This Oz-themed spinning float created by the Watts family was first and best in show at last year’s Regatta. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

This year’s annual New Paltz Regatta, slated for this Sunday, April 29 at 1 p.m., is poised to rock the Wallkill River and the crowds in downtown New Paltz. Deb Rauch, owner of In Good Taste, along with her Regatta team of Theresa Fall of Water Street Market and Kathy Combs of 36 Main, have been working to ensure that this year’s Regatta takes the all-day free event to greater levels of fun, food, festivities and support for Family of New Paltz. To this end, they are limiting the Regatta to handmade floating (or sinking) crafts only, foregoing the kayak and canoe races and focusing on the garage-made, water-inspired crafts that people, families, organizations and businesses can dream up and build.

“We already have boats registered from the Takacs family, the Watts family, the Stroethenkes and many more,” said Rauch. “This year Snugs is doing their first boat ever, the New Paltz Youth Center is returning, as is the Karate School…but you never really know what you’re going to get until they begin lining up and registering in front of Village Hall at noon that day.”

To kick off the rivercentric day, a local band, Yard Sale, will be playing live outside of Village Hall as Fall and others help to line the boats up and register them (there’s a $20 fee to enter). The parade will take off at approximately 1 p.m. and wind its way down Plattekill Avenue, turning left onto Main Street and then left again on Water Street, where the crafts make their way towards the boat launch at Sojourner Truth Park off Plains Road.

There, Mike Beck of P&G’s, along with several volunteers, have the dirty work of getting the boats into the water. “This is not an easy task!” said Rauch. “Mike has one of the biggest jobs: just getting these homemade boats into the water. Some people are still putting nails in and attaching floats and just hoping they set sail before the sink!”

Cindy Ricci of Ricci’s Hair Salon on Main Street will again be the lead judge, choosing which boats are the Most Creative, Artistic, Spirited, Most Improved if they are repeat entrants and Most Likely to Sink, among other categories. Ricci and her judges will have their table perched outside 36 Main Street, where they have their cache of water guns and will have battles with the boats as they pass by in the parade.

Once in the water, there will be judges posted on the Carmine Liberta Bridge to determine which crafts actually get past the finish line first, second and third. “All of the winners of the boat contests get great gift certificates from local businesses and restaurants,” said Rauch.

The Woodcrest Community will be cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for the Regatta-going crowd. “They fed, for free, 1,100 people last year on the lawn of the Gilded Otter,” said Rauch. “They’re amazing. They cook all of their own organic beef hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, bottled water…”

Next to the Woodcrest barbecue is a donation bucket. “Do you know what they did with that? They brought any of the proceeds they made through donations and gave them to Family of New Paltz!”

Another big part of the Regatta is the Family of New Paltz Rubber Duck Race. According to Kathy Cartagena, longtime director of Family of New Paltz, the ducks cost $5 apiece or $20 for six ducks. Each one has a number on the bottom, and they are all thrown over the bridge at one time into the Wallkill. There is a rope strung across the river, and the first couple of ducks to get across the line win various prizes.

Last year, between the Rubber Duck Race and the donations gathered from the Woodcrest barbecue, Family of New Paltz was able to raise close to $7,000 for its variety of community services, including its food bank, clothes, holiday presents and Thanksgiving dinners, homeless shelters, drug and alcohol programs, domestic violence counseling and shelter and much, much more. “It’s a wonderful community event that is just pure fun, filled with silliness and laughter all day long!” said Cartagena.

To keep spirits high, Fall has organized two live bands that will play in front of the Otter. Local indie-rock/folk band Fairweather Friends will open up in front of the Otter for Snow Bear, a funky disco/rock band. Music will kick off in front of the Otter at noon and go until the sun sets.

According to Rauch, the Regatta takes at least 70 volunteers, of which they could always use more, and it also costs approximately $2,500 to keep the event afloat. Thus far they have many local sponsors, but are in need of more. If you or your business sponsors the event, you get a listing on the back of the official Regatta tee-shirt. If you’re interested, call Rauch at In Good Taste at 255-0110.

“This is the largest free community event we have in New Paltz, and it’s fun and crazy and magical and a great time for everyone,” said Rauch, who noted how much support she and Fall receive from the Village Department of Public Works, the New Paltz Police Department and the New Paltz Fire Department. “They’re so great every year, and we’re so thankful for their support.” ++