The Southend Raft Race was a charity event organised and ran the crews of the Southend RNLI, the event was a major fund raising event in aid of the lifeboat.
The first Raft Race was ran in 1976, those taking part included companies supporting their own staff, as well as independent members of the public.
Each team would design and build their own raft at home or in the staff car park, they would then race along the sea front from Thorpe Esplanade to Southend Pier and back again about half a mile out from the shoreline.
Many would make it the length of the course, however many would not and either capsize or sink midway through the race or just break apart upon entering the water!
Once out and “sailing” a war upon the waves would break out with water bombs and flour bombs being thrown by the crews.
There were a number of trophies up for grabs in various different classes these consisted of: Speed raft, Fun Raft, All Ladies Crew, Most Original, Best Fancy Dress and Most Money Raised (Essex Police being a regular winner).
The 6th annual Raft Race in 1981 saw some 80 rafts taking part including entries from Marks and Spencer, Southend Hospital, various Essex Police Services, various Essex Fire Brigades and the HM Prison Service.
The 7th annual Raft Race was held on Saturday 26th June & Sunday 27th June 1982 the event saw Saturday 26th being a sailing raft race whilst Sunday 27th was the paddling raft race. At the end of the 1982 Raft Race the grand total collected from the very first event had passed £35,000.
The Sunday of the 1982 event also saw a special charity event launched to co-inside with the Southend Raft Race, Canvey Police’s “The Old (Steamboat) Bill” was crewed by a team from Canvey Police for the Raft race.
However to deliver the boat to Southend for the race it was decided not to transport the raft by road but to by sea!
The raft was paddled Canvey Island to the Westcliff Leisure Centre. The paddle was to raise money
for the South Atlantic Fund. Six of the eight man crew were members of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Service. All those taking part had returned from the Falklands war, the money raised too aid those who had returned injured, they also undertook a street collection along the seafront and beaches between Leigh-on-Sea and Westcliff-on-Sea, the street collection was undertaken by off duty Police Officers.
The 10th anniversary Raft Race1was held in July 1985 with saw some 110 rafts taking to the water, the 14th Raft Race was held on Sunday 9th July 1989.
The 16th and last Raft Race was held in 1991, in the 16 years that the raft race was held it raised enough money to buy three D-Class inshore semi-ridged inflatable lifeboats.
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