people involved with Future Frogmen impressed upon me the need for us to communicate inclusiveness. We did! We do!
Even within our sphere, there is limited African American representation in natural science disciplines. This works to exclude Black people who have a love and passion for oceans and species conservation.
We strongly believe that Black Lives Matter!
(For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-456-4271. Donations for projects and scholarships can be made by clicking here, or by mail to PO Box 55, Westport, CT 06880.)
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome, appreciated — and tax-deductible! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to “06880”: PO Box 744, Westport, CT 06881. Or use Venmo: @blog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)