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Plywood Regatta

by Dan Fye

On Saturday April 16 and Sunday April 17 of this year the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, sponsored an event that they call the Plywood Regatta. It was in fact the 9th annual rendition of this event. It is a boatbuilding contest for teenagers that pits teams of up to 8 kids in the construction and racing of boats that they design and build themselves. Each team also has adult mentors who can coach but not actually build. My team was my son's Boy Scout Venture Crew. Each team also requires a sponsor since there is an entry fee. Our (enthusiatic!) sponsor was Thomas Marine Systems. In addition to being active scout parents they are the owners of a top notch marine refrigeration and air conditioning company.

We had participated in a similar contest once before, sponsored by the Sea Scouts, but that was more of a boat assembling contest since the pieces of the boat were already cut out. We assembled them with 3M 5200 and drywall screws. They were little flat bottom barges (the bottom of the boat was a 4'x8' sheet of plywood) and took up to 4 paddlers. Since most of my kids are pretty big, 4 of them really weighed the boat down so that although they were fast they always sank before the finish line. I have a great memory of one of my guys standing at attention and saluting the crowd as our boat sank under the waves.

For the Plywood Regatta however, the boats had to be of the teams' own design and they had to build them completely in one day. On Saturday morning each team is given (3) 4x8 sheets of ¼“ luan plywood, (2) 8 foot 2 x 2's and (4) 10 foot 1x2's as well as lots of cable ties and 12 tubes of 3M5200. That's right – no nails or screw. The entire boat is held together with adhesive. The cable ties are to hold things together while the adhesive dries but they have to be removed on Sunday morning before the boat can be raced On Sunday the teams race the boats against each other with 2 paddlers in each boat. (The teams must also make their own paddles.) Each team must put 2 people in the boat for each race, but the paddlers can be changed from one race to the next.

We had decided on a design that was a simplified version of a flat bottom canoe that I found for free on line. The kids are not allowed to bring plans or written info of any kind, so we had to come with the basic half- breadths of the bottom memorized. We actually needed only the dimensions for ½ of the bottom since the boat would be symetrical fore and aft.

Once the bottom was made, all other pieces would be cut to fit. We spent a lot of time getting the initial cuts marked, cut and sanded (60 and 36 grit) to the dimensions that we had memorized.
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Planes were not necessary since 1/4” luan is actually 3/16 “ thick and the finish work can be done easily with coarse grit sandpaper. The kids then began to fit, cut and assemble the rest of the pieces. The photos show some of the stages of construction.
We brought plenty of latex gloves to keep the 5200 and the paint off of everyone's hands (ha ha!).
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What we ended up with was a 13 ½ ' long flat bottom canoe with plumb bow and stern, plumb sides and no rocker to the bottom. Not an ideal shape, but we did not have enough build time, on this our first attempt, to build a more complex design. Despite being thrown together all day and working against a deadline, the Crew had great fun and at the end of the first day were just as enthusiastic as they were when they started in the morning. The boat was finished and painted.

On Sunday we took out the cable ties, put 5200 in the holes and touch-up painted the new 5200 in those areas, but ran out of time to do any fancy graphics. Some of the more experienced groups came up with wild designs, both in boat and paint, as shown in the photos below.

Then it was time to race. By mistake, we were put in the middle school class. Since most of the Crew are 16-17 years old, they did not think it was fair to race against the younger kids and informed the organizers of the error. Since the high school group had already raced we were put in the advanced class with more experienced builders and up-to-college age participants. The Crew did not mind, though, they just wanted to try out the boat.

In the first race they swamped after a collision at one of the turning marks.
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They would have one more try however. In the second race they would have to finish in first or second place to make it to the finals. They finished a close 3rd.

After 2 days of building, then the seeming interminable wait to race (made worse by the last minute change of class) then 2 losses in a row, you would think that they would be pretty discouraged. But when they came out of the water for the last time there were big smiles all around. And when I asked them how they were doing, what I got back was - “ it needs to be 6 inches wider”...”next time we need to add some rocker to the bottom”... “can we figure out how to put some flare in the sides?”

Now that's enthusiastic boatbuilding!
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