The annual cardboard boat regatta may be one of those rare events where failure draws more cheers than success — as long as the sinkings are done in style.
The ninth regatta, held Sunday at Lake Sacajawea on the opening day of the Go 4th Festival, didn’t disappoint for fun, though there were fewer competitors than in past years.
Between 10,000 and 12,000 spectators rimmed the sun-bathed banks of Lake Sacajawea to watch would-be scalawags paddle cardboard crafts around a course of buoys near Martin Dock.
Eighteen boats competed. Six sank. That, perhaps, was a fitting result for an afternoon event that was themed “Heroes vs. Villains.”
The eventual winners of the event, Greg Mares, 33, and Al Knorr, 72, dressed as classic Mad Magazine characters “Spy vs. Spy.”
Before the race, Knorr said his wife came up with the costume idea, and although they definitely were in the competition to win, it was more about having a good time.
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“Fun is the number one objective,” he said. “Number two is … I forgot what number two was. Number three is bribe the judges and we win.”
As usual, the regatta brought out participants’ creative flair. The good ship Royal Flush was shaped like a giant toilet. Its bumper sticker read, “If you can read this, piddle faster.”
“I just love this event,” said Royal Flush captain Cheryl Grimes, 53. “It’s just fun to see what you can do with cardboard and what ideas you can come up with.”
Penny Eagle designed and helped build an elaborate Star Wars-themed boat. It included a papier-mâché depiction of Han Solo frozen in carbonite. The vessel was manned by four storm troopers, Darth Vader, and Mace Windu.
“When we build them, we don’t race them, we get others to race,” said Eagle, 52. “We’ve never won the speed (trophy). We’ve always focused on the creative side. One year, we may go for speed.”
The Stella Historical Society’s boat featured a scene from “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” starring side-characters Snidely Whiplash and Dudley Do-Right.
David Huddleston, 14, dressed as Whiplash. The Puyallup resident joined his grandfather John Koehler, who helped build the ship. Koehler said he’d been involved in the regatta from the very beginning.
“I grew up in Kelso, so I was an entry in the very first boat race they ever held,” he said. “So I’ve always been a big fan of the boat races.”
The lone Class II boat was a foot-paddle driven ship with a melodramatic play, “The Perils of Pauline,” performed while afloat on the lake. The three actors were Carsten Winther, 17, the heroic sheriff, his sister Ava, 10, the damsel in distress, and Jill Ferrier, 73, the dastardly villain who ties Ava to the train tracks.
Carsten, a student at Kalama High School, said he wasn’t worried about acting in front of such a large audience.
“I just love to compete and to perform, to be in front of a crowd,” he said.
All three sides of Lake Sacajawea (Lion’s Island was closed off) where crammed with spectators for the event, sponsored by KLOG radio, KapStone Paper and Packaging and others.
One of those audience members, Don Hockett of Kelso, said it was his first time at the regatta.
“I usually end up working on the day that they have the regatta, so this is the first year I actually get to see it,” he said.
He said he only had one simple request for the festivities: “I wanna see ‘em sink. I want to see people swimming.”