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Cardboard boats will 'Keep Calm and Paddle On'

By Jennifer Nixon

This article was published July 24, 2014 at 2:22 a.m.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN --3/7/14-- UALR lifeguards, from left, Alex Hall, Meagan Tate, Nate Carr, Adrian Hubbard and Lauren Farrell collide cardboard boats as they try to stay afloat during the the UALR Homecoming Great Cardboard Boat Regatta on Friday. Students representing campus organizations competed for various awards during the competition. MORE PHOTOS ONLINE -- FOCUS GALLERY

Championship Cardboard Boat Races

10 a.m. Saturday, Sandy Beach, Heber Springs

Admission: Free

Registration: $45-$50 in advance, $50-$55 on race day

(501) 362-2444

When a boat is made of corrugated cardboard, it's all about staying afloat -- or sinking in spectacular fashion.

Whether the boat crosses the finish line or disappears beneath the surface of Greers Ferry Lake, it's usually quite the spectacle when Heber Springs hosts its annual Championship Cardboard Boat Races. Individuals, duos and teams will take to the water Saturday in cardboard-only vessels with the boats and people in them decked out in themed garb.

Beyond boat races, there's a watermelon-eating contest, a volleyball tournament, a treasure dig and a sandcastle-building contest. But, really, the most exciting activities will be taking place on the lake, where the races start at 10 a.m. with registration at 9 a.m. Spectators are encouraged to arrive early with beach chairs and sunscreen to get a good, shady spot.

The races are broken down into divisions: adults and youths. Those are then divided further into divisions for solo and two-man teams and teams of three or more. Trophies go to the fastest boats.

Then there's the Pride of Fleet award for engineering, design and creativity, and the Captain's Award for team spirit and "who puts on the best show."

It's not just about designing a cardboard boat that's seaworthy. It's about making it visually pleasing -- and entertaining. Past entries have included Gilligan's Island and The Love Boat crafts.

This time around, the people in charge opened things up a bit, themewise.

"In past years, it's been specific," Julie Murray, executive director of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, explains, pointing to last year's superheroes theme, which inspired Batman and Popeye boats.

But this year, the "Keep Calm and Paddle On" theme should broaden the field and allow boaters to let their imaginations run wild.

"It should be interesting to see what the boats look like this year," Murray says.

While anything may go when it comes to design and costumes, there are still some pretty strict requirements in place for the vessels. The boat must be made of cardboard. No wood. No plastic. No fiberglass. Definitely no metal. Murray warns that they actually have a metal detector and they've been known to use the ice pick test to make sure no forbidden materials have been used.

Waterproofing is allowed, even encouraged, but within limits. Only one-part substance paints are allowed, which rules out epoxy glue, fiberglass and some varnishes. Also, there is to be no wrapping the whole boat in plastic or duct tape.

There are boat-building guides on the website, complete with diagrams and mathematical formulas about displaced water and buoyancy that look straight out of a math textbook.

But even with waterproofing, odds are that a few of the 40-50 boats will sink.

Those that do will compete for the final award of the day: the dreaded Titanic Award.

"It's always the most fun," Murray says. "There are some pretty dramatic sinkings and they're fun to watch -- fun for us, not so much for the people in the boat."

While some might think the Titanic Award sounds like fun and thus be tempted to engineer their own sinking, Murray warns that there are rules in place and they have to make it a certain distance before they founder.

"To qualify, they must at least try to float," she says. "They have to make an effort not to sink."

Weekend on 07/24/2014

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