Preparations underway for annual James River Batteau Festival

Plans stay afloat despite some COVID-19 restrictions

Despite some COVID-19 restrictions, plans for this year's James River Batteau Festival are staying afloat.

AMHERST COUNTY, Va. – For Ricky Brightwell and his buddies, water in their wooden boat is a good sign.

“When the boards swell up, then it takes care of most of your leaks,” said Brightwell.

They intentionally sank their 40-foot vessel in the James River, then raised it as part of their preparation for the annual James River Batteau Festival.

Participants replicate the boats used to transport cargo in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

When it’s complete, the bateau will weigh about 3,000 pounds between the boat, the crew and their equipment.

The weeklong festival starts in Amherst on June 19th and finishes at Maiden’s Landing, with stops along the way.

Organizers told 10 News in a phone interview that they anticipant a ‘normal crowd’ of several hundred people.

“The river is just as far as you can see, bateaus, canoes and kayaks,” said Brightwell.

The 2020 festival was scaled back due to COVID-19.

And as of this report, Lynchburg city leaders are enforcing certain restrictions.

“Typically, we’ll float across the river to Percival’s Island and there’s a festival there. But because of COVID restrictions, [city leaders] are not going to allow us to use Percival’s this year, as of right now,” said Brightwell.

That won’t stop the boatbuilders from enjoying the event that means so much to them.

“You just pack your tents or whatever you’re going to stay in, sleeping bags, a few groceries, a couple of coolers and you just go,” said participant Randy Lee.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and it’s just something that once you get into it, it’s like anything else, canoeing or kayaking. You get on the river and you enjoy meeting friends,” said participant Roger Huffman.

About the Author:

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.