This year the Antibes Raft Race will take place on April 21. You don't have to be a yachtie to turn up for some family fun and contribute to some well-deserved charities.
In a note to the 1977 edition of ‘The Boatswain's Manual’ (c) 1977 Brown, Son & Ferguson Ltd., Glasgow, which he revised, Captain A.G.W. Miller wrote: "The changes in ships and seamanship continue and some men will complete their careers at sea in ships where very little of the old style seamanship is required. `M' Notices and British Standards leave little scope for the personal touch but I hope that there is still an interest in the job which goes beyond mere regulations."
He did not have long to wait to see his hope fulfilled! Just 2 4 years later the first Antibes Raft Race, organised by Julian Mills, was created to emulate the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race, but with a minimum of rules and administration. The first memorable race took place without the ‘committee’ having the foresight to obtain permission from Port Vauban. The Port Captain, Mr Plym, took it in his stride and later attended the evening bash with a view to lodging a complaint, but finished up presenting the prizes. MY 'CARAMBA' won the first race - their own 'Caramba Cup' which they had donated and which sat around various bars in Antibes for some years until the committee remembered it. The owner of "CARAMBA" later purchased a high-quality replacement cup which became the coveted top award for the winning raft. The style of the race had been set. During the 80's the finish line was at Harry's Bar in rue Aubernon, which stopped the traffic for some hours. Everyone, Antibes Police included, attended and joined in the fun. The race was held every two years or so until the original committee ran out of steam.
Following a gap of a few years, the race was resurrected by Gary Morton and a new organising committee roped in with Jamie & Christine Beirne and Sally Finbow. Gary attended to the proper creation and registration of the Antibes Raft Race Association as a non-profit-making Association at the local Sub-Prefecture in Grasse under the provisions of the Law of 1901. The course and the few rules were continually changed (often at the last moment), and most of the more recent races held in 1994 and 1996 proved so popular that the 1998 race was planned to be held a little later - in May - so as to give crews returning from the Caribbean the chance to compete (and give all the raft crews warmer water when they fell in the Port). In true Raft Race tradition, things fell apart at the last moment, and the actual race was not held - although the evening bash - The Hollywood Party - was a great success.
Many rafts have distinguished themselves over the years. Julian Mills in full P.L.O. Freedom Fighter uniform driving ‘ERNA’; Jack Smith on the sleek and fast ‘HIBA’; Steve Baxter on ‘LADY ASHLEY’ with her 9" ‘spaghetti’ guns; Pierre Rayon and the I.Y.C.A.’s ‘GAROU’ which carried a live chicken to achieve equivalence to the rule 6 in 1990 that each team include 1 woman; the 1994 raft from ‘SIRAN’ (disqualified winner), who had cheated by having an engine hidden within the raft (not discovered during scrutiny) and started their prize acceptance speech "On behalf of our sponsor - Yamaha ..."
Each raft was built by the crews of some of the largest yachts in the world. The standard of construction and ingenuity of the crews employed is to be marvelled at and demonstrates that ‘the old style of seamanship’ is well understood and that jury rigging has reached almost an art form. The race took place ‘around lunchtime’ and was followed by an evening gala disco featuring 'The Yachtbreakers' (Antibes own popular band) held in the hall under the helipad at the International Yacht Club d'Antibes in Antibes Port. There were raffle draws (with raffle prizes cajoled from local businesses) and the prize-giving for the different categories of winners (best raft, best cheat, best dressed crew, first raft home etc).
The judges (an esteemed bunch of ladies and gentlemen which has included such notables as Joe Russell, Chris Jones, Nick Sturge, Mike Meade, Nick Myers, Peter Insull, David Skellon, Sue Filer, David Dyer, Jane Hardy, Barry Piggin, Caroline Volmerange, Geoff Marsh, Kenny Minns, John Morris and other local yachtsmen who work for a free hat) let it be known early in the proceedings that cash bribes can influence the final decision. All proceeds from the event were donated to local charities and the association S.C.A.M.T. - a non-governmental humanitarian aid association which sent medical equipment and supplies to Bosnia. The Antibes Raft Race was the traditional start to the Summer Season, as well as raising useful money for charity. In 1996 - an amazing FF 90,000 was raised. It was a great day out to take part, or just watch, and certainly demonstrated "an interest in the job which goes beyond mere regulations".