In the second Build-A-Boat Challenge in Annapolis yesterday, contestants came bearing handsaws to cut wood, extension cords to power the saws, clamps to hold the wood together, tape measures to make sure all the pieces fit and brownies to bribe the judges.
Their task: To construct in four hours a seaworthy vessel -- no nails or screws allowed -- that will, after launching in Spa Creek, win an hourlong race that will determine which of Annapolis' two yacht clubs can build a better boat.
Sweating profusely, 18 teams struggled to make seaworthy vessels out of three sheets of 1/4 -inch Luan plywood, four pieces of 10-foot-long pine boards and two pieces of 8-foot-long pine boards. A bundle of wire and 12 tubes of Silkaflex 241, a marine adhesive sealant, will hold the pieces together when they set sail.
That moment of truth arrives today at 1: 13 p.m. by the docks of the Annapolis Yacht Club (AYC), when teams gather to see which creation leaks like a sieve or glides first past the finish line.
In this irreverent contest of wits and agility, these would-be seafarers need all the help they can get (or maybe not) to win such prizes as the "Fastest Built Boat," the "Pigpin Award [for] Most Corrupt Team" or the "I Don't Know What I'm Doing Award."
Sponsored by the esteemed and somewhat regal AYC, the challenge has blossomed into one of the wackiest summer events in the not-so-wacky historic city of Annapolis. Each team has a sponsor, who pays pay a $300 fee. Any funds left over after buying materials go to the AYC Junior Sailing Team.
In fact, it may be the only contest around where teams are told, "judges are incorruptable, unless the bribes are covert, appropriate, justifiable and tempting."
"This has got to be one of the most terrific events in this city," says Mike Kaufman, a naval architect and leader of Eastport Yacht Club (EYC). Easy for him to say; his team won the "Fastest Boat at Sea Trial" and trounced everyone in last year's race, including archrival AYC.
"Someone on our team asked me, 'Are we going to do the same thing as last year?' " said Kaufman, referring to the slick race boat built last year. "I said, 'Yeah. Win.' We've raised the bar."
AYC members are still smarting from last year's defeat.
Oh, I can't tell you how embarrassing that was," moans Bob Shaw, an AYC member who introduces himself as the proud owner of the "Sink Tank." "We've got to beat them."
Padraic Whelan, leader of the "Carol E" boat crew made up of AYC employees, said, "Definitely. This will be the battle right here. We're getting that trophy back."
From the recruitment of crews to the training process, you would think this two day event was Annapolis' version of the America's Cup. While some plotted strategy, others cross-trained. While some prayed, others went on reconnaissance missions.
Ask about their designs, though, and you would think these folks worked for the National Security Agency. This is no game. It's war.
"Oh hey, that's top secret," said John W. Martin, a yacht insurance specialist and owner of "Total Loss," as he cackled with boyish glee when asked about his design plans. "We've brought in technical people who have been collaborating for two months. We've got athletes on hand. We're doing trial runs, too. After all, second place is the first loser, you know."
Tom Lawler of "Stinger II" scoffed at such extremes and boasted, "Our designer drew our boat up over drinks last night on 14 bar napkins."
But when all else fails, all 18 teams -- members ranging in professions from dentist to pasta makers -- have no problems resorting to bribery.
"Psssst. Here," says one team member, as he hands over his leather wallet as a bribe to judge Dick Lowery in the hope of avoiding a violation. Judges can write violations for any misconduct ranging from wearing a hat backward to not cheating.
To those rascally judges, chips, pasta and fruits of all kinds are offered with smiles. Tables are lined with soda and beer. Champagne anyone?
As the minutes pass and catamarans, skiffs, canoes and racing rowboats begin taking shape, the hollers of "WOO WOO WOO" fill the air for some teams nearly finished. For those that aren't even close, "If you aren't panicking yet, you should be," shouts the announcer with a bullhorn at the 10-minute warning.
For some teams, that means working together with the precision of a professional pit team.
Arms, pencils and rulers blur as designs are measured on plywood. Electric hand saws screech as blades carve out bows and decks, and power drills grind holes in wood. Hands protected by surgical gloves slather marshmallowlike adhesive sealant in gaps and holes to prevent leakage. Then each plank is quickly knit together with wire to keep the glue in place.
Then there were ones like Claudia Debrun of the boat "tir na nog," which stands for "land of enchantment" in Irish, who were just downright confused. Several other teams caught her running back and forth from her boat to measure last year's winner, which was on display.
"No, no, no. I'm not cheating, I swear," Debrun howled as her tape measure flicked across the bow. "My team thinks that the key is to get the measurements of this thing since they won. If we don't win, they're going to blame me for measuring wrong. I just know it.
"You know the horse that gets out of the gate late and never has a chance of winning?" Debrun says, running back to her team. "That's us."
Actually, there's hope yet for Debrun's team. Not a single team missed the 2 p.m. deadline -- at least, not on the record, thanks to a few well-placed bribes.
Pub Date: 6/29/97