In the Kingsport Aquatic Center’s indoor pool area, brave sailors lined up their cardboard creations, and spectators filled the bleachers as nautical-themed music like “Come Sail Away” played.
“We’re ready to get this show on the road!” announcer Tracy Strom finally declared. “Or to get this boat in the pool.”
The first category, for racers under age 12, made a major splash. A Batmobile boat, a giant pink flamingo, and a Dolly Parton-themed vessel complete with butterfly wings all finished the race with flying colors, especially the winner.
“She’s working 9 to 5!” cheered Strom as the Dolly Parton boat sailed to victory. Although Batman finished second, he won the Best Dressed Award for his costume.The Pinky Flamingo also won a prize: the coveted Dreamboat award.
The next race featured the sleek Silver Ghost, a boatload of Vikings, and the cheerily named Sunshine.The Silver Ghost won that race, but the Sunshine went on to win an award in a later round. Unfortunately for the boat, it was the Titanic Award — for the most spectacular sinking.
The next round featured only two racers: the Pizza Ahoy and the ocean-themed winner Inventor Center. You’ll never guess the theme of the Pizza Ahoy, but it did take home the sponsored Best Use of Chef’s Pizzeria Box Award. The boat may not have taken first place, but its sailors will enjoy a free pizza every month for a year.
Not everyone wakes up before 9 am on a Saturday, but the Force sure did. A boat styled after the Millennium Falcon, complete with sailors costumed as Rey and BB-8 from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” raced against the bright orange Water Speeder 2.0. The Water Speeder 2.0 sped to victory, despite Rey’s use of the Force.
The final competitive round featured the tropical Aloha Y’all, a giant cardboard popsicle, and event organizer Daniel Henninger’s boat, held together by duct tape and pure determination. His boat sank as soon as the race began, while the Aloha Y’all narrowly beat its icy opponent.
After a series of just-for-fun Bragging Rights races, the event finished strong with the Boatload, where each boat carries as many people as it can fit across the pool. Some boats managed the feat, but many plunged into the chlorinated depths. Overall, the sea proved a cruel mistress to six of the 13 cardboard boats.
Henninger, the owner of the fastest sinking boat, was in charge of the event both this year and last year. He has organized everything from sponsor involvement to the boat-building sessions at the Farmers Market, but his favorite part of the event is participating.
“It’s just fun,” he said, preparing to drag his soaked boat to the Dumpster. “It’s fairly fun and easy, but it’s hard, too.”
After the last soggy boats were dragged onto dry land, Strom challenged the crowd: “Be thinking of what you wanna do for next year!”
She also had some suggestions: “Maybe a pink Cadillac — I’m challenging you! Or a Pepsi. I’d sail a Pepsi.”