Cardboard boat race

Two competitors in the good ship Booby Trappers nearly capsized during their race against the Trump Train. The two were rethinking their strategy of using beer for ballast. Photo by Stan Schwartz

A steady breeze made it a particularly challenging race this year

LOUISIANA—Being seaworthy took on a slightly different meaning Sunday when competitors showed up at the Two Rivers Marina with their homemade cardboard boats.

Old refrigerator boxes and other assorted cardboard were joined together by miles of tape, lots of paint and tons of creativity to bring forth floating creations worthy of Captain Nemo. Well, maybe the fictional submarine captain from Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” would have scoffed at these hand-made vessels, but to the crowd that spread out along the marina’s shoreline and across its docks, they were every bit as impressive as the Nautilus.

Big John Wilch officiated the contest from off shore aboard a large fishing boat. Under the blazing sun, the competitors brought their inspired creations to the water’s edge prepared to race. But the big questions were: Would their boats stay afloat long enough to finish the race? Or were they destined to slip below the waterline and be confined to Davy Jones’ Locker? Big John kept up a steady patter of play-by-play race announcing and some family friendly, slightly off-color jokes.

New owners of the marina, Cindy Blaylock, Sherry Moses and Chris Sitton, along with their father, John Sitton, decided they wanted to bring back the cardboard boat race. It had been a few years since the last one, and they were eager to bring a little joy back into the lives of area residents and those who frequent the marina, which sits on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, just across from Louisiana by way of the new Champ Clark Bridge.

Cindy said it’s usually a coin toss if the boats can make it through the whole race.

“Sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t,” she said with a huge smile. She was checking in the competitors aboard the Tiki Boat and Bar tied up at the dock. In year’s past, the race had been run during the 4th of July holiday. Cindy remembered her first encounter was in 1994. “But it was run way before that,” she added. She competed in the race herself at least five times over the years.

They also host fishing contests and give out awards for the best campsite and the best dock space. The cardboard boat race was just part of their Labor Day weekend celebration.

In the first race, two young boys in the good ship The Flame were on their own, because the only other competitors in their age range had failed to show even though a boat was ready for them. Paxtin Redd and Layne Jordan paddled quickly out to the buoy marker, which was about mid-way across the back end of the marina, in their boat. When they made the turn for shore, they realized that the wind, which had helped them reach the half-way point so fast, was going to be a huge obstacle on their way back to the finish line. Their oars plowed deep, and eventually they made it back.

When Megalodon hit the water, it looked as though it was devouring its competitor, the Trump Train.

The rules for building one’s boat for the race are fairly extensive. The type of materials were fairly limited, but that did not stop these racers from fully customizing their boats. One group, the Cincinnati Landing Booby Trappers, festooned their vessel with bras and a foam powerboat engine, taped somewhat securely to the deck. If the boat went down, at least the engine would continue to float.

Even though their seaworthiness was a bit dubious, not one boat foundered, although the Booby Trapper’s boat nearly capsized during one of its races, the paddlers were able to right vessel and continue the race.

“There used to be a lot of competitors in the race,” Cindy said. She added that she’s hoping for a lot more next year.

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