Video: Cardboard boat race draws thousands downtown

06/27/2011 10:23 AM |

Why would two grown men dressed as fairies float down the Peconic River in a cardboard boat emblazoned with the logo of a women’s lingerie company, one might wonder.

But when asked, the captains of “Victoria’s Real Secret,” Jim Kleven and Ben Cottiletta of Queens, offered a reasonable explanation.

“We had leftover pink paint in the garage and my wife and daughters came up with the idea,” Mr. Cotilletta said. Their creation was painted with alternating light and dark pink stripes like the company’s signature and the men wore pink fairy wings for the event.

“Victoria’s Real Secret” was just one of 76 boats entered in the second annual Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race. The free event, which kicked off with a hula hoop contest and awarded prizes to some of the more creative entries, drew an estimated 3,500 people to the banks of the Peconic River Sunday.

The rules were simple, all entries had to be constructed using only cardboard and duct tape. Contestants had to row to a buoy and back, though many did not make it more than 10 feet from the dock. Afterwards, volunteers pulled the now-soggy (and much heavier) messes from the river.

Members of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association, the race’s sponsor, estimated that attendance had just about doubled since last year.

And it seems some of the boats were more outrageous this year, as well.

Mark Sisson of Mattituck (spectators might remember him as Gilligan) and his crew took home the Spirit Award for their boat, the “S.S. Minnow.” Each member dressed as a character from the ’60s television show “Gilligan’s Island,” though their vessel did not appear to be built for speed.

“We were thinking maybe a ‘Star Wars’ theme, maybe a zombie theme, then we said let’s do a ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme,” Mr. Sisson said moments before the race, adding that the team was confident they would win. “Although there are no real expectations because the Minnow didn’t even last three hours.”

And some were just enormous.

Eight Martha Clara Vineyards employees stuffed themselves inside the rowboat-shaped “Bottom of the Barrel.”

The added manpower seemed to work as the group took home first place in the Peconic River Pontoon Boats competition.

“We started off with no plan, no design,” Erik Bilka of Flanders told the audience after accepting the award. “Just duct tape, cardboard and a lot of faith.”

Among the more impressive entries was the “Archimedes,” sponsored by the Long Island Science Center in Riverhead, which featured two large cardboard pontoons for flotation.

“We named it after the discoverer of buoyancy,” said captain Ian Oxman of Remsenburg, 13, adding that it took about 20 hours over five days to build. “We think we are going to win because we used science.”

His prediction turned out to be true as his group took first place in the Youth Regatta.

The first race of the afternoon was the rubber match between Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who competed on the river last year. Mr. Walter handily defeated Ms. Throne-Holst, who won last year’s competition. She retaliated by throwing the Riverhead supervisor in the river.

All proceeds from sales at the nearby Mister Softee truck were donated to the Michael Hubbard Fund. Michael was seriously burned in a gel candle explosion in May. His aunt Fran Reyer-Johnson and her husband, Curtis, accepted the money on behalf of their nephew, who is still in the Intensive Care Unit at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

For BID members, keeping the event going will be a no-brainer, since it brings people to the downtown area — some from as far away as New York City — and because it’s a low-cost event for local families. It is just one of the events the organization has begun sponsoring in recent years, as well as a weekly classic car show and an inaugural oldies concert later this month.

“It’s proven to be a great event,” said BID treasurer Ed Densieski. “I think this is truly a family event; generations build these boats together.”

vchinese@timesreview.com

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Ben Cotilletta of Queens and "Victoria's Real Secret."

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