Dawn on the Amazon III motored up the Nanay River for three days and two nights to observe and photograph the 6th annual Great Amazon River Raft Race. We spent the first night at the village of Nina Rumi. Before the roosters crowed, the sounds of machetes echoed through the fog as the teams streamlined the balsa logs they chose for their rafts.These rafts were not so much built as engineered. The race did not start until 11:00 a.m. and most teams were still testing and modifying their rafts at 10:45. I circulated among the rafts like a man studying horses before placing his bet and took an interest in 4 rafts that I perceived as being the most hydrodynamic.
One raft in particular caught my attention. It was built in secrecy by a small group who had camped and fished by themselves overnight on the sandbar across the river. I heard them laughing into the night and knew they were having fun. We took my jon boat across to spy on them.
They had conceived an experimental design using 7 balsa logs shaped very slim, charred over the fire to make them dry and buoyant, sanded, and then painted so they would not absorb water during the long race. The original plan called for 8 balsa logs but they decided 7 were advantageous and left the eighth on the beach.
They were delighted with the interest we showed and were happy to share their secrets with us. They showed us the big tub of fish they were cleaning and salting to save for the second day of the race. I chose them, # 21, Los Bikingos, to win. They tied their raft together using light fishing net line, tested it, retied, tested, retied and tested several times. I knew I had picked a winner.
We took the jon boat back to Nina Rumi and studied the other rafts and teams, comparing them to Los Bikingos. I started loosing confidence in my choice when I learned that the Amazon Golf Club team had a ringer. One of their members had won every canoe competition he had participated in. I looked at the rest of the Amazon Golf Club team and saw they were all big strong athletes. I decided to choose them to cover my bets.
Then I found out the team that won last year was back to defend their title. They were all dressed in red with matching red paddles and a big # 1. They looked like a NASCAR team. I switched my allegiance to them, Los 4 Amigos, when I found out they were from Santa Clara and had home court advantage.
My sentimental favorite was # 91, Los Moshacos, because my buddy Jocko was part of that team. Jocko’s team got off to a good start but within 30 seconds it was obvious my sentimental favorite was a bad choice. Los Moshacos finished the first leg of the race at Santa Clara a respectable 11th place, but out of contention.
No one told me team # 10, Los Increìbles de Padre Cocha, was unbeatable. They were soon out of sight and the race was for second and third. The Amazon Golf Club got to Santa Clara second, seven minutes and 36 seconds behind Los Increìbles.
My original favorites Los Bikingos finished a disappointing 29 minutes off the pace in 5th place. I admired them again because they immediately paddled across the river to the solitude of a sandbar, and began working on their raft. I watched them untie, and reconstruct and tie back and practice and untie and start over until after dark. When I got up at 5:30 the next morning they were already refining the design.Under cover of darkness, the other three members of Jocko’s team left him and returned to Iquitos. He vowed to finish the race by himself. Fortunately for Jocko, when the rest of the crews found out his team had abandoned ship, they stripped his raft and used the pieces to modify and improve their rafts. Jocko was disqualified because he had no team and no raft.
In the end, Los Increìbles de Padre Cocha were incredible. They used the current and the wind as their friends. Everyone else tried to cut corners short and stalled in the slack water of the sand points with the wind in their faces, and fell behind. Los Increìbles paddled farther, stayed in the channel, tucked in close to the steep river bank out of the wind, and went faster, earning the S/1000 first prize money, finishing the 50 kilometers over 18 minutes ahead of Los Hermanos, another team that I overlooked. 2nd place paid S/600. Los Amigos finished 3rd for S/400. The Amazon Golf Club finished 4th and Los Bikingos finished 5th, both out of the money, but with a lot of pride.
We had a great time, learned a lot, and are making plans for next year’s race. Dawn on the Amazon will sponsor an international team. Please send me your resumes. We will be taking Dawn on the Amazon III again.
Visit this link of our online photo album to see more pictures of the Great River Amazon Raft Race. Anyone who would like to enjoy the race in comfort with gourmet food, cold beer, cool wine, and good company should contact me for details.
Bill Grimes, Captain of Dawn on the Amazon