For John Wright, a radio ad promising "crazy good times" was enough to get him into the Potomac River yesterday for the Great Rambling Raft Race of 1979.
"When I heard the word 'crazy,' I knew that was us," said Wright, a crew member on a raft sponsored by his employer, a Gaithersburg van customizing company.
Wright was one of more than a thousand raftsmen who piloted homemade boats along the Potomac, a river known as much for its sewage as sailors.
"The water is warm, but not too tasty," said Linda Golacinski, Wright's first mate.
About 350 rafts, including one that was 64 feet long and kept aloat by 820 plastic gallon jugs, raced along the murky river on a one-mile course between the 14th Street Bridge and the Memorial Bridge.
There was a Viking's raft, a Stroh boat and a Bud tub. There was a Riff raft, a fire boat and a hot tub. The Soul float, constructed with plastic trash bins and pigwood, did not leave shore.
"Y'all got awards for just looking good," Ben Johnson, an arts and crafts teacher and the captain of the Soul float, wanted to know."We don't want to get wet."
The event was sponsored by radio station WPGC in conjunction with the American Rafting Association. About 100,000 persons turned out along the banks of West Potomac Park to watch the makeshift flotilla.
"What's important here is all the people having a good time," said Ed Gwyn, a lumber salesman. "People in boats having fun and people on the shore having fun watching people in the boats have fun. Now that's something."
It was a beach party without a beach. There were bikinis, soaked T-shirts and shrinking hot pants. "Look what the water did to my bra," one woman told her boyfriend as she scraped away at some brown crud. "Why don't you take it off," he shrugged. She did.
Sunkist gave away free T-shirt. "Good Vibrations," they read. Fountains of Budweiser beer and Pepsi flowed freely for hours. Fried chicken and potato salad dinners were given away to those few who did not bring their own.
As the waterway became congested (soon there were as many beer cans afloat as boats), the race gave way to a collegiate-style Battle of the Potomac. As one young man gulped from a bottle of champagne, a "pirate" raft rammed his, knocking him overboard. Drunk, his mouth opened as the Potomac River flushed over his face.
"Oh, how gross," he coughed.
In September 1978, a "swim-in" was scheduled for the Potomac River to dramatize that "the running sewer", as it had frequently been called, was clean.
The event was canceled by District harbor police who contended that, although the quality of the river is improving, "it still contains too much bacteria from human and animal wastes for safe swimming."
That apparently has changed.
"We fell in," said Guy Straider. "And we survived."
Nonetheless, sponsors of the "greatest event since the ark," as it was billed, thought it appropriate to present the River Heritage Award to "the raft that brings in the most litter collected during the race."
Preparations for the raft race ranged from spur of the moment fashioning of inner tubes with cord to the elaborate "Jug a Lug," the 64-footer entered in the showboat category by the Trinity Lutheran youth group.
"There has been nothing on our church stage for a year except this boat," said Earl Reese.
Another sophisticated contraption was Hot Stuff, a raft styled after a Mississippi River paddle boat. The venture cost designers Steve Maynon and Paul Susol more than $500 and 200 hours to build. John Miller, a Hot Stuff crewman, helped drink the beer.
"We won the speed division last year," said Linda Grove, another crewperson. "Se we decided to try again this year."
This time, HOT Stuff left shore carrying 10 persons -- about 1,200 pounds -- plus three cases of beer, two bottles of wine and 13 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
They did not win the race.
About an hour after take off -- three cases of beer and two bottles of wine later -- Hot Sutffer Louise Amorati exclaimed, "We're tired, but we sure had a good time."