2 towns, 1 river, 5 races, 6 battling bonfires, an armada of joy

A RECORD 37 rafts are entered in the annual Lewes to Newhaven raft race, which will be the central event in Ouseday regatta at Lewes on Sunday July 9, 2017.

It is the 42nd annual raft race, where crews in costume paddle seven miles down river against a hail of flour bombs and other missiles, including water bombs and baked bean bombs.

Ouseday will also feature festivities in Newhaven at the same time. Ouseday, sponsored by Oakley Properties, is expected to attract thousands of spectators all along the riverbank to cheer on rafters, and to cheer the crews of two wooden rowing boats in a new challenge between Lewes and Newhaven Towns (see separate release on Ouse the Daddy Race).

Round Table chairman Liam Jackson said: “ We are flabbergasted.  We had 185 requests for entry forms to this year’s raft race, which adds up to a kilometer of rafts lined end to end. Fortunately this has come down to 37 confirmed entries, which is just about as much as we can handle safely. Still, this has to be the biggest fleet since the Spanish armada.” Applications began flooding in as soon as organisers announced this year’s race theme will be Britannia Rules the Waves, a celebration of our outward-looking heritage at a time of Brexit. Said Liam: “We put up a simple page on Facebook and it went viral. We have 4,000 followers, so expect a big crowd.”

Three years ago the raft race was on the brink of collapse with only four entries. In 2015 the start point was moved from Cliffe to Wiley’s Bridge at the top of town and other events were added by Lewes Rowing Club to create a regatta. Thousands of spectators filled Malling Rec to watch 20 rafts, a boat parade, canoe races and a dramatic sprint race solely for the bonfire societies.

Last year’s regatta was equally successful and the opening parade was by led by a kayak paddled by soldier Paul Jacobs, George Medal, who has become a national hero for the courageous way he has fought back since losing his sight in a bombing in Afghanistan. Paul is hoping to attend again this year and lead the opening parade.

This year Ouseday will see new events in Newhaven, where the town council is supporting a public party. Entrance will again be free of charge, thanks to sponsorship from local firms, led by Oakley Property with extra support from law firm Lawson Lewis Blaker, Veolia, and Brewers Decorators.

Funds raised will go to two local charities that support young people at critical moments, preventing short-term difficulties turning into long-term disasters for individuals and society at large. Home-Start East Sussex, based at Newhaven, provides help and support to young families and A Band of Brothers supports young men in crisis, providing mentors and practical help in turning away from a life of crime.

Ouseday is organised by Riffrafters, a group with members from the rowing club, Table, both town councils, bonfire and the newly-formed and hugely popular Newhaven Gig Club. All regatta details, including entry forms for the Table raft race, can be found on this website built and donated by designers NTD internet SolutionsOuseday.com

Ouseday chairman Gavin Keegan said: “Ouseday has three goals: to unite our community in a day of joy messing about on the water, to support local charities, and to remind us all to treasure the river that remains our beating heart. We invite everyone to come on July 9, bring sunshine.”

Chris Oakley, chairman of main sponsors Oakley Property, said: ” We were blown away by last year’s wonderful regatta and are proud to be the main sponsors of the first Ouseday. As a business we regularly advise clients on commercial and residential property in both Lewes and Newhaven and some of the schemes benefit greatly from the presence of the Ouse.  So Ouseday is a great opportunity for us to put something back into the community. “ Oakley office at the bottom of High Street in Lewes will act as an information HQ for the public in the run-up to the event.

Newhaven mayor Steve Saunders said: “I am really looking forward to Ouseday as we have great new events and celebrations planned for the regatta and for our town. It will make it a truly Lewes to Newhaven affair, bringing the two communities together and celebrating the shared natural asset of our River Ouse.”

Sponsor Rory McColl, of solicitors Lawson Lewis Blakers, said: “We are delighted to be involved in such a wonderful event. And remember, if ever legal problems give you a sinking feeling, LLB will keep you afloat!”.

Allan Key, General Manager for Veolia South Downs, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be making a splash and supporting this exciting local event.  The team at Veolia’s Newhaven Energy Recovery Facility are really looking forward to being involved with the regatta.”

Brewers chairman Mark Brewer said: “I am excited to see the raft race has become such a major family event. We plan to enter the raft race ourselves, so come cheer us on.”

At Home-Start East Sussex, chief executive Kate Lawrence said: “Fabulous that Ouseday will be supporting us and the families our volunteers help, with everything and anything from potty training to finding food, a school place or even a home. In one part of the county three quarters of the children live in poverty. We give friendship and support to families at critical times. Having had our entire £150,000 grant axed with six weeks notice in 2015, we need as much support and as many friends as possible, so thank you Ouseday.”

Find out more at www.hses.org.uk or become a Friend by contacting Kate, phone 01273 612025 or email info@hses.org.uk.

A Band of Brothers spokesman said: “We are already building a raft and we will be sending volunteers to help on the day. Thank you Ouseday!”

Newhaven mayor Steve Saunders said: “I am really looking forward to Ouseday as we have great new events and celebrations planned for the regatta and for our town. It will make it a truly Lewes to Newhaven affair, bringing the two communities together and celebrating the shared natural asset of our River Ouse.”