This is an annual event that's been taking place on the third Sunday in August for 39 years. It starts in Port Huron, at Lighthouse Beach, just north of the Blue Water Bridge and across the river from Sarnia. Participants "float down" the St. Clair River to Marysville, 13 kilometres downstream.
It's unauthorized, unsanctioned, unregistered, unsponsored, and gets the media and some people agitated. But it's a lot of fun. A boisterous and joyful event - playful, quirky and over the top in its sense of delight and adventure.
So what exactly happens in a "float down"? Vast numbers of people gather on the shore at Lighthouse Beach with an amazing array of flotation devices. All sizes, shapes and colours. Some floating alone, others tied together in a group. And smaller groups enter the water on the Sarnia side. The participants are happy, laughing, busy putting their flotation devices in the water, loading their coolers on board (food and drink a necessary part of any serious adventure), and getting their oars in place.
The event starts at 1:00 p.m. All motorized shipping and boating traffic along the St. Clair River is shut down between 12:00 and 8:00 p.m. which is annoying to some. The only motorized boats permitted are those belonging to the Police and the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards. This tanker, the Radcliffe R. Latimer, was the last one under the Blue Water Bridge, pushing hard to get out of the river and into Lake Huron on time.
In our excessively monitored, regulated and rule-driven world of today I find the whole thing wonderfully refreshing. Where else can you see thousands of people in hundreds of brightly-coloured flotation devices doing something as bizarre as floating down a fast-moving river that is also the boundary between two countries? Just thinking about it lifts my spirit.
But the river does move quickly. And the prevailing winds tend to push the floaters over to the Canadian side. In most years a hundred or so American citizens end up on the Canadian side, usually without a passport or any other identification, with no way to get back. They have to be "rescued" and transported back to their own country. This year the winds were unusually strong and a record 1,500 needed "relocation assistance", being bussed back home with a police escort after being "processed" on the Canadian side. It does take effort and resources but, as everyone knows, we're a friendly country and happy to help out.
It was a great day. Good weather, blue skies with lots of beautiful August clouds, and the always incredible blue water of Lake Huron. Just a bit too much wind. A scene of wondrous adult play. Perhaps it is foolish, and probably a bit risky, but there were no fatalities, just a few minor injuries, and some participants who ended up cold and wet on the wrong side of the river. But in a world that at the moment is darker, nastier, and more fear-based than anyone needs, the Port Huron Float Down is a happy, joyful and playful event. We could use more of them. I'm already looking forward to next year.