GOFFSTOWN — Thousands of people flocked to the small village on the Piscataquog River over the weekend, to celebrate autumn, pumpkins, community, and a downtown that is as diverse as the shapes, weights and seaworthiness of the boats fashioned from giant pumpkins that were entered in the 13th annual Goffstown Regatta.
Sunday's race drew residents and outsiders alike to Goffstown's downtown Main Street village, a compact district that still boasts a pharmacy, supermarket, hardware store and assorted restaurants run by local proprietors.
Crews representing businesses and civic groups hollowed out giant pumpkins grown by local farmers. Each pumpkin was turned into a decorated, river-going vessel which, like the surrounding businesses the race was organized to celebrate, reflected local taste, rather than the impulse of far-away designers."I think it's really. really cool. I'm from New York; we don't do things like this down there and I just love this," said Peg Trimble , a resident of Newburgh, N.Y., who has made the visit to the regatta for the past few years.
Her daughter and son-in-law, Goffstown residents, have made the visit an annual tradition"This is a community with small-town feeling, everybody knows everybody, it's nice," said Heather Trzepacz, who moved to Goffstown 11 years ago with her husband Rob.
"This really brings people together," Rob Trzepacz said.
A few thousand people watched seven boats compete in this year's regatta, a smaller field than in recent years due to the facts of life of agriculture in New England.
It was a challenging year for people who make a hobby of growing huge pumpkins.
"Giant pumpkins are not easy to grow," said Robbie Grady, executive director of Main Street Goffstown, the group that organizes the regatta each year. "Pumpkins aren't easy to grow when you're talking about something that conceivably could grow 35 pounds in a day." A wet spring and a humid stretch at mid-summer led some pumpkins to fall off the vine, while others built up too much water vapor pressure inside and simply burst.
Veteran competitior Meg Norklun, representing the Goffstown YMCA, was the winner of the race, breaking alertly at the start, saving ground in a straight line to the finish and proving to be the best.
Behind the YMCA entry came the Goffstown Fire Department's pumpkin boat, with firefighter Mike Battey at the helm. Veteran entrant Rob Bennett, of The Goffstown News, a Union Leader Corp. newspaper, was along for third place.
A couple of the pumpkin vessels could manage only to drift along near the starting line, as their agriculturally-imposed limitations were too much for their captains to overcome. But winning the race was incidental to the spirit of the weekend. Grady said it was intended as a fun event that would bring people to downtown to interact and to see what life in their small town is all about.
"It builds community, that was always our goal; to bring people to the village, to say 'this is a good place to be. This is our home and we have fun here.'" she said.
Other pumpkin boats in the race included: The Goffstown Main Street Program Booth, with Martha Hart at the helm; the Goffstown Lions Club Dawn Domenico, Goffstown Ace Hardware, with Cora Cook and the Mount Vernon Middle School Partnership, captained by Heather Pierce.