Debbie Bass and Dawn Lesterson, both of Sterling, prepare to set sail on their "Fiesta Float" during the 28th annual Moose River Raft Parade on Saturday.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
As many could attest to Saturday afternoon during the 28th annual Moose River Raft Parade in Sterling, Dave Pooler doesn't quite come hell or -- as was the case in the parade -- high water.
Pooler found out almost immediately at the put-in site that his watercraft wasn't as waterproof as it needed to be.
"It looked good on paper, but we've got some water problems," said his wife, Leora Pooler.
Above, Debbie Bass and Dawn Lesterson, both of Sterling, prepare to set sail on their "Fiesta Float" during the 28th annual Moose River Raft Parade on Saturday. Below, a small crowd cheers as Dave Pooler and Steve Battershall get a little assistance from a motorboat Saturday. Their craft began taking on water almost immediately.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
The homemade canoe was constructed of milled lathes caulked with spray-in insulation foam made buoyant by dozens of empty rum, whiskey and soda bottles attached to the hull with chicken wire.
At the rate Pooler was taking on water, not even the tiny kicker motor he had mounted to the back for added propulsion was going to be enough to get him the roughly one mile downriver to Izaak Walton State Park. The vessel, dubbed the "Patent Pending U.S.S. Baltilaus" would sink first, taking down everything, including the fluorescent orange caribou antlers protruding from the bow.
Things were looking bleak and even Pooler's wife was starting to think his participation in the parade might be over before it began.
"We've been doing this off and on for 20 years and this is the first time we've had to wash out," she said.
The crowd of slightly more than a dozen onlookers at the put-in point a fraction of the number waiting downriver at the Sterling Highway bridge kept cheering Pooler on. He wanted to give it a go, but seemed unsure how to get it done.
That's when "Mosher Steve" Battershall stepped forward and said, "Come on Pooler. We're doing this."
The two improvised a plan to take the tiny motor off the boat to make it more buoyant and use a line to tie the canoe to one of the handful of motorboats in the water that served as safety vessels in case anything went wrong during the parade.
While the water in the vessel was almost over the gunnels and the two men were a little wet themselves, they made it all the way to the pull-out point.
"I was getting a little nervous for a while there. We took on about 10 inches of water in the back, but only four in the front," Pooler said from the dock at Isaak Walton.
Battershall said he talked Pooler into sticking with his leaky craft because he didn't want to see one of the founders of the event not be able to participate.
"I'd hate to see him go through all that hard work and not come away a hero by carrying on the tradition," he said.
In all, a half dozen rafts made up the flotilla. There were the "Alaskan Rebels" flying the confederate flag while crooning country tunes on acoustic guitars as they made their way downriver. Cotton Moore, a Sterling sourdough, was among them and served as the grand marshal for this year's parade.
"I've been down this river so many times, but today was excellent. I had a good time and it was a privilege to be the marshal," he said.
A pirate ship complete with skulls and crossbones on the sails floated not far away from the rebels. The Wash Out Laundromat took to the water in a tiny dinghy with a sail made of clothes and a banner that read "Wash Out Cancer," which spoke to the other purpose of the parade.
"This is also a charity event and we try to raise as much money as we can to give to cancer charities," said Debbie Bass, a parade organizer and participant
Bass, along with Dawn Lesterson, rode a craft they dubbed as the "Fiesta Float." Dressed in fruit-colored clothing and large sombreros, they rode a raft filled with an inflatable cactus and cardboard cutouts of different brands of tequila, including one so large it doubled as a sail. On the back it displayed their float's theme, which was "Ta-kill-ya cancer."
"We've done fishermen, flappers, there's been lots of themes in the past," Bass said.
Lesterson said roughly $3,000 dollars were raised for charity last year and she was looking forward to a similar sum again.
"Hopefully, it'll be close," she said.
Following the parade there was a barbecue behind Bing Brown's and an auction to raise more money.
Bass said she would like to see the event continue to grow.
"I'd like to see 15 or 20 rafts out there one year," she said.
Bass added that even though there were only a handful of rafts this year, she still believed the event was a success.
"The community got together and had a good time for a good cause and no one sunk," she said. "Although it was close for Pooler."
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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