Saratoga County

Derby beckons thrill-seekers

Many things have changed in this small city since 1973, but the Tenandeho White Water Derby remai

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Many things have changed in this small city since 1973, but the Tenandeho White Water Derby remains a mainstay here for springtime thrill-seekers.The 35th annual canoe and kayak race will be held on Sunday starting at noon. Racers can register the day of the contest for $15.

The 4.5-mile race starts in the Tenandeho Creek in Stillwater at Coons Crossing near Route 67 and finishes near the old elementary school just short of the Hudson River in Mechanicville.

Patti Morris, the assistant middle school principal at Stillwater Central Schools, has raced in the event in a canoe with her husband since 1998.

“[You start] with a little trepidation when you go down, but always with the thrill once you’re done,” she said. “It is funny, because it can be the coldest April day, but about five minutes into it you’re sweating.”

The Tenandeho Canoe Association sponsors the event. The small volunteer group was recently out clearing woods and brush from the creek.

Organizers expect good water levels of between 2-21⁄2 feet for this year’s event.

“I can see this thing growing and growing and hopefully coming back to the event that it used to be,” said organizer John Erano. “Even if we have one or two more craft, it’s a plus.”

Organizers are expecting 60 to 65 contestants this year, similar to last year’s turnout.

Mechanicville resident Sam Carabis remembers the height of the event’s success in the late 1970s when thousands would pack the city streets to watch the race.

“We would get five or six thousand people in the city here. They’d close off the streets,” he recalled. “The banks of the creek were lined with people.”

The popularity of the races waned in the mid-80s after orgnaizers discontinued a popular “anything that floats” category because of environmental and insurance concerns. Last year, organizers reinstated the category after the city took responsibility for the race.

Carabis, 75, will be at his usual post this year, announcing the race through a speaker system. He said he’s too old these days to get in a canoe.

“I’ve got more sense than that,” he said. “It’s sort of a young man’s sport.”

Carabis, the assistant building inspector in Mechanicville, said, “It’s amazing that it’s still alive after 35 years. The easiest thing to do is form an organization. The hardest thing to do once you do is keep it going.”

After the canoe and kayak races, the city will hold the “anything that floats” shorter race from DiSiena Furniture to the Hudson River.

The quarter-mile race will feature the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard again this year, but Erano promised a few surprise rafts as well.

“People, I think, are putting together plywood craft,” Erano said. “We’re getting a little more interest that’s generated from last year’s race.”

The main races are timed, so canoes and kayaks are sent out at one-minute intervals. Erano said kayaks are faster than canoes and a good time for a kayak is about 29 minutes.

Morris’ husband, Bob, said the couple’s fastest time in their canoe is about 45 minutes.

“My wife is from Mechanicville, so we know a lot people. Everyone’s howling our names all the way down through the race,” he said. “It’s great.”

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