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HomeNL-2012-02 Reeking Regatta


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:

  
front   back

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 author,

Linda Gorski  





Update:

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.)



Update:

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 Walls 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



Update, August 2018:

Dear Commodore, Vice Commodore, Fleet Captain, Webmaster, Editor, and Houston Canoe Club Members,

I see by web search that the "Reeking Regatta" celebrated their 46th running this year, but I recall that the race really began in 1970, two years earlier. I've been reviewing my old pictures and calendars, and recall with fondness that first Buffalo Bayou Canoe Race, on Saturday, 11 April of 1970. My roommate and I entered that first race, and most races thereafter over the next 10 years, but I'm surprised that the Reeking Regatta dates the origin of that race to 1972. Did the name change and starting point sufficiently change circumstances that you can't claim even longer provenance?

Attached is a copy of the mimeographed sheet with original race info. Although the year isn't listed on the sheet, 1970 is the only year where 11 April falls on a Saturday, which matches my recollection of the event. Sadly I don't have any pictures of that first race, but I've also included a picture of my wife and I paddling the 1980 race - great memories!

Sorry we're not still Houston residents, or we'd be joining you on future paddles too.


 
 
1970 Race Info   1980 race photos in the newspaper

Cheers,
Nick Davenport
PO Box 1244
Mukilteo, WA 98275
nickport@cox.net



Update, August 2018:

My roommate and I were drinking beer in the La Carafe bar in downtown Houston on Market Square, probably in Feb. or Mar. of 1970. From my recollection, there was a red poster with black lettering hung in a dimly lit corner of the bar, advertising the first "Buffalo Bayou Canoe Race," to be held that April. We'd had just enough to drink to decide that paddling down Buffalo Bayou was an irresistible prospect, so we signed up.

I'd grown up along the bayou as a kid, and spent many days exploring the woods behind the River Oaks Country Club, and trails of Memorial Park, but this was the first opportunity I'd had to navigate the bayou itself. With various partners over the next ten years, including my wife, we ran the race annually (never competitively). In some years, after heavy rains, the bayou could be quite challenging, including downed trees blocking passage, which we'd have to portage around. By the time we arrived, most of the snakes had been scared off.

The enclosed pictures are of the start location at the San Felipe Bridge in 1980. I've got some super 8mm movie footage of the start and finish from year 1971-2. I believe it's taken from the original start location from Voss Road and Memorial Drive. Great fun....!

 
1980 Race start at the San Felipe bridge

Editor's note:
Click the image below to see a vintage 45-year-old five and a half minute video of the start of the Buffalo Bayou "Reeking Regatta" race.  Watch for the light orange boat at 1:27 where a guy leaps like Spider-man from the bank into the canoe, and then switches ends with his partner by crawling between his legs. Then, enjoy the chaos which ensues as more boats than will fit in the creek try to get underway simultaneously.  And don't miss the canoe and paddlers outfitted like Vikings at 4:18.

1972 Buffalo Bayou Reeking Regatta Race Start

Cheers,
Nick Davenport