Bobbing along the Hudson River in a boat made of cardboard and Duck Tape?
Yep, it’s a little crazy. But if your DIY dinghy goes down, no worries. That’s just part of the fun of the Cardboard Boat Races at Fort Hardy Park in Schuylerville. Sometimes half of the handmade boats sink in one of the races.
“Everybody is just laughing so hard. To see the joy on the peoples’ faces is just what it’s all about,” says Julie White, a co-organizer of this year’s 15th annual event.
On Saturday, more than 60 handmade boats, powered only by paddles or human hands, will compete, and in each race, one of the awards will be The Titanic, which goes to the boat that sinks the fastest or most dramatically. There are also awards for “most enthusiastic crew” and “most sailors left afloat.”
Children, adults, families, non-profit organizations, small businesses and corporations are welcome to make boats and race.
“It’s everybody and anybody,” says Kate Morse, director of Hudson Crossing Park in Schuylerville, which organizes the race and uses the money raised to pay for its year-round science and local history programs. “We have a lot of kids take part but a lot of adults get into it as well and have a blast. We’ve had organizations and businesses challenge each other.”
The rules are simple. Sailors must wear flotation vests, and boats must be made of materials or with paint that doesn’t pollute the river. There’s even a category for boats created with 100 percent recyclable materials.
“People start arriving about 8 a.m. to start building boats,” says Morse. “We do have some people who have been building them for weeks, months and days ahead of time. Other people just throw caution to the wind and show up that morning and build,” says Morse.
For landlubbers, the event is like an outdoor festival, with live music by local youth bands. The Schuylerville Rotary Club will grill hot dogs and hamburgers. Pizza is on the menu for vegetarians.
This year, the boat race theme is “Cosmic Cardboard,” which mirrors the New York State Summer Reading Program and its space-and-science themed “A Universe of Stories” program at libraries. Last year, for the first time, one of the boat races was a competition between local library branches.
Since “cosmic” can also be interpreted as “hippie” or New Age, there will be a tie-dye t-shirt station. At other tables along the shoreline, race-goers can learn about canal locks and navigation. Wilton Wildlife Preserve and local libraries will provide activities for children.
According to White, a Hudson Crossing Park board member, the boat races are attracting more spectators every year.
“People come and spend the day,” adds Morse. “They watch people building, they enjoy the activities, they hang around and watch the races.”
Jack Scott of Saratoga Springs, who took first place last year in the libraries competition, will be defending his title of Library Champion.
“The most critical point is the launch, when you find out if your boat sinks or if it’s tippy,” Scott says. “You hear people screaming ‘we’re going under.’”
A few weeks ago, he showed off his brand-new, Cosmic-themed craft at the Southern Adirondack Library System in Saratoga Springs, where he works as a technical and youth services consultant.
Eight-and-a-half feet long and made only with recycled cardboard and six colors of Duck Tape, the boat looks like a sleek rocket with a pointy nose cone and sprays of red-and-orange “fire” spewing from the rear. The interior is tight, with just enough room for Scott to sit inside.
It took Scott and co-worker Jill Ryder five hours to put it together.
“We collected cardboard throughout the year,” Scott says. “First we built the structure and then we made it colorful and fun.”
In Schuylerville, White and her husband Troy plan to honor the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 mission. “We’re going to try to make a boat that looks like a cardboard moon boot,” she says.
The couple’s son and daughter are grown up but when they were teen-agers, the family made cardboard boats together. “Even though we ended up with puddles of glue in our living room and paint all over the place, it was really a fun thing for us to do.”
One summer, father and son made a “Blues Brothers” boat in the shape of a sedan and sailed the boat dressed like Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, with sunglasses and fedoras.
“That was a really cool boat but it took up our entire house for probably three weeks,” White days.
“It’s non-stop amusement,” adds Morse. “Some boats go down before they reach the starting line. Others will fly around the buoy [to the finish line]. I’m continually impressed at what they create.”
Morse is hoping for the return of a boat designed to look like a UFO.
“It was a big saucer-style. Everyone looked at that thing and said ‘that’s going down first,’ but it won ... There have been some beautiful boats, like one painted like bluebirds. One year we had a Red Hat Society group of retired ladies who were all out there, bedecked and bedazzled.”
While the event is focused on Hudson Crossing Park and its programs, White says there are other goals.
“It’s trying to get kids and their families to appreciate nature, get outside, to get away from your computers. They do some STEM work without realizing it.”
The event also teaches children about the Hudson. “We’ve got to plant that seed in them, that the river is a great resource, that we have to protect it.”
“It’s all ages participating in a really cool event,” Scott says. “It’s not about winning. It’s about having a good time.”
15th annual Cardboard Boat Races
WHAT: Adults and children in handmade cardboard boats on Hudson River. Live music, food, activities for kids.
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10; boat building begins at 8 a.m., races start at 1 p.m. (Rain date is Sunday, Aug. 11)
WHERE: Fort Hardy Park, Route 29, Schuylerville
HOW MUCH: Free for spectators. Race registration in advance online or day of race is $20 per sailor, $50 maximum per boat. Build your boat in advance and bring it to event or build it on site the morning of the race. Non-profit organizations, small businesses and corporations welcome to race.
MORE INFO: www.hudsoncrossingpark.org, Facebook, (518) 350-7275