Its pilot, Gary Spetzler, was dressed the part in furred Viking clothes, a wide black belt and laced boots, a horned helmet and a shiny, sharp sword.
It appeared as if the Port of Brookings Harbor’s premiere Azalea Festival Cardboard Boat Race had a winner before the contest even began.
And Spetzler indeed took the first heat, beating a boat with large stabilizing drums on its sides, the Sara-Marie, bearing a shark on the bow; and a hydrodynamic surfboard-shaped craft that looked as if it could give him a challenge. Six boats competed in the event.
He lined up with the finalists from the second heat, his ship again overshadowing the competition: a triangular cardboard box — the Aquaholic — piloted by Jenny Johnson and a skeletal, tentacled, outer-space craft manned by Ethan Warner.
Spetzler’s demeanor was worthy of his boat: confident, boastful, proud.
But that cocky attitude, at the end of the championship sprint, a full lap ahead of the other two boats, he even stood up in his ship, waved his paddle and sword to the adoring crowd and bowed — unbalancing his craft and toppling him and all his fine regalia into the water, costing him the victory.
Well, it looked good on paper.
The fall into the water — a disqualification — was all Johnson and Warner needed to slowly plow through the chilly water to beat him.
“It was like it was a set-up, but it wasn’t,” said Port Director Ted Fitzgerald, laughing. “Right before he did that, I said, ‘He can still get disqualified if he capsizes,’ and then he stood up. It was incredible. I would’ve paid him to do it; it couldn’t have been better.”
Johnson, dubbed “Pizza Slice” for the shape of her cardboard and duct-taped boat, was paddling in water up to her armpits and creeping up on Spetzler’s boat to take first place as Oregon Sports Rental safety officials helped Spetzler and his water-logged Viking craft from the water.
“When she came in, she had an inch-and-a-half of boat left before she went underwater,” Fitzgerald said. “That thing was barely floating.”
And Warner, a good lap behind and flailing in his slowly sinking boat, made it to the finish line to take second on little more than determination and support from the raucous throngs crowding the docks.
Such was the Azalea Festival’s first Cardboard Boat Races Saturday, with six contenders lowering their boats into the water and hoping duct-tape was enough to keep the leaks away.
Doug Lewis, on a flat surfboard of a craft merely made it a half-lap in the runoffs before his boat crumpled in half and sending him to the docks for rescue. His was the only boat to sink, garnering him the Proud Sinker Award and a miniature gold toilet as a trophy.
“I thought it was about as funny as anything I’ve ever seen,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a great first year for it. Next year, it’s really going to be a lot of fun.”
Fitzgerald knows how difficult it can be to build a seaworthy boat. In boat trials three weeks ago, his crew fashioned a craft for him that was destined to sink: holes at the seams, no structural support and no duct tape to keep anything together.
“They kinda booby trapped it,” he said. “I added some supports, but I still came in last.”
The docks and boardwalk above the docks were crammed with people Saturday, showing them not only a good time, but what is available at the port “besides boats,” he said.
“We got more people on those docks that had ever been there at one time,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d been hoping to do that. We want people who don’t necessarily have boats seeing what goes on and being part of the port. Everyone in the area is a member of the district, so it’s good to have an event and use every aspect of it.
“It was definitely the highlight of the weekend for me.”