Hope floats with cardboard boats
BY David Sharos For Sun-Times Media August 18, 2013 5:36PM
from left to right - lauren hasty, samantha eliceche and penny falcon of Aurora [the eldest is penny]. | David Sharos~For Sun-TImes Media
Updated: September 20, 2013 6:21AM
Some may look at it as man vs. machine. Others just see it as a way to hang out with buddies, build something and see where the wind takes you.
The real purpose of the 11th annual What Floats Your Cardboard Boat Race” — held Saturday at Mastodon Lake in Phillips Park in Aurora — was to raise awareness about the Fox Valley United Way, which CEO Mike Meyer said would kick off its annual fundraising campaign, which runs from September through April each year.
“This event is more about kicking off the campaign and is a public relations event which includes having a lot of our partner agencies out at the race,” Meyer said. “Those agencies offer a lot of giveaways as well as information. The boat races are all about fun and people being creative.”
Meyer said a 23 teams have entered this year — the event’s high-water mark in terms of entries that eclipsed last year’s total of 22 boats. Races featuring just two or three watercraft each were held in various divisions including mechanical, adult, business, and nonprofit groups. Meyer said the amount of time invested in building the cardboard boats varies considerably.
“We had a group last year that built their boat the night before the competition and won their race the next day,” he said. “Others spend months doing this. And despite the cardboard material, the boats don’t become just waterlogged and sink. Some of the boats in this competition have been used before.”
Participants began assembling around 8 a.m. Saturday, with races scheduled to begin shortly after 10 a.m. The scene at Phillips Park’s Mastodon Lake looked more like a carnival or even a Halloween party, as exotic costumes were the norm for the day.
“We’ve been building a boat for 10 years and racing for nine, and we’ve won a number of awards from ‘Fastest Sinker’ to ‘Team Spirit’ award, and at times we’ve gone home with nothing,” said Aurora resident Penny Falcon, who came was accompanied by Samantha Eliceche and Lauren Hasty. “One year, we built a boat for a mayoral candidate that we didn’t race, but all the other years, we have raced ourselves. It’s just a lot of fun.”
The Falcon family craft this year was a “Boatmobile,” which Eliceche said was the final decision after a Wizard of Oz concept didn’t pan out.
“We wanted to be superheroes, but then we thought the ‘Boatmobile’ would be more fun,” she said. “We like wearing the costumes.”
Races were held over a 200-yard distance, Meyer said, and the fastest boats usually cover the course in about 3 or 4 minutes.
“The smallest, simplest boats tend to be the fastest,” he said. “All of them are paddle driven, except for two boats that are in the mechanical division. They work like a paddle wheel with a bicycle pedal type of mechanism.”
The Hesed House again brought a large contingency of 25 crew members who helped produce their Heigh Ho Hesed boat, which Executive Director Ryan Dowd said was built over the past month.
“I’ve been involved personally with this event the past six years, and over time, the boats have gotten more absurd,” he said. “We’ve won our share of awards from fastest boat to best sinking, and it’s just a lot of fun having people out here and being crazy. We like doing this as the United Way is one of our biggest supporters.”
Tom Zimmerman of Aurora, assistant development director for Hesed House, said there is a brainstorming session each year regarding design and that the boat race is all about supporting a good cause.
“This is the biggest crew we’ve ever brought here, and we all are into supporting a great cause,” Zimmerman said. “For some of us, it’s a lot of fun getting soaking wet.”
Old Second National Bank was represented by Shirley Cantrell of DeKalb, whose crew put together an impressive gray battleship. Cantrell said the craft took about five weeks to build and that the design showed “a lot of imagination.”
“We’ve won the ‘People’s Choice’ award before, which is where people pay a dollar for every vote they cast for your boat,” she said. “Hopefully we can win it for the second year in a row.”
Meyer said money from the People’s Choice award usually totals about $1,000 and that the funds go to the Fox Valley United Way.