Since about the end of September there have been posters up around the marina for the 6th annual cardboard boat races at the marina. When we arrived here in Hollywood, we had only planned to stay for a little while, but now two months later we are still here. The reason we came up to this area was to sell the boat but we stayed because James, our broker, gave us a car to borrow and it has been great. We have gone to used book stores, re-provisioned, West Marine, Sailorman and a hundred other places.
At the beginning of October we had planned to do a 2-3 week trip to the Abacos, which are a group of islands near Great Abaco Island about 24 hours of sailing time from the marina. The Abacos are supposed to be great and seem to be the other popular destination for cruisers who don’t want to go to the Exumas. Things were looking great weather wise as there was a low to no wind day for a nice easy Gulf Stream crossing on about October 5th, but it never came. Instead the wind blew steady out of the Northeast which meant we would have to stay put; conventional wisdom says never sail across the Gulf Stream if the wind direction has any north in it as the wind over the current creates very uncomfortable waves. By about the 12th we had another window in the forecast for about the 17th but that would have cut our trip to the Abacos to about a week, plus we had a potential boat showing coming so we decided to cancel the Abaco trip for now. Instead we did a few boat projects and signed up for the cardboard boat races at the marina.
Initially I wanted to build a Goat Island Skiff which is a famous homebuilt sailboat designed for plywood, but in the end we decided to keep it simple by building a john boat. The day before the race, the big boys and I went to Home Depot and bought tape, glue, paint and brushes while Leah and Ethan had naps. When we got back, the marina guys said we could take whatever we wanted from the massive supply of cardboard that had been delivered for the races. We picked out a few boxes and headed back to the boat and started building on the dock. That night we covered our boat with a tarp and hoped it wouldn’t rain. It didn’t and in the morning we carried our half completed boat to the building area. We painted the boat red with a Canadian flag on each side and because the beaver is the national animal, we named our boat “The Beaver”.
Most other boats were completely encapsulated with duct tape or packing tape but we had read that paint would work too and decided to try it. With the hot weather we were able to get two coats of paint and have it dry before race time. After the paint was dry I added a ton of supports and a false floor to ensure no one would go through the bottom.
The marina hired a Junkaroo Band to play for while and lead a boat parade from the building area to the boat launches where we would race. The races would be head to head with each boat competing in a maximum of three races and getting points based on what position they finished.
The primary design consideration of “The Beaver” was to ensure stability and durability not speed – my crew would has an extreme aversion to getting wet even in a cardboard boat race. As such “The Beaver” was by far the most stable boat of the fleet but could have used a bit more support along its length as it didn’t transfer my weight very far forward or aft from where I was sitting, giving it a bit of a banana appearance in the water. James and Matthew paddled on one side and I paddled on the other. Every boat is a compromise and Beaver is no exception, other boats were modelled off of kayaks and were far less stable but much faster however many tipped during the race and at least one sunk when two people tried to board. These less stable boats also would ship water which would corrode the boat between heats, at least one kayak broke after its first race due to water damage. If we could have convinced Ethan to come, I am sure Beaver would have safely carried all 5 of us through the course a few times.
We completed three races, through Matthew bowed out of the third race and we got a ringer to assist us for the third leg. By the end of that race the boat was starting to get pretty water-logged and weighed about double the dry weight. Right before we got to the finish line on the third race the side of the boat was collapsing in the middle due to a lack of fore and aft support and the water was only about 1″ from the gunnels, but she held together.
One of my favorite boats was called “The Mystery” and was basically a washing machine box taped up with a Dad and two kids aboard. The dad sat at the back and they raced with paddles that were too short for the draft (depth) of the boat. Their boat must have sank into the water about a foot initially and was quite stern heavy once everyone was aboard. Off they went, but it was clear that this was a race against the clock as the freeboard of the stern slowly decreased as they went. As they approached the finish line, the boat had sunk about 2 feet into the water. Everyone aboard must have been wet to the waist and the gunnels of the boat were about 1 inch above the water. Frantically paddling they tried to make it the finish line but it was not to be, “Lil Mystery” went down with all hands. The lifeguard boat rescued the crew and their “boat” was towed back to shore. Some very good boats with only kids on board who didn’t know how to paddle would get stuck about 10 feet from the starting line going in circles, until they were rescued. Of those that didn’t sink immediately most boats finished at least one race.
It was a great event and we had an awesome time. James was a little upset that we didn’t get a trophy but we don’t really have room for one anyway. If I ever run across another cardboard boat race I will be entering again because it was a ton of fun. Who knew that 3 rolls of duct tape, a litre of paint and some cardboard would turn into a boat and a great day? After the races we went back to Viatori and the boys watched a show while I had a nap and Leah read a book. Later we went to the park, had dinner and went to bed. It was a great day!