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Hope floats: Inflatable Regatta gets relaunch as storm looms

A previously untapped mass enthusiasm for relaxation on the river has made Inflatable Regatta a much loved Melbourne event in just five years.

It originated from Mr Carthy’s penchant for floating down the Yarra with about 10 friends in boats from Abbotsford Convent to Burnley, stopping at old piers for photos and having a fine, silly adventure.

A 2014 float down the Yarra that Courtney McCarthy organised with friends.

A 2014 float down the Yarra that Courtney McCarthy organised with friends.

But Mr Carthy accidentally left the Facebook post for their 2015 event on ‘‘public’’ and was alarmed when the number of those ‘‘interested’’ climbed to 15,000.

He and his friends didn’t have the safety plans, marshals, government permission, or enough boats for even 1000 people to take part, and had to cancel the event.

They spent 12 months studying event management and were well prepared for the 2016 event, which they limited to 500 people.

In the next two years, the participant number rose to 1700 and 2000, but has been capped this Saturday at 1500 people, in 800 boats, to ease congestion.

The first official Inflatable Regatta in February 2016.

The first official Inflatable Regatta in February 2016. Credit:Meredith O’Shea

Participants start at Hawthorn Rowing Club and finish at Scotsburn Street Reserve, where there will be food trucks and bands.

However, for the first time there will be a second event, on the Maribyrnong River at Footscray, on February 29, with a higher cap of 2500 people. Tickets, at $70 each, are still available for both events.

Fans were disappointed that there was no regatta last year, but the organisers needed a break.

Mr Carthy, 35, says he and his friends have day jobs and families, and in the past, preparations have taken up 30 hours a week over summer.

The organisers were also keen to make the regatta more environmentally friendly: all the boats to be used in the 2020 regatta will either be reused in future or recycled.

Mr Carthy said the organisers make just a few thousands dollars each from the event and over summer spend all their spare time on planning.

But the smiles on participants’ faces make it worth the effort.

People dress up as pirates, in Edwardian-style bathers, or as a bride and groom.

One young man with cerebral palsy had a lovely time floating free from his wheelchair, while a woman celebrated her 40th birthday with helium balloons tied to her boat.

He said participants get a different perspective of our rivers as something ‘‘to appreciate and not to throw rubbish into’’.

It’s still about fun. ‘‘We didn’t know it would be so much work, but when you see it happening on the day, it looks amazing. And then a lot of the angst and fatigue melts away, when you see how much everybody enjoys it.’’

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