20 years of running the river

By Capt. Bob Brown
For Points East

Do you remember the line from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album? It goes “It was twenty years ago today; Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.” That song has very little to do with this report other than music and boating . . . well, you can’t have one without the other, and our 2016 Run to the Crescent (aka The Dinghy Run) was the 20th edition of the event. I was on one of the original trio of boats that began this tradition on the Merrimack River back in 1997.

Each year, Newburyport, Mass., has Yankee Homecoming Week. It is always held the last week of July and includes the two weekends that bookend it. A great draw for visiting boaters, it has grown over the years. The week’s events culminate with an outstanding display of fireworks on the last Saturday of the event.

The Merrimack River is loaded with anchored and moored boats to witness this event. Reminiscent of our cruises to the Charles River for the July 4th display, Newburyport harbor becomes a maze of vessels of all types and sizes, making our “boating weekend,” as local slip-holders, a stay-at-home pause from our normal lets-get-going, seek-and-travel type of outing.

Twenty-one years ago, on Aug. 1, 1997, Ken and Julie of the Julie V invited Paul and Deb of Absolutly Two and Louise and me from HalfMine to join them on what turned out to be a voyage of epic proportions. The cruise would be by inflatable dinghy, 13 miles up the Merrimack River to Haverhill, Mass., to visit his various haunts, including the Crescent Yacht Club, of which Kenny is a member. Since our big powerboats were locked in place by the Newburyport festival fleet, and since we wanted to be back for the fireworks, dinghies seemed a viable boating alternative for the day.

Sunscreen was liberally applied, bathing suits were donned, and beverages were loaded into coolers. Our trio of inflatables took to the water around 9 a.m., with no ambitions other than to return by 9 p.m. for the fireworks. As is usually the case with these “great ideas,” we were naive as to what was in store for us.
We made the southwest run to Haverhill in just under three hours.

On this initial voyage, the weather was agreeable, and Kenny introduced us to all the folks at the Crescent Yacht Club, who enjoyed our visit and stories of the trip upriver. On the return trip, we had a low tide in the river, which allowed for swimming on the sandbars. This was a welcome diversion from driving the cushionless boats a long distance. This was a sufficiently pleasant and memorable journey to warrant doing the same thing again the following year, and we made it back by 5 p.m. And so a tradition was born.

In subsequent years, we experienced epiphanies and hard lessons along the now familiar route. We needed more than four beverages apiece; we needed to bring a red-plastic party cup for relieving oneself; two- and three-gallon gas tanks were too small for this voyage; a six-horse Johnson should be at least nine-point-nine; foam seat covers on the wood dinghy seats would be a plus; and seatbelts would also be a plus. It also dawned on us that, regardless of the forecast, rain gear is recommended; always bring a floating, neoprene towrope; and, finally, never, ever go too fast over the wake of another boat.

The year following our initial visit, Kenny, as the token club member, was not able to go with us. However, the Crescent Yacht Club allowed us to return, though none of us belonged to it. Five inflatables made the second trip, bound for music, cold drinks and one-dollar hotdogs.

Once again, the voyage turned out to be epic. This was The Dinghy Run on which I discovered that going too fast over the wake of another boat had serious consequences. Perry and Dot of Off Duty were following us when the event occurred. I could never forget his exact words to Dot: “Look! Brown just bounced out of the boat.”

Interestingly, my mate, who was sitting in front of me, never noticed I was missing. My lanyard was not attached to the motor’s kill-switch so the boat continued for quite some time before she realized I was no longer with it – or her. These are the types of lessons we needed to learn back then – what not to do when boating. I was lucky that no damage was done, and nobody got hurt, and we all learned, “We won’t do that again” (Yeah, right!).

By 2000, we had grown the event to include eight boats, and we thought it would be fun to have T-shirts for this now-annual trek. Louise, as a elementary school art teacher, had acquired a fair quantity of Ts to use as smocks for the kids’ painting lessons, and she had more than she needed. Then one of her parents donated a quantity of leftover shirts – 16 to be exact – from the First Annual Amesbury Pig Roast. These were of varying sizes, all nicely lettered, and they were bright orange – perfect for The Run. Unfortunately, some of the sizes did not exactly fit some of the bodies. With the addition of Dinghy Run T-shirts, the annual trek truly became an event.

By 2004, the event had grown to 25 boats, with over 50 participants, all wearing the signature Run to the Crescent T-shirts. The Crescent Yacht Club had continued to host our visits as well as put up with our antics. We now provided shirts for our hosts as well as our participants.

We also needed to charge a minimal fee, just to cover our costs. The original founding members had changed marinas, and word-of-mouth advertising reached a larger number of potential Dinghy Runners. Of course, with the increased number of participants, the antics increased, the music increased, and games were created. The reputation of our event was spreading, and individuals in the group photos were becoming less and less recognizable as the cameras needed to be farther and farther away to get everyone in.
By 2010, we discontinued the two “free-drink” coupons we’d given in previous years along with the shirts. On the return trip, one of our participants committed a minor infraction involving the local constabulary. No more free-drink coupons, and another lesson learned.

Looking on the bright side, though, by 2004 we’d begun making regular contributions to the Susan G. Komen organization to help fund breast cancer research. Two of our close boating friends had recently lost their daughter to this disease. Because of these contributions, many boaters who didn’t even attend the event bought shirts in support of the cause.

The 2015 event was also bittersweet. Just weeks before our scheduled event, we lost a long-time participant, a captain and a friend. Bill Casey, from River’s Edge Marina in Newburyport, lost his two-year fight with Multiple myeloma. He was 59, had always been active at work, in sports, and in boating. Bill and Pam of Sea n’ Sea had not missed an event since they began participating 14 years earlier. That year’s run was dedicated to Bill and to Dana Farber’s research efforts to combat this terrible disease. Capt. Bill: Please rest in peace in that “one particular harbor” Jimmy Buffett told us about.

The 2015 Run to the Crescent set records: Most boats – 71; most participants – more than 225 were at The Crescent Yacht Club on Saturday; most T-shirts sold – 375; and most money contributed to the Dana Farber Multiple Myeloma Research Program, in memory of Capt. Bill Casey – $4,800. Special thanks go out to all who participated in this event last year, and especially to the Crescent Yacht Club, in Haverhill, for allowing us to continue this tradition we began 21 years ago.

All are welcome to join us Aug. 5 this summer. Participants should try to sign up three weeks in advance so T-shirts can be ordered for them. New Dinghy Runners can just show up on the day of the event, but they may have to go without T-shirts. In recent years, the entry fee has been $25 per person. This year’s charity has not yet been determined. Our Cove Marina volunteer coordinator this year is Victoria Hoar, 978-302-6255, email: vhoar@yahoo.com or visit www.runtothecrescent.com.

You can’t miss us: We’ll be the large group of inflatables in front of the Newburyport Yacht Club, in the Merrimack River. And we’ll be playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” but it’ll be a little more than “twenty years ago today.”

Capt. Bob holds a 100-ton, USCG Master’s license. He and his wife Louise continue their powerboating adventures out of Cove Marina, on the Merrimack River in Salisbury, Mass. Last July, they replaced their beloved 46-foot Post, HalfMine, with a 45-foot Sea Ray Sundancer, also named HalfMine. “So much for downsizing,” Capt. Bob says. Visit Captain Bob and Louise at www.nauticalchronicles.com.