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updated: 6/28/2013 2:22 PM

Lake Ellyn's Cardboard Regatta sets sail in Glen Ellyn

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  • Jim Craig, atop the motorcycle seat, and his crew have come up with some creative design ideas in past years for Lake Ellyn's Cardboard Regatta in Glen Ellyn, including in 2011 when they built a replica Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

      Jim Craig, atop the motorcycle seat, and his crew have come up with some creative design ideas in past years for Lake Ellyn's Cardboard Regatta in Glen Ellyn, including in 2011 when they built a replica Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
    Daily Herald file photo

By Sean Hammond

If anyone knows what makes a good cardboard boat, it's Jim Craig.

Craig has participated in Lake Ellyn's Cardboard Regatta in Glen Ellyn for 12 years and has competed in plenty of similar races elsewhere.

He and his team have built boats that looked like motorcycles, guitars and dragons. Some of his boats have -- how to say this nicely? -- discovered exactly how deep Lake Ellyn is.

But the majority have reached land safely, which, in the world of cardboard boats, is pretty much all you can ask.

When this year's cardboard regatta -- the 20th edition -- sets sail Saturday, Craig will not be showcasing a new masterpiece. His team is taking a year off from competition, but that doesn't mean he's not staying involved.

Craig and longtime teammate Jim Owens once again taught boatbuilding seminars in preparation for the regatta and on Saturday will be handling the judging chores.

"It's a great event for anybody," said Craig, who works in business development at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. "The middle-aged guys can compete with the young kids, who are stronger and faster -- we can outsmart them. It's a creative way of having fun with other people in the community."

So what makes a reliable cardboard boat?

Craig offers some keys to success: don't underestimate how much glue is needed; protect the exposed edges; make sure the bow is cutting through the water rather than pushing it; and paint the craft properly so water doesn't seep through.

A reliable four-person boat takes about 30 hours to construct. But Craig estimates he's taken as much as 400 hours planning and building a single entry.

"I always tell the kids it's important to come up with ideas in the winter," Craig said. "Talk about it with your team, choose one, draw it, figure out the dimensions, make a small model and get a better look at it. Talking about it months before is important."

This year's regatta will take place at noon Saturday at Lake Ellyn Park, 645 Lenox Road, Glen Ellyn. Park district recreation supervisor Jeannie Robinson expects anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 people will come out to see the event, which is free for spectators. She also anticipates roughly 40 boats and crews will try to navigate the 200-yard course.

The rules remain the same as in past years: boats must be built out of corrugated cardboard and be propelled only by oars or paddles. There is an eight-person crew member maximum per boat.

New to the event this year are long board races. Long boards are meant for one person to ride and can be built out of a maximum of five sheets of corrugated cardboard. Entrants stand or kneel on the long board and paddle a race totaling 100 feet.

Also new this year is a coloring contest for children ages 3 through 8.

"We're going to see a lot of creativity," Robinson said. "You'd be surprised what people can build out of your regular, everyday box cardboard."

You don't have to convince Craig. He will be judging the award for the best in show before the races, and he encourages those he teaches at seminars to get creative.

"We want kids to have fun, build seaworthy boats and be creative," Craig said. "Don't just make a plain box. Build something that you think is fun. That's why we landed on a Harley-Davidson and a guitar and a dragon."


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