River Rother raft race celebrates 30 years

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A race synonymous with the August bank holiday in Midhurst is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

The River Rother Raft Race has developed its own band of followers – on water and on land – since its inception in 1981, when founder Chris Konieczny decided a race on the river would be a good way to raise money for Petworth Panthers Football Club and to build Duncton pavilion.

It is unlikely he had any idea the event would become a lasting legacy, over the years bringing in many thousands of pounds for charities, notably, for a number of years, the Midhurst service of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Today, Lodsworth businessman Anthony Weller heads the team of organisers, with the assistance of friends and business colleagues.

And for this year’s race, on Sunday August 28 in aid of children’s charity Dreams Come True, they are introducing some new elements to freshen up the image.

Among them, the race will be open to canoes and kayaks for the first time. One of Mr Weller’s team, Dave Thomas, said: “We have been asked many times if this would ever happen and so in 2010 a selection of the organisers tried and tested the river with both one-man kayaks and two to three-men canoes.

“We set the bar for this year and paddled an impressive 51 minutes, at a leisurely pace, so there will be records to be had this year.”

Emphasis will be on a celebratory party atmosphere to mark the special anniversary. A barbecue at the finish will have on offer burgers, hot dogs, soft drinks, wine, lager, and cider. A large marquee will house local singers and bands to provide live music.

Raffle prizes, where all proceeds of ticket sales go to Dreams Come True, include cash prizes of £250 and £100 as well as meals for two, his and hers watches, and a mini-racers track day at Goodwood. Langham Brewery from Lodsworth will be there again with local beer.

The race starts at Cowdray Ruins at midday for canoes and kayaks and 1pm for rafts. The course covers a 3.75 mile stretch of the Rother to Lods Bridge, Selham, through the Cowdray Estate. Before the start, there is plenty to see among the outrageous fancy dress outfits and decorated rafts of some of the competitors.

One of the most popular viewing spots is the fish ladder at Ambersham, where many a rafter has come to grief while others have triumphed.

Now the organisers are in the business of reminding people to get out their raft-making kits if starting from scratch, or dust off last year’s craft. For more information and entries, visit the race website www.therotherraftrace.co.uk and click on the ‘contact us’ link if you need to get in touch with the team.