Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A Soggy Regatta

I was treated to one of the most entertaining sporting events barely known to mankind on Monday. A sixty-five and older men’s soccer league match, you ask? No, even better than that. I attended a high school physics class cardboard boat race.

I know what you’re thinking. "Oh, how fun. The kids got to make model boats and float them in a tub of water."

No. The kids had to make full-size boats out of wood with cardboard hulls, put either two or three high school students in each boat and race them across the Olympic-size swimming pool.

It was epic.

The design criteria was simple. The outer hull shall be cardboard. No direction was given past that. So, as you may imagine, there were a variety of different size and shaped vessels come regatta day. (It should be noted that prior to launching, each boat was wrapped in plastic so the cardboard didn’t just melt away in the water.)

One team built a legitimately reusable wooden canoe. On the opposite end of that spectrum, one team appeared to have simply gathered four intact medium-size moving boxes together in a rectangle and duct taped them together. When it was time to race, each of the three rowers just sat in a box. It actually worked pretty well.

I was blessed to attend this aquatic catastrophe because Son Number One and his buddy had taken over my garage for a few weeks building what can only be described as an inverted doghouse. It was constructed of fence boards and 2x4’s, and was big enough to fit both of them, or had they flipped it over, three adult Great Danes.

They formed a bow and a stern (those are the official nautical terms for front and back of a huge, inverted doghouse) with PVC pipes, and then, of course, covered the entire thing in cardboard.

They did some physics calculations at some point with regard to expected buoyancy - after they built the whole boat, of course – and decided that they’d better add some outriggers made out of five-gallon water jugs, and also bring some weight plates along to ride with them in the USS Casa de Perro.

It seemed as if, on paper, at least, four hundred pounds of dudes was not going to be enough weight to get their craft low enough in the water to be stable.

They were right.

Race day came and the “boats” went into the pool in heats of three at a time. It became immediately obvious that every team spent whatever time they allotted for the project solely on design and build. Not one team spent a single minute working on paddling technique prior to the race.

A watercraft consisting solely of the lid to an Ikea entertainment center shipping box is going to naturally be hard to steer, but even more so if you had no plan whatsoever before the starting gun.

There were a lot of collisions

Fortunately for the spectators, the high schoolers in the boats were acting like high schoolers, so entertainment was in no short supply. One team had Viking helmets and a bucket, specifically for drenching their enemies.

The ROTC ladies had two rowers and a machine gunner, manning twin Super Soaker water rifles from the bow.

In heat three, when it was time for the doghouse to race, external sabotage was not its downfall. Son Number One and his buddy made it about a third of the way across the pool before the sheer physics of the situation became too much for them to overcome, and the world’s most unstable boat capsized in spectacular fashion.

The Ikea box finally passed the shipwreck, after running into it twice, to win heat three. The semi-finals were filled with high seas drama, as the canoe was completely swamped twice by Viking bucket fire and still came in second.

The Ikea Pirates were finally dragged down to Davy Jones’ locker, and the rectangular moving boxes got taken out by the ROTC boat’s machine gunner, right before they were rammed by a skiff made entirely out of cereal boxes.

It was a ten-foot-long contraption that looked like a cross between a canoe and a coal barge that ended up taking first place in the extended up-and-back final race. It was in the process of sinking when they made it back to the wall.

The good news for Son Number One and all involved was that grading for the project was not based on sea worthiness. If you showed up with a boat of any kind, you got credit.

The races were just for bragging rights. And some quality entertainment.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


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