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Postcards from the Windy City - Cardboard Boats and Cock-a-Doodle-Doo


By Abby Stocker

Fri, Jul 5th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

Cardboard Boats and

Cock-a-Doodle-Doo

Dear Readers,

This week’s postcard comes to you courtesy of the magazine where I’m interning. In the past three weeks, I’ve helped update their news blog, drafted an article for their website, attended editors’ meetings, and researched articles. It’s been a learning curve, but the real-life practice has forced me to quickly grow better at writing, editing, and navigating the publishing world.

More importantly, my main editor, a cheerful guy who regularly sings to welcome us into the office in the morning, asked us last Friday if we had weekend plans, and, when I said I didn’t really, told me I should go see the cardboard boats. He said there was to be a race on the lake the next town over on Saturday.

I initially thought he meant little remote-controlled boats. I supposed that could be fun, a good way to taste the local flavor.

What he told me, and what I found out at the event the next day, was that the Lake Ellyn Cardboard Regatta is no race of toy boats around a glorified puddle. These are big doings in Glen Ellyn. Think like the city park during your favorite community festival. The local fire department was grilling. Boat teams and their families, dressed in matching t-shirts, picnicked around their creations. The lawn was covered with spectators, supporters, and sailors. And though Lake Ellyn was small enough to be considered a large pond rather than a small lake, a feeling of friendly nautical competition was in the air.

These boats are serious. One of my favorites, the “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo,” held six people who surrounded a cardboard rooster that was over 10 feet tall. I also particularly enjoyed the “Dead Cow,” which looked like...well, a dead Holstein on its back. The crew, a group of four elementary-aged boys, wore pink baseball caps designed to look like udders. The “Millennium Falcon,” inspired by Han Solo’s ship in the original Star Wars trilogy, was rumored to have taken hundreds of hours to create.

Teams are given 10 sheets of cardboard when they register. Add some glue, duct tape, waterproofing, and you can have yourself a lake-worthy vessel. Add some paint, costumes, and a snazzy name or theme, and you have style. You might even make a statement as big as that of the Tough Tikis, eight boys who decked their rectangular boat with palm trees and dressed in leis, coconut bras, and grass skirts.

The Tikis pumped their fists when they won the “We Look Good” award. All boats competed based on age (youth and adult) and experience (from least to most, the Schooners, Yachtsmen, and Legends categories.) In addition to awards for the fastest boats and the We Look Good, judges awarded for Best Craftsmanship, the Queen of Lake Ellyn, and the S.S. Saturation (for the best sinking.) Dead Cow won the Queen of Lake Ellyn, and the crowd clapped and then mooed. S.S. Saturation went to a Chicago Blackhawks boat that had sunk mere feet from the finish line. They managed to save their cardboard Stanley Cup from the wreckage.

This year was the Cardboard Regatta’s 20th anniversary. Some people have been involved for years; the main judge was a 12-year veteran cardboard boatman. Did it have local flavor? Definitely. Was it a fun way to spend my Saturday afternoon? Quirky, but yes.

The event was a photographer’s playground, and I wish I could share all of my photos with you. Next week, I plan to visit a place that’s all too familiar, yet says something different about each and every place and every time you visit. In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to my editor about the cardboard boat races. I’m sure he’ll love to hear about the Cock-a-Doodle-Doo.

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