Fancy a meal of duck foie gras, carefully poached in a delectable broth, while at Le Jules Verne, a restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower? Or maybe a glass of wine at Salt Restaurant at the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa is more your style, as you gaze out at the calming ocean waves of Fiji?
If you’re lucky enough, you could dine anywhere in the world. That is, if your prized rubber ducky wins this year’s “Ducky Wucky River Race” in Harvard, a small town of just over 6,000 residents.
On May 7, officials from the Ayer Rotary Club will kick off the race, an annual competition where thousands of numbered yellow ducks are spilled by a large construction vehicle into the Nashua River in town before they float downstream.
“It’s something you want to see once in your life — a front-end loader dumping 3,000 ducks into the river,” said Jason Kauppi, a member of the rotary club, which serves the communities of Ayer, Harvard, Shirley, and Devens.
As the buoyant toys coast along to race music, one lucky duck will take the lead. When it crosses the finish line of the football field-sized course, the person whose ticket number corresponds with the number on that particular bathtub toy will win the grand prize, an all-expenses-paid trip for two to any destination on earth, with a fancy meal included.
The grand prize winner will get airfare, a two-night stay at a hotel, and the pricey dinner (but no alcohol, because someone spent a lot of money on expensive wine in France one year, so the story goes).
“People have gone to some pretty amazing places. It really captures the imagination,” said Kauppi.
Last year’s champion headed to Venice. Others over the years have dined in Paris, Tokyo, Dublin, Australia, Indonesia, and South Africa, according to Kauppi.
The “Ducky Wucky River Race” has been a staple event in Harvard for more than two decades. It caps off the town’s annual Apple Blossom Festival, a daylong affair now in its 64th year featuring area artists, vendors, food, and live entertainment.
Participants can purchase a single duck for $5.50; a “flock of 5” for $21; or go big and buy 13 “Quackers” for $42, according to the official rules.
From there, the fate of their ducks is up to the river.
“It’s a very straight course with a steady current. It’s not too fast, but sometimes it’s over very quickly,” said Kauppi. “Other times it takes a long time.”
Kauppi said a race official gives a play-by-play, as people cheer from a bridge and along the river banks.
“It sounds like the Kentucky Derby,” he said.
Proceeds from last year’s race and festival, as well as corporate sponsors, didn’t just send the grand prize winner and their personal guest on a luxury trip. The Ayer Rotary Club used a portion of the earnings to purchase personalized dictionaries for every third-grade student at Ayer’s Page Hilltop Elementary School.
Funds raised also go to other charitable causes. The club donates money to local scholarships; Ramps to Freedom, where members build handicap-accessible ramps on people’s homes; food pantries; and sports organizations, to name a few.
“It’s a great community event, and I think people really support not only the idea of the race, but they understand that it benefits charities in the neighborhood,” Kauppi said.
Video from the 2012 “Ducky Wucky River Race” :