Sink or sail, race is good for laughs

Cardboard boats slog through their paces at annual Columbia festival

June 18, 2008|By Shayna Meliker | Shayna Meliker,Sun reporter

Pirates, male hula dancers wearing coconut bras, and the characters of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang braved the waters of Lake Kittamaqundi for a nautical showdown.

The challenge: Build and pilot boats made of corrugated cardboard enhanced with an array of materials such as tape, paint, caulk, glue.

More than 25 teams competed in the fifth annual Howard County Boat Float, presented by the Rotary Clubs of Howard County. About 300 people gathered on the hill overlooking the lake to watch boats race through a 200-yard course Saturday.

Crewed by teams of two to 10 people, the boats featured themes such as the "Soggy Taco," eco-friendly pirates known as the "Green Beards," and the tragic yet elegant "RMS Titanic."

The blast of an air horn signaled the start of each ship's maiden voyage. Of course, the boats had never been tested - their cardboard construction meaning each team had only one shot to sink or sail.

But the excitement from the crowd as boats attempted to finish the course couldn't match the anticipation emanating from the dock.

"Sinking is not an option," said Chester Stacy of Columbia, a crewman on the "Green Beards" boat. The team from MBC Precision Imaging, donning bead necklaces and a stuffed toy bird peeking out of one chest pocket, wanted to promote environmental issues. Team members opted for a three-man pirate ship, a downsizing from last year's 10-passenger Viking craft.

"We're excited, this is our fifth year," Stacy said. "And we want to get a great time."

Ceecee Paizs of Ellicott City and Chris Tsien were not so fortunate. Their boat capsized just as it shoved off from the dock. But the duo managed to get their craft upright and finish the heat.

"I'm the goddess in the front, and he blew it," Paizs joked, gesturing to her co-captain. "But we had a bottle of red wine and two glasses in the boat, and we didn't even lose those when it went under."

Paizs and Tsien are members of the Ellicott City Sunrise Rotary Club, which focuses on helping kids. The club sponsors Interact, a Rotary Club for students at Long Reach High School.

Sunrise Rotary Club was one of seven Howard County clubs to sponsor the event. The Rotarians resurrected the competition - which was started by the Columbia Foundation more than 15 years ago - after a 10-year hiatus, said Caroline Sherman, co-chairwoman of this year's Boat Float.

"[The clubs] are always asking the community for help, and we wanted a way to say thank you," said Sherman, a member of the Columbia Patuxent Rotary Club. "We decided bringing back the boat race was that way."

So five years ago, the tradition began anew. The event is held in conjunction with the Columbia Festival of the Arts, also known as LakeFest, which featured handmade-jewelry vendors, live music and a parade along Little Patuxent Parkway on the day of the boat race.

"I think [the race] is more successful as a spectator sport," Sherman said. "You sit up there by the lake, under the shade of the trees. It's great to watch."

Heather Williams of Columbia attended the event last year, and made it a point to come back for another year.

"I just love watching," she said. "I like to see the boats sink."

Of the slew of awards given - including "Ugly Duckling," "Best-Dressed Team," and "Pride of the Fleet" - Williams said her favorite is the "Titanic" award, for the boat with the most spectacular sinking.

Nesbitt Brown moved to Columbia 39 years ago, and remembers the event when it was the boat regatta.

"My son competed in it years ago. He didn't win, but it was still a great time," Brown said. "My wife is judging this year, but I just like to come every summer and watch. It's good for the kids and families, and it's good for this community."

shayna.meliker@baltsun.com

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