Annual cardboard canoe race sets records

PHOTO+COURTESY+CALVIN.EDU

PHOTO COURTESY CALVIN.EDU

Some were taped together in a few hours, some had been planned for months, and last Saturday night a horde of the rafts, pontoons, dragon-headed long boats, trains, and Krispy Kreme-themed vessels converged on the Seminary Pond to race, all made from cardboard.

As a part of its Homecoming Festivities, the Society for Civil Engineers hosted the annual cardboard canoe race on the eighteenth.  Students used cardboard, plastic bags and copious amounts of duct tape to create vessels meant to win one of three prizes: speed, beauty or number of people aboard.

The award for fastest vessel went to “The Jamaican Bobsled Team,” who finished with a time of only one minute and thirty-three seconds. The leader of the team of three, Kerala Smith, revealed her success strategy:

“We were in the race last year, so we went off of what seemed to work and what didn’t for the design.  We were trying to work on it a little bit every weekend, but ended up throwing half of it together the night before, which luckily worked out okay!  Yeah,” she adds, “who knows how we won–we definitely weren’t expecting to.”

In contrast to the speedy craft’s strategy, there was “Pilgrim’s Progress”.  This three-masted boat crewed by students dressed in pilgrim attire took home the prize for best-looking ship.  Its creator and captain, Mark De Haan, said that he began work on the ship last June.

“I got the inspiration from my friend in Texas who does a similar thing,” De Haan said.  “They go all-out down there, so I decided to as well.”

Nate Lafranboise, one of De Haan’s teammates, admitted that this was the first time they had actually put the boat in the water.

“We did buoyancy calculations beforehand,” Lafranboise was quick to add. “We are engineers, after all.”

Unfortunately, the maiden voyage of the “Pilgrim’s Progress” ended two feet short of the finish line when the team leaned too far to one side of the craft.  The boat capsized and the entire team toppled into the cold water.

Despite this, both De Haan and Lafranboise agreed that it had been worth it for the fun they had in making the boat.

After “The Unthinkable” fit an astonishing 18 sailors into their spacious barge without sinking, “The Platoon” answered by squeezing 20 members into their craft. Arbitrators granted the award for most people in a boat to both teams, acknowledging the superior craftsmanship displayed by each.

Kelsey Veldkamp, co-captain of “The Unthinkable” tells a different story of boat construction than De Haan.

“We made it in ten hours over the course of two days,” she said.  “We used duct tape, some poles that carpets come wrapped around and a bunch of loose cardboard that we found in recycling bins.”

Veldkamp was pleased with her team’s success this year, especially considering that, at last year’s canoe race, her vessel capsized almost immediately.

“It’s a lot more fun when you can stay afloat,” she said.

And stay afloat the “The Unthinkable” did. After the free-for-all battle that followed the races, it was the only craft left floating in one piece.  Veldkamp made sure of this, in one instance leaping from her own boat to tear the bottom out of an opponent’s ship.

After remnants of the ships were fished to shore, a Dutch pole-vaulting event was held.  30 people competing for a $250 prize planned to race out over a little dock, grab the pole waiting for them, fling themselves out across the water and attempt to land on a small floating tube.

There were several successes, but also a number of participants who ended up very wet and muddy.  The event ended abruptly when one of the students gathered too much momentum and tore a hole in the tube.

This anticlimactic end did not seem to bother spectators much though.  The crowd was made up of equal parts students and family members out to cheer on friends, children and siblings. Based on the volume of their applause, their enthusiasm was not dampened by any of the wipeouts.

It is safe to say, then, that the event was a great success for both participants and audience alike.  For those considering joining the competition next year, Senior David Vander Haak, co-captain of “The Unthinkable” offers these words of advice: “If you have a dream, and you have a lot of cardboard, you can make your dream come true.”