Splash 'n Saturday 2013: The Great Cardboard Boat Regatta Sets Sail with the Doc Spackman Triathlon

Splash 'n Saturday 2013: The Great Cardboard Boat Regatta Sets Sail with the Doc Spackman Triathlon
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Who: SIU Recreation Center / Alpha Chi Sigma
What: Splash ‘n Saturday: fortieth annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta and thirtieth annual Doc Spackman Triathlon
When: 2013-04-27
Every year, more than 1,500 people participate in cardboard-boat races across the country, racing th
Meg Moynihan


words by Meg Moynihan

pictures by Amy Meier

Every year, more than 1,500 people participate in cardboard-boat races across the country, racing their cardboard creations for the enjoyment of more than one-hundred-thousand spectators. Few of these participants may realize, however, that all such events can be traced right back to Southern Illinois. The fortieth annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta will take place Saturday, April 27 at SIU’s Campus Lake from noon to 4 p.m.

The original Cardboard Boat Regatta took place in 1974 under the supervision of then-SIU Design professor Richard Archer. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s principles of economy in design, Archer developed an unorthodox final project for one of his freshman classes: Students were required to build human-sized functional boats using only cardboard, glue, caulk, and a handful of other materials.

Forty years later, the Boat Regatta has become a veritable Carbondale institution. Participation remained a requirement in the SIU School of Art and Design until seven years ago, when the project was excised from the curriculum and the Regatta nearly collapsed due to funding and organizational difficulties.

Fortunately, a pair of SIU professors, Larry “Skip” Briggs and W. Larry Busch, came to the rescue. Having worked on the Regatta for years, the two felt Carbondale could not afford to lose such a historic and popular tradition. By soliciting additional funding from the city, they were able to maintain one of Carbondale’s longest-standing annual events.

More recently, the Beta Psi chapter of professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma has taken over as the primary organizer of the event and will continue in this role for the 2013 Regatta. Alpha Chi Sigma faculty advisor Mary Kinsel, also a chemistry professor at SIU, explained they have made few changes since the start of their involvement with the event, preferring to maintain the format that has drawn participants and attendees back year after year.

“Personally, when I learned of the event, my first thought was, ‘Will a cardboard boat really float? I need to see this,’” Kinsel said. “Watching the boats race and/or sink is very enjoyable. The participants appear to have a great time regardless of how their boats fare. Since becoming involved in the Boat Regatta, I have heard from many past participants who recall building boats with their children or parents or school groups with fondness. Boat building continues to be a great activity, and the Boat Regatta brings out the kid in everyone.”

The Regatta has drawn as many as two-hundred boats and ten-thousand spectators from all over the country. It has been featured on MTV, in the pages of Sports Illustrated, and in an advertisement for Mountain Dew.

While all boats must be waterproofed and made solely of corrugated cardboard, entries are also subdivided into four classes. Class I includes boats powered by canoe paddles, oars, or kayak paddles; Class II allows for more unusual forms of muscle-powered propulsion (such as paddlewheels or propellers), but prohibits any use of gas or electricity; and Class III is known as the Instant Boat category.

Class III arguably requires the greatest degree of participant ingenuity. Boats in this class are created immediately before the races using a secret kit that is not available until two hours before the Regatta begins. Since materials are provided and a limited supply is available, participation is determined based on a lottery system.

There is also a youth class (Class IV) for children fourteen and younger. Boats in this category are held to the same standards as the other classes but raced on a shorter course.

The only additional rule regarding construction is that all materials beginning the race in the boat have to end in the boat as well.

Entries will race in heats around a triangular course. The top six from each class will advance to the finals, but heat winners may race as many as three additional times during the course of crowning the champion. This structure allows spectators to enjoy numerous races in a fairly short time.

Prizes will be awarded for the three fastest entries in each class, with trophies for the winners. Awards will also be handed out for best team boat and best use of cardboard, along with the perennially popular Titanic Award for most spectacular technical failure.

Throughout the nearly four-decade-long history of the Regatta, entries have been constructed to look like everything from tacos to Elvis. “My favorite aspects of past Regattas are the great variety of boats entered in the races,” Kinsel stated. “We have some very creative individuals [and] teams participate-- and [then there is] the crowd participation in the races. Children love to launch water balloons at the boats as they race.”

In addition to the Regatta, the thirtieth annual Doc Spackman Memorial Triathlon will also take place Saturday, April 27, with participants departing from the Campus Lake boat docks at 8 a.m. The event is open to all ages and includes a 385-yard swim, a five-mile bicycle ride, and a two-mile run.

“We are also planning to service some refreshments-- cake and cookies-- between the awards presentation at the end of the Doc Spackman Triathlon and the beginning of the Boat Regatta to celebrate the thirtieth and fortieth anniversaries, respectively,” Kinsel noted.

Participation in the 2013 Cardboard Boat Regatta is $15 and open to the public. Registration begins at 10 a.m. and races begin at noon. For more information on building restrictions and rules, consult the event’s Facebook page.

For more information about the Spackman, visit the link at <http://www.RecCenter.SIU.edu>.

who: SIU Recreation Center / Alpha Chi Sigma

what: Splash ‘n Saturday: fortieth annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta and thirtieth annual Doc Spackman Triathlon

where: Campus Lake Boatdock

when: Saturday, April 27