It looked like a high school art class had gone berserk yesterday upon the still waters of Lake Kittamaqundi.
There on the shores of Columbia's downtown lake were dozens of rowboats made from cardboard, painted in all the colors of the rainbow and shaped like tacos, cameras, and submarine sandwiches.
It was the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta, a waterborne carnival geared to fun and spectacle in anticipation of Columbia's upcoming Silver Anniversary as a model city.
Mariners who sailed the 200-yard triangular course yesterday for the glory of local high schools, Boy Scout troops, corporate garbage haulers and volunteer groups were limited to the use of cardboard, tape and glue in the making of their crafts.
From that they fashioned a floating Tara from "Gone With the Wind" complete with creeping ivy, an "African Queen" with a stuffed lion as a figurehead, and a simple green trash bin by a team from BFI Industries.
"This is just a world of fun, just perfectly magnificent," said James Rouse, the developer who founded the Howard County town in the late 1960s.
"I like it," said Emmanuel Schoemaker, a 7-year-old among the hundreds of spectators on the lake front. "The boats don't have motors, but they're going fast."
Each group paid $10 to compete in the regatta, with the fee to benefit Columbia Forum, a non-profit group of residents who organized the regatta as a part of long-range planning for Columbia's next 25 years.
Two of the more pressing issues facing the community are affordable housing for middle-and working-class residents and better transportation for the city of 75,000.
"The strength of a community is in its diversity," said Sonny Crosen, a member of the Columbia Forum.
"Affordable housing is important because it's reasonable for teachers and policemen to live in the community they serve," he said.
"Early Columbia had a value system focused on diversity and togetherness, and we're moving away from that in a lot of ways," said Dennis Schrader, who was on a sailing team that built a cardboard cold-cut sandwich on pontoons for the Leadership Howard County group.
"In many ways we're seeing a drawbridge community" that is beginning to resent newcomers.
Yesterday's race helped to temper that attitude, said Hamish Osborne, who is also a member of Leadership Howard County, which has trained 190 volunteer professionals to sit on boards of non-profit organizations.
"This is what Columbia used to be like when I moved to Howard County in the early '70s, seeing people on the side of the lake, a feeling of togetherness," Mr. Osborne said. "Things like this regatta help to keep the feeling that Columbia was planned as an experiment" for social harmony.
Winning was not as important yesterday as imagination with the "Pride of the Regatta" prize awarded for the most creative design; the "Vogue Award" for the most attractive vessel; the "Team Award" for the most gung-ho crew; and the "Titanic Award" for the most spectacular sinking.