Penryn Raft Race 2019

I was so excited when I heard about the Penryn Raft Race.

When I was growing up my family had a rowing boat moored at Forder Creek in Saltash, so I spent a lot of evenings and weekends slowly and methodically exploring the beaches along the river Lynher. It seems doubly strange to me, after 15 years of living in Falmouth, how little time I’ve actually spent in the Harbour.

I swim, snorkel and surf in the ocean pretty regularly, but I’ve always thought of boating in the harbour as something that other people do. The raft race seemed like a great way to remedy that, but it also ticked some of my other excitement boxes.

Firstly I love a good craft challenge, and building a raft out of reused materials would be high up on my bucket list if I was the kind of person who had a bucket list. In fact I’d been kicking around an idea of hosting a Packshare Birdman competition for a few months – grabbing a load of business packaging and seeing what kinds of flying devices we could build, and how far we could fly them into the harbour – and this tickled the same part of my brain. We decided to go one further than the official brief of reused materials and build our raft entirely out of mail-order packaging available through Packshare.

Secondly I love that the event was jointly hosted by the FXU – Falmouth and Exeter Students Union – and the Penryn Town Council. Everyone knows the relationship between the universities and the local community is not always plain sailing, and this is exactly the sort of event I think we need to highlight the best of both sides. I’ve worked for the Universities for most of the past decade and I’m just as despairing at how unloveably they portray themselves as I am with the – tiny minority – of locals who dismiss the worth that students bring to our community.

Thirdly we shamelessly wanted the press, and the raft race is local press gold.

So we started by setting our Packshare profile to ask for bubblewrap. This meant that we would be flagged up to anyone in our area who was trying to get rid of bubblewrap through Packshare.

Next I went on a trawl of the town for a decent pallet. Falmouth has always had an amazing culture for scrounging free stuff, and I always start any search by just walking through town and wandering around the back streets. The serendipity of it can be truly amazing, and I’ve found at least two sofas when I needed them most. Currently we’ve got an office chair and wicker shelving unit which were street finds, and pallets are never in short supply.

I quickly found my dream pallet outside of Trago Mills and they kindly said I could take it. It was massive and relatively lightweight, ideal for raft building. You might rightly complain that pallets aren’t listed on Packshare, and while that is currently true, we’re currently overhauling the site and they will be available in the version 2.0 so I gave us a break.

Next we dropped into Willow and Stone and grabbed some plastic wrap that they couldn’t reuse, and I salvaged some printer-paper boxes from work – thanks FXPlus Library.

We cleverly decided to build it up at Falmouth’s own vegan eatery Satellite Café on Tregoniggie Industrial Estate partly because I wanted to scrounge some boxes from their neighbours Falmouth Cycles – who were wonderful and supplied most of the cardboard for the hulls – but also because the Satellite sausage rolls are out of this world.

So a few hours later we had four triangular prisms – Toblerone shaped – hulls made of cardboard which supported the weight of the pallet, and we’d had a very social afternoon being laughed at by friends and family about how stupid it was to build a raft out of cardboard.

We just about managed to fit all of this in the car, and lash the pallet back on the roof so we could drive it back to our garage.

The next building day we capped the hulls with more cardboard and water-proofed it with lashings of bubblewrap kindly donated by local artist – and Packshare raft crewman – Sam Bradbury.

The following day we got a knock on the door and a lovely guy from WeSUP – Gylly Beach based paddleboard/adventure company – had seen our request on Packshare and brought us a huge box of super-strong bubblewrap!

This takes us up to race day. We had no way to transport the fully constructed raft to the start-point of the race so we had to wait until that afternoon to fix it together. We spent the morning making seats out of the WeSUP bubblewrap and reinforcing the hulls with gaffer tape, and then we packed up the cars.

It was really exciting to drive down to the race and pass another team walking their raft down. They carried it like a coffin between the four of them and the whole thing looked extremely solemn. I guess they were as worried about their raft as we were about ours.

Seeing the other rafts for the first time was actually really reassuring. No shade, but seeing a team screwing a wooden frame and plastic milk bottles around an inflatable double mattress made me instantly realise were in the right of company for our cardboard and bubblewrap construction.

So an hour or so of frantic gaffer taping later we finally had a fully realised raft, and with more than a little apprehension we carried it down the steps and cautiously placed it in the water.

And what do you know, it floated!

And shortly after the race was on!

We placed first in our heat, successfully going through to the finals, but it was fairly evident that the Packshare Cantamaran – nicknamed by my brother – was ironically more of a single use vessel.

When we got back on the raft at the start line for the final race, It was so waterlogged that all four of us were already waist deep and once the crowd had finished counting us down to the starting whistle and we dug in our paddles we found it impossible to reach the dazzling speeds of the first heat. Added to that a ladybird landed on Louisa mid-race who felt the need to stop paddling and save it from drowning.

We placed 4th overall – last in the final – and felt like it was a fair result. We had a good frolic in the harbour and jumped off the Penryn bridge a few times to console ourselves.

All in all the day had a great vibe, the weather was perfect, and it was extremely gratifying to be paddling a raft that we’d made out of things that would otherwise just have been thrown away.

I think we managed to prove our point – that most mailorder packaging doesn’t need to be thrown away or needlessly recycled. There are loads of people who can reuse it just the way it is. It turns out that making a raft out of cardboard is a pretty stupid way to reuse it, but luckily Packshare can help you find businesses local to you who can put your old packaging to much better use.

Endless thanks to Abigail Simeoli and Amy James for being an amazing media team. All photos of the event are by them –

Thankyou Sam Bradbury and Amy Norris for joining us on our raft building/floating adventure.

Thanks to everyone who donated us packaging, and all the businesses who received it when we packshared it on.

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