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Hope Floats The Great Cardboard Boat Regatta is a buoyancy challenge like no other

Synchronized rows of Ivy League oarsmen. Champagne-swilling
yacht owners. These are the images associated with regattas. But
for some Americans, from Pascagoula, Miss., to Sheboygan, Wis.,
the only regatta worth packing a cooler for involves ragtag
revelers in hand-built paper boats. This year, in 10 cities,
1,500 people have entered their creations in local editions of
the annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta. What started in 1974 as
a final exam for students in Richard Archer's creative
problem-solving course at Southern Illinois has become, through
word of mouth, the handyman's Head of the Charles.

There are three divisions: Class I, in which boats must be made
entirely of corrugated cardboard; Class II, in which cardboard
boats may have noncardboard propulsion (such as sails or paddle
wheels) and steering devices; and the ultracompetitive Class
III, in which boats are constructed on site from a "secret kit"
of materials--including cardboard, a plastic drop cloth, duct
tape and nuts and bolts--provided by race organizers. All boats
must hold at least one person for three laps of a 200-yard
course. A crucial ingredient to the survival of entries is
sealants, a subject over which regatta regulars haggle in chat

Waterproofing is less a concern for those competing for the
coveted Titanic Award, which goes to the boat that sinks most
spectacularly. Other awards recognize team spirit, costume and
design. Although there's an award for the boat that clocks the
fastest time, in this regatta style outranks swiftness. "Boats
that look like boats don't get their pictures in the paper,"
says Archer, who has retired from teaching to be the regatta's
full-time commodore. "Our fans appreciate creativity."

Winners have included designs resembling hamster wheels, space
shuttles, a taco, a Lamborghini and Elvis. "After Watergate
there was an entry called Expletive Deleted," says Archer. "And
in 1989 we had a slew of Exxon Valdezes."

--Kelley King

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO Image is everything Design, rather than speed, takes precedence among competitors.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO That sinking feeling In the competition for the Titanic Award, all hull often breaks loose.

"Boats that look like boats don't get their pictures in the
paper," says Archer. "Our fans appreciate creativity."