Mythbusters would have been proud.
Fourteen teams put together pond-worthy boats using only cardboard, duck tape, and polyurethane varnish — along with plenty of paint and decoration –— and raced them around a course Friday afternoon in Elkhart.
The race, called “How Do You Float Your Cardboard Boat?” is United Way’s kickoff event for it’s fall campaign.
Hundreds of fans lined the retention pond in front of the United Way offices along C.R. 17 as The Indiana State Police dive team buoyed off a course in the corporate pond.
“This is the fourth year for races,” said United Way Executive Vice President Jessica Koscher. “There’s an entrance fee for the team and we give them all the cardboard they’ll need. Basically anyone who can build a boat — in county, out of county, individuals or companies — can be a part of this.”
Some teams like Cummins Onan and LaSalle Bristol have been a part of the boat race since its inception.
“The ADEC team is a great story,” Koscher said. “The clients help work on the boat. And they plan for this six months before the event. They even try out the boat and then go back and make adjustments. They won everything last year.”
If it all sounds serious, it is.
“It is a lot of fun, but these guys take it very seriously,” Koscher said. “There’s more than one boat designed on AutoCAD!”
Boats, some heavy enough that it takes four people to lift them, can be built in any shape and size and decorated as the team sees fit.
“The duck tape can only be used to tape the boat’s seams,” Koscher said. “But I’ll tell you, some of these boats are so well made they could go in the sea.”
Boats are propelled by paddle power and are designed to hold up to three people.
“There are three ways to win,” Koscher said. “You have to have someone who knows how to row. You have to have a boat that can maneuver, make the turns. And you have to draw a good heat.”
In years past the winner of each of three two-lap heats goes on to race in a final one-lap sprint race. This year, in the middle of the first heat, the judges changed the rules, making the heat race one lap.
Because of the rule change, the judges allowed the second-place winner of the first heat to move on to the finals. Both the IU Goshen Health “Centennial” boat and the Eklhart Public Library “Friend-Ship” craft moved on to the finals.
“We were pacing ourselves and we were on pace to win that heat,” said Pop-eye dressed Captain Tom Wiley, a reference clerk at the library. “It was the right thing to do to let us into the finals.”
Captain Chris Martin, dressed as a nurse from the 1900s, was thrilled when his boat easily took the first heat. His co-captain, Lorena Barragan, a respiratory therapist at IU Goshen Health said she was excited but a little nervous.
“That was amazing,” Martin said. “We did practice. We knew we might start clashing our oars, so we worked it and got in unison.”