Many spectators like to see the homemade rafts, in particular, this one.
PHELPS — The Wild Water Derby in Shortsville isn’t for another two weeks, but the water that collected inside this six-man raft isn’t so much wild as ripe.
Yes, spring cleaning is in order, which is why Mike Vienna is bailing out rainwater and melted snow along with some leaf gunk from this well-worn, beloved, but as yet unnamed watercraft.
At least this is a start. For years, the crew members who had Fridays off would get together for lunch, have a few beers, and get to work on the raft.
“Sometimes, no raft work got done after lunch,” said Jason Mark, who along with Vienna is one of the core paddlers.
Then, as now, the collective minds of Vienna and Mark, as well as the other oar-to-the-core paddlers Mike Carter, Adam Sheldon, Matt Shannon and Jeff Triplett, are on the roughly 3-mile stretch of water on the Canandaigua Outlet they navigate every year.
Vienna said a gauge up at the hamlet of Chapin in Hopewell has the water running at 719 cubic feet a second on this Friday. Typically, the outlet runs between 550 and 600 feet a second during the event.
“The faster the water, the more fun we have,” Vienna said.
The Wild Water Derby, which takes place April 29 and 30 this year, is considered one of the nation’s top paddling events by the American Canoe Association. The event was launched in 1975, had a few years off, then resumed a decade or so ago, although two years back that nasty winter forced a cancellation.
The event attracts as many as 5,000 spectators, and one of the big draws is watching the homemade rafts.
And their six-man raft — they also have a four-man version — is a crowd favorite.
“Usually all of our friends and family hang out and watch us, take pictures and good videos as we come through,” Vienna said. “We hear hootin’ and hollerin’. Being from a small town, they all know us so they’re yelling to us.”
Their raft, which is stored outside Vienna’s home on the Canandaigua Outlet in Phelps, spends the winter underneath a tarp. That’s why they have to shore her up before hitting the rapids.
It’s made of wood — many of the core guys got together about 11 years ago and chipped in to buy it — and most notably, plastic wine barrels. It takes all six paddlers to lift the 600-plus-pound craft.
Each year the color and theme change.
Remember when PGA golfer Tiger Woods began having, shall we say, issues at home? They decked out their raft like a golf cart, complete with clubs on the back.
Another year, the raft was done up like a school bus. Trust them, yellow stands out on the water.
Who knows what this year will bring? They don’t; they haven’t yet decided, but one thing is for certain. Wormy, the head of a children’s toy they found one year, leads the way — sometimes with a helmet, and, in the Tiger Woods year, a green jacket.
“He rides with us all the time,” Mark said.
Their raft runs on current and paddling. Actually, the last few years, mostly current. The paddling is more helpful now for avoiding obstacles rather than speed.
The team got together about 11 years ago. Most of them are Red Jacket graduates, although a few Midlakes folks have been accepted into the ranks.
In 2008, the team nabbed a first-place award. Two years later, the team finished in third. In 2011, the paddlers did win something — the “Almost Good Enough Award.”
And lately, they haven’t even had that.
“Those days are gone, huh? Now it’s ride and float,” Mark said. “This could be the end.”
In the old days, Mark would throw a big pig roast the night before hitting the water. As many as 200 would show. Those who didn’t drove by and honked their horns.
Now, it’s just the people in the raft and their families. Yes, they’re getting older and slower.
“We have to get up in the morning,” Vienna said.
But they still get up, mostly because it’s fun — to paddle, to hang around with old friends and to bust chops along the way. Case in point: Vienna invited Triplett, 49, to sit in last year and poor guy, he didn’t know what to expect.
“He said the seat is yours until you give it up,” Triplett said. “So I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ It’s exciting.”
Vienna made great pains to note Triplett is the oldest.
“We needed a chaperone, so I figured Jeff would be it,” Vienna said.
All in good fun. The crew doesn’t get together as much as they used to do, maybe a half dozen times a year, Vienna said. The good times on the water bring them together.
This is a rush that doesn’t fade with time.
“Heck, you have to pay to go whitewater rafting somewhere, but we can do it in our own town with a raft we built out of wine barrels,” Vienna said.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Have you ever seen or heard of something around here that made you stop and wonder, "What's up with that?" We have, too — and now we're hoping to provide some answers to these long-lingering questions with this column, which appears Sundays. If you have questions you need answered, either email or call Local Editor Mike Murphy at email@example.com or 585-337-4229.