The Mystery of the Reeking Regatta Belt Buckle
by Linda Gorski
As all of you know, our good friend and fellow paddler Bob Arthur passed away recently. As several of us were helping his sons sort through his belongings we came across this belt buckle:
None of the longtime HCC members present that day – John and Cindy Bartos, Ann Derby, Mary Carter - ever remember seeing this buckle. As you can see, the front of the buckle has the words “Reeking Regatta” with a canoeist whose face is covered with a gas mask.
The Reeking Regatta was the forerunner of today’s popular Buffalo Bayou Regatta which is held every March. According to several newspaper articles we’ve uncovered in our research into the history of the buckle, the regatta was the brainchild of Wayne Walls in 1969. According to a 2009 Houston Chronicle article by Lisa Gray, the Bayou in 1969 had reached rock-bottom, environmentally: “Some of Houston’s sewage-treatment plants discharged directly into the bayou. The water stank, and its fecal bacterial counts were commonly 100 times that considered safe for recreational boating.”
The article continues: “Walls and his friends from the Houston Canoe Club paddled the bayou anyway. And they thought that if more people did, too, they’d see that it was worth saving. They scrounged up a few hundred dollars and launched what they called “The Reeking Regatta: The World’s Smelliest Canoe Race.” Someone designed posters and a logo with a canoeist wearing a gas mask.” (see the rest of Gray’s article here at Chron.com.)
The name Reeking Regatta was changed in 1990 to the Buffalo Bayou Regatta because, according to organizers at the time, “the bayou where it's held is recovering from its pungent pollution problems.”
Still, the quest to solve the mystery of the Reeking Regatta buckle continues. On the back of the buckle is engraved “Blue Bayou Brass Houston Texas”. I got on the internet the other night and was shocked to see that the brass company is still operating on Huldy Street at Westheimer… just five or six blocks from where I live in the Montrose-River Oaks Area! I stopped by to see the owner and he distinctly remembered producing the buckle but could not remember for whom he made it, how many he made or when. Since he also produces most of the buckles and other brass items for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, he was a little busy when I dropped by but said he’d pull the file and contact me later.
Soooo – I’m asking all of you HCC members – have you ever seen this buckle? Do you have one? When did you receive it? Do you know anything about it?
We’ll be writing a longer article in the next HCC Waterline about the history of the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, Texas’ largest canoe and kayak race, which will be held for the 39th year on March 10, 2012. Anyone ages 12 and up can participate. Every year many HCC members either paddle or help manage the race and I’m sure this year will be no exception.
Oh -- and we’ll also report “the rest of the story” about the buckle.
The January 25, 2017 Houston Chronicle Newspaper had a feature photo story called "What did Houston look like in 1987?"
Photos number 29 and 30 featured the two black and white images below, with the caption: "April 1987 - 18th annual Reeking Regatta canoe & kayak. Starting off at the Voss Bridge on San Felipe into the headwaters of Buffalo Bayou. Carrie Beth Tucker / Houston Chronicle."
So, 1987 minus 18 years means this event started in 1969. The Reeking Regatta evolved into the Buffalo Bayou Regatta which is still held every year to this day.
(Click thumbnail images to enlarge.)
I read the article on the Reeking Regatta. I would like to contribute what I know.
I joined HCC in late 1969 or early 1970. Not sure of the exact date. At one time earlier than that Tom Goynes and Wayne Walls had been in the canoe livery business together at a shop near Broadway street. There were some disagreements over business matters and they parted ways. Tom Goynes founded the "Texas Canoe Racing Association" in the fall of 1969 or 1970 at a HCC meeting at the fire station on Winkler, near Howard street. I just remember it was cold at the fire station. Wayne would not comply with TCRA rules, or something, for the 1970 regatta so Tom boycotted that year only. I watched the 1970 race which started at the country club on the North West bank of Buffalo Bayou at Voss Road. I believe the race started there in 1971 & 72. After that the start of the race started up stream at the San Felipe bridge just west of Voss. I participated in the reeking regatta for the next seven years, and several times later. I never finishing better than 4th place in the USCA competition cruiser class. Trophies were only given out to third place. Sometimes they were standard trophies. Other times the trophies were more creative. One year first prize was a giant styrofoam cup. Belt Buckles were given as trophies in the early 1970's Wayne Wally was able to get sponsorships from Falstaff in 1972 & 1974. Pearl Beer was a sponsor several times. Coors was a sponsor several times after they started distribution in Texas. Trophies depended on how much money was generated from sponsors.
- Lewis Massingill