Raft Race at Summer Camp

The camp staff placed a supply of materials in an open area by the lake assigned as the designated raft building place. Groups of Scouts could use any of the materials there to create whatever kind of raft they chose. On hand were lengths of precut bamboo, plastic 55 gallon drums, and lengths of old manila rope. There was no set raft building schedule, so Scouts could devote as much of their free time as they wanted. The only definition regarding time factor was that of the race itself, scheduled for Friday at 3:00 p.m.

This raft building venture revealed a consideration that was not so obvious for many who participated, either in an advisory capacity or as a builder — a little something called “center off gravity”. As soon as many of the rafts were launched, this not so obvious consideration quickly reared its head, to the shock and surprise of the riders and to the delight of many observers. As soon as the race began, some of the rafts that looked like they’d do just fine performed a 180º flip over. By lashing on their drums directly under the bamboo, without taking into consideration the need to provide some form of counter balance, many of the Scouts had created a center of gravity that was too high, and this resulted in an unexpected and immediate dunking. All in all, it was a great race! And, after the race, I happened to overhear a wet group of Scouts remark, “That was fun. We gotta do that again!” Experience is the best teacher.

Large Patrol Raft

Down through the decades, Scout Pioneering has always consisted of building bridges, towers, and…RAFTS. Raft building provides some unique challenges, and is fun in many ways. Whenever you don’t have a boat or canoe, and there’s a desire to float on, or across, a body of water, making a raft is what commonly comes to mind.

Here the objective was to make one large enough to float everyone who built it—at the same time. Eleven Scouts were present to build the raft, so the final project was to make one that could carry all eleven. Of course that’s more Scouts than are in a regular patrol, hence the name, “Large” Patrol Raft.

The materials on hand were as follows:

  • four 14-foot bamboo poles, about 4 inches in diameter
  • eight 8-foot bamboo poles, 2 inches in diameter
  • six 55-gallon drums
  • one 8-foot x 3-foot, lightweight, plywood board,
  • lashing ropes

The key to lashing together a raft where the frame would be high enough off the water so the Scouts would stay dry (it was a cold winter day), was to make sure the 14-foot poles were close enough together so the drums could be tied fast, below the framework, and remain there! These long, parallel, lateral poles had to be at a distance narrower than the drums, but wide enough so the drums could securely nestle between them.

None of John Thurman‘s books on Pioneering specify exactly how to tie on the drums. It’s just suggested not to use the same rope for a series of them, to assure if one comes loose, they all don’t. The Scouts decided to use, in this case, a 12-1/2-foot, 1/4-inch manila lashing rope, and secure one end to the outside pole with a simple two half hitches, leaving a long tail in which they tied a bowline to form a fixed loop. They then ran the other end under the drum, around the other pole, up over the top of the drum, and through the fixed loop. This way, they were able to put a good deal of strain on the line, without it sliding around the drum, and tie it off with a couple of half hitches, just like with a rope tackle.

The project was a success. They all fit on and the raft floated! For raft building as it pertains to Scout Pioneering, refer to the post: Raft Building.