By LORAINE ANDERSON
SUTTONS BAY — More than 800 canoes and kayaks are registered for next Saturday's Suttons Bay Floatilla.
Organizers say they're confident they'll reach their 2,000 boat goal by then and splash into the Guinness Book of World Records.
The current Guinness record is 1,902 boats, set last fall by Inlet, an upstate New York village in the Adirondacks.
Registration volunteer Kathy Heil said she's amazed by local excitement over the Floatilla and the age span of registrants — from youngsters in families up through 70- and 80-year-olds. Registrants have to be at least 12 years old to paddle solo.
"We've had a lot of generational signups — grandparents and kids," she said. "It's endearing."
The Floatilla is more than a contest between two cities, however. It's the community's unique way to raise money to keep important school enrichment programs alive, organizers said.
Registration fees will benefit the Suttons Bay Schools Student Activities Fund, which make school leadership camps, the annual senior party and school field trips affordable for all students.
The public school system faced a $550,000 deficit in January but was able to end the academic year in the black and avoid state takeover, thanks to contributions from teachers and community, a $183,000 grant from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Suttons Bay Village Council's purchase of 29 acres from the school district for $240,000. The property will be sold back to the school over five years at a low interest rate.
Expected enrollment this fall is 750 students.
Superintendent Mike Murray said he's counting on the area's "last-minute factor" — people who wait until the last day or two to register their boats to fill the gap — though he wishes people would sign up sooner because it helps advance preparations and volunteer staffing.
The online registration deadline is Wednesday. Only kayaks and canoes can be registered, according to Guinness Book rules. Inflatable canoes and kayaks are not permitted.
Registered participants can pick up their registration packets at Suttons Bay High School on Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. and on Saturday 8:30 to 11 a.m. They can also drop off their boats at the school then for transport to a secure, alphabetized storage area at the waterfront.
The packets are important. They contain two identification tags — a wristband for the registrant and an ID tag for the boat. Paddlers need both to enter a roped-off "count" corral along the waterfront Saturday afternoon.
The corral will be more than 2,000 feet in diameter with two checkpoints where registered boaters will be counted as they paddle through.
The corral line be held by 12 or more power boats with buoys in between, said Kate Thornhill, a local resident who presented the Floatilla fundraising idea to school supporters earlier this year after hearing about the success of the Adirondacks event.
The exact location of the corral will be determined early the morning of Sept. 1 based on wind directions. It will be in the base on the bay and partially in shallow water but not entirely, Thornhill said.
Registered boaters can launch from five areas — the marina, North Park boat launch, South Shore Park, private property at the end of Peck Road, Smith Road and South Shore Drive.
Ample free parking is available at the school. Free shuttle service between the school and waterfront will run from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and 2-4 p.m.
All registered boats must be launched by 12:30 p.m. The count will be taken at 1 p.m.
Aerial photos also will be taken the same time from an airplane and atop a 50-foot lift crane donated by Elmer's. Photographs will be available for purchase later at the official Floatilla website.
About 150 volunteers will help with fundraiser, Thornhill said.
Food vendors also will be set up at Marina Park Saturday until 4 p.m. Music also will be provided.
More information and links to pictures of the New York event are available at the official Suttons Bay Floatilla website: http://www.sbfloatilla.com and at http://www.onesquaremileofhope.org/