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Eight rafts gathered for the Great Oban Raft Race, organised by Oban and Lorn Lions Club to raise funds for good causes, on Saturday in Oban Bay.
First in the water were civil engineers Careys, practising on their two rafts made from plywood and road bollards and pipes pluckily strapped together, and each with a kind of lectern at the front, perhaps for spotting dangers such as sharks.
Speaking of which, a shoal or ‘shiver’ of four sharks did pose a threat to Careys’ hopes, in the shape of a raft with a white sail (well, a bedsheet really) kept afloat on four enormous buoys.
One of the chondrichthyes was local bobby Andy Simpson, who told us he had to go back to work at Oban Police Office afterwards, possibly by swimming.
Oban Distillery returned with the sleek slab Rafty McRaftface to defend their title, with two new members in the well-drilled six-strong crew: ‘You will see us coming in first,’ captain Callum Rew said, confident in his crew’s training of ‘a couple of drams’.
Now, you would expect great things from the brainy marine scientists at SAMS, but they did not seem overly optimistic about their design, naming it Spirit of SAMS, or SOS. ‘You are going down,’ Oban Distillery shouted encouragingly at the start, though not quite accurately.
Willy Wonka and three Oompa Loompas, aka the Autoglass team, complete with orange faces, green-wigs and white dungarees, arrived with a catamaran resembling two giant silver wrapped chocolate bars braced together, with a golden ticket at the prow. In a departure from the theme, the contraption was propelled by snow shovels.
Skipper Ian Hall told The Oban Times from under a scratchy green wig that, again, their idea had been inspired by ‘a few drams’, but, keeping it green, all the materials were recycled from last year’s raft. Letting us into his chocolate factory’s secret recipe, Cap’n Hall revealed: ‘We looked at what the cheapest outfit would be.’
The Campbell family from Kerrera, on their ‘submarine’ built at Ardentrive, hoped to make it third time lucky this year, after coming last twice before.
Despite being two men down, Malcolm Dear and Mark Nichols of Lorn and Islands Hospital’s X-ray department stuck to their oars, reclining on their lash and inflatable buoy thingamijig, which looked rather comfortable in the circumstances.
When CalMac’s massive Clansman ferry docked from Mull, commodore Graham McQueen gave the order through the megaphone for the crews to start paddling like crazy, and make their way as best they could around the markers and back.
First round the North Pier, like an efficient Spartan army, was Rafty McRaftface, a clear and cool winner. ‘Told you,’ captain Callum Rew of Oban Distillery said back ashore. ‘Victorious as per usual. It was dram good.’
Meanwhile, the tables had turned on the sharks, who were being hotly chased to the finishing line by the Oompa Loompas, but in the end the confectionery industry is no match for millions of years of aquatic evolution, and the sharks romped home second.
Quickly-ish behind came one Careys raft, followed by half the X-ray department, then SAMS and then the Ardentrive ‘submarine’, finishing on a personal best of not coming last.
We counted them out, and counted them back in. One was still missing. Eventually the second Careys raft strained round the corner, pushed along by the ever-helpful Oban Lifeboat’s water cannon. Touchingly their teammates acted as a rescue boat, throwing a line to tow them home.
In celebration at not-quite-finishing, one crew member cracked open a yellow can (was it lager?), while another abandoned ship to swim ashore. ‘It’s a great bit of nonsense, isn’t it?’ asked the commodore Graham McQueen.
Yes, it is.