Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 11, 2013

Suttons Bay hopes for 2,000 boats to float record

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It will take a “floatilla” of at least 1,903 kayakers and canoeists for Suttons Bay to splash into the Guinness World Records on Aug. 31. But organizers hope to launch 2,000 boats in their second try.

As of this week, more than 650 kayakers and canoeists had registered for Suttons Bay Floatilla2.

That’s twice the number from the same time last year, said Kate Thornhill, who is organizing the fundraising event which supports the Suttons Bay Public Schools Student Activity Fund.

“We’re happy,” she said. “We’re getting more press than last year.”

She encouraged participants to register through Wednesday, when the cost rises from $10 for a one-person canoe or kayak to $15. Prices will increase again to $20 beginning on Aug. 28.

The current record for “Largest Raft of Canoes/Kayaks” is 1,902, set in Inlet, N.Y., during a 2011 breast cancer awareness fundraiser. That floatilla broke the previous count of 1,619 boats recorded by Pittsburgh’s “Paddle at the Point” in 2010.

Thornhill learned about the New York floatilla through a friend who had been there and showed her stunning aerial and National Geographic photos. The images gave the mother of two Suttons Bay High School grads an idea. Suttons Bay could do a similar benefit fundraiser for their financially strapped school.

She pitched the idea to Suttons Bay School Superintendant Mike Murray as a way to counter severe budget cuts. He agreed to the idea, and community committee was born to deal with land and water logistics.

“The saying, ‘It takes a village,’ applies so literally to our Floatilla event,” Thornhill said.

By the time of last year’s event, 200 volunteers, many of them students, were on board and assistance was coming from all quarters. The 250 volunteers supporting this year’s event include everybody from kayak trailer owners to the Leeleneau County Sheriff’s Office.

The official count last year was 1,750 boats — 153 fewer than needed to set a record. But the event was no failure, Thornhill said.

It raked in $45,000 for the Student Activity Fund.

Among other activities, the money allowed the high school robotics team travel to its state competition, where it finished second. It helped pay for elementary school trips to Mackinac Island and Grand Rapids and a Spanish Club service trip to Nicaragua.

There are four launch sites for Floatilla2: the main marina, the North Boat Launch (where M-22 and M-204 meet), South Shore Park and Beach Park. Janna and Gary Hoenscheid, who live at the corner of South Shore and Peck roads also will allow kayakers and canoeists to launch from there, Thornhill said.

New additions to the event this year include: rustic overnight camping — $30 for two nights — at Herman Park across from the school and new sponsorships from Martinson Funeral Home, M22 Store, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield that will help offset an increase in the Floatilla2 budget.

The first Floatilla cost about $5,000 in donations and sponsorships, Thornhill said. She estimated the cost of this year’s event at $8,000 to $9,000 because volunteers will get T-shirts for the first time.

None of the registration money goes into the Floatilla operations budget. All money raised through registrations goes directly into the Student Activity Fund, she said.

Guinness World Records set several rules for the event:

n Only kayaks and canoes can participate.

n No boats can be tied together.

n The raft of boats must float without touching shore or bottom for 30 seconds.

n Inflatable canoes or kayaks are not permitted, nor are stand-up paddleboards.

To ensure safety, children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult and every participant must wear a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device. All paddlers, or their parent/guardian, must sign a waiver.

Online registration ends at midnight Aug. 26.

For more information on the event, go to