This July 4th, competitors will set sail on the fifth annual wacky voyage from the Chautauqua Park shores, aboard mighty crafts hewn together with cardboard, duct tape, whimsey, and hope. The horn sounds at 3:30 p.m.
More racers are needed; and can sign up at the Witter Gallery to get an information sheet and the rules, as well as a few "secrets" for making a fast boat that can survive a lap in the waves. There is no fee to take part, and life jackets and oars are provided.
The Cardboard Boat Regatta is the brainchild of Ron Stevenson, director of Witter Art Gallery in Storm Lake.
To jump-start the project each year, he builds several boats himself, which are made available to those who would like to compete, but may be visitors to town or otherwise would not have the means to construct a large project. Stevenson will begin building this week.
"I'm thinking about doing a boat inspired by the old claw-foot bathtubs, with a shower head and all," he said. "Maybe a rooster, and a special boat for the performing jugglers who will be at the event, and maybe a Nemo because the younger kids are really into that."
Anyone interested in a boat "adoption" can call the gallery at 732-3400. These boats will also be featured in the Spectacular parade on raceday.
Did he think his idea created on a whim five years ago would still be around as a Star Spangled Spectacular tradition years later? Heck yeah.
"To be honest, I hoped it would be even bigger than it is. We're getting good numbers for spectators, but I would like to see more people making boats. The more participation, the better. If I had a nickel for everyone who has enjoyed watching it and said they would be coming back next year to participate... well, a lot of people just never seem to get around to it. Now is the time," Stevenson said.
A good example is racer is Denny Hartog, of Storm Lake. "Last year they had the very popular Blues Brothers boat. I think he has been a part of every race we've done over the years. They get the whole family together to make a boat for the holiday, and they say it's the most fun they have. That's what it's all about."
This year the regatta's proponents have even built their own trophies - out of cardboard - as tongue in cheek as the event itself. A 1970s sweat sock, for example, has been incorporated into the prize for the Most Whimsical craft.
The father of the Cardboard Boat Regatta finds it hard to choose his own favorite boat from the years' competitions. "Last year there was a Green Bay Packers Boat that was a 'cheesehead' with the crew outfitted in Packers jerseys.... they sank, but they had fun. Another favorite piloted by three boys had the two bigger ones outfitted as horses, pulling the cardboard chariot with the younger boy. Floors Etc. has created a giant pink fish and a white swanboat in past years.
"People really seem to enjoy it, and it has become a part of the Spectacular tradition,
Stevenson says. "The crowd gets bigger and louder every year, so there's a demand for it."