Rainbow Canoe Rafters from Maple Ridge cast anxious glances as they cross the finish line in the 1979 Overlanders Raft Race down the North Thompson River from Clearwater to Kamloops. (Archive photo)

Rafters given rough ride down river in 1979

Rafts blown backwards in spite of maximum rowing efforts by trained crews

The summer of 1979 Overlanders Raft Race from Clearwater to Kamloops went down in history because it was the last time the race was sponsored by the Kamloops Junior Chamber of Commerce and secondly because the racers probably faced the worst weather conditions in the (at the time) nine year history of the races.

Gale winds with gusts estimated to exceed 75 km per hour and torrential rains swamped rafts, blew some back up stream as they battled their way through five foot waves for about five hours to set a record low time for the stretch from Chu Chua to Barriere.

The screaming winds that hampered the progress of the 33 rafts entered in the race, snapped trees and caused a three hour blackout in Barriere as trees downed power lines and snapped some power poles, creating a hazardous condition on the highway, let alone the river.

Five of the original entries withdrew from the race and many of the contestants vowed they would never again subject themselves to such a punishing ordeal.

Some rafts were actually blown back upstream in spite of the maximum rowing efforts of the trained crews rowing steadily against the waves.

Some rafts were towed by hand for as much as a quarter of a mile to avoid being blown ashore or being beached on sandbars.

Some rafters were taken by ambulance to the ambulance station suffering from hypothermia (low body temperature) and given treatment to get warmed up.

One of the crew of the Cariboo College nursing students entry, the Fleet Enema, had to be removed by a safety boat and rushed to shore for treatment.

Shawn Edwards was taken to the ambulance station and given warm food, where she also had a good sleep and was back on deck to help her crew finish the race and take second place in the women’s division.

The Bullship of Canadian Station Forces Kamloops won first place over last years champions, Rainbow Canoe Rafters from Maple Ridge with an elapsed time in the two day event of 12 hours, 10 minutes and 41 seconds.

Winners of the Women’s Division was the Ponderosa Express with a time of 14 hours, 23 minutes and 7 seconds.

The rafters spent the night at the Barriere Industrial Park, and RCMP reported there were no incidents of any kind.

The camping area was cleaned by the Barriere Scouts Troop after the racers left at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. There wasn’t much as a gum wrapper left to indicate there had been up to 800 people camped in the park overnight.

The Kamloops Jaycees said they no longer have enough funds or manpower to continue to organize the races in the future and were hoping to organize a society to undertake the big job sometime that fall.

It was expected the society would become a North Thompson and Kamloops supported association and will be in a better position to organize the event in Clearwater and Barriere with more local input.

Mike Watkins, Raft Race chairman of the Kamloops Jaycees was high in praise for the overall community support the event received everywhere saying, “Without it there would have been no raft race.”

Article reprinted from July 4, 1979, Barriere Bulletin.

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