Howling Dawgs claim quarter century of raft race dominance
Over 30 brave participants took on the cold, wind and water balloon-throwing spectators to compete in the Bering Sea Lion’s Club Midnight Sun Raft Race last Sunday.
Six teams with race-legal rafts started the float, and a few more individuals made the trip in vessels that did not meet the homemade and human-powered requirement. Times this year were relatively slow, which could be attributed to the low water level—participants had to get off of their rafts and walk in some areas. Only three crafts finished before the three-hour cut off.
This is the first year in over a quarter century that Steve Longley did not float down the Nome River. He did, however, have a raft in the race. The new crew consisted of Buddy Okleasik, Ivory Okleasik, Frosty Hughes and Paula Davis. New formula, but same result. For the 25th consecutive year, the Howling Dawgs took first place, finishing in 1 hour 53 minutes. They dedicated the race to the memory of Truman Johnson, Frank Okleasik, Larry Davis and Gary Longley.
A not-so-close second place was the Green family’s Green Machine, captained by Stacey Green. Second place reached Dexter at 3:55 p.m. for a total of 2 hours 40 minutes on the river.
Bronze went to the River Monsters, who finished in 2 hours and 52 minutes, just under the cut-off time.
Next in was Beahs, the last raft to reach Dexter before race organizers left. Also in the race were The Bandwagon and Derek McLarty’s Redneck Yacht Club, neither of which finished before 4:45 p.m.
Charley Reader and the D-69er were missing from this year’s race. The explanation for this is that the D-69er raft literally went missing. Reader said at the start line that he left the raft at the finish line in 2015 and the vessel ended up first missing and then was spotted two miles down river from Dexter. He needs to retrieve the raft, and then, “We will be back,” he promised.
The raft race, running several miles down the Nome River from mile 13.5 on the Kougarok road to Dexter, is an annual Nome Midnight Sun weekend tradition.
Participation in the raft race has been up and down in the past few years; 2016 saw a high of 10 official teams, but the year before that had a turnout of only four.
A final rule is that all crew must be completely wet to officially complete the race, something spectators armed with water guns, balloons and five-gallon buckets always help participants out with.