Riverhead’s 2015 Cardboard Boat Race brings fun to the Peconic River

A scary moment for the crew aboard the "Hammer of the Gods."  Luckily, the vessel was able to sail on. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

The mighty Peconic River proved too much of a beast for a group of Scandinavian warriors searching for victory in Riverhead Sunday. Nearly a dozen men had to pull the remains of their sinking Viking vessel, Hammer of the Gods, from the water after it began to flounder.

Doc Brown cheered on Marty McFly and crew as they raced their floating Delorean up the river, though they never hit the 88 mph needed to activate the flux capacitor.

And Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains came ready for battle, but in the end the poor Khaleesi didn’t even make it out of port.

Such was the scene at the Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race Sunday, an annual event in which participants race cardboard kayaks and barges up the Peconic and hope the makeshift vessels don’t sink. The event, sponsored by the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association and Riverhead Town, drew about 2,500 people to the riverbanks in its sixth year.

Participants can only use duct tape and cardboard to build their water crafts.
“It started out as a family event and we just love it,” said Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen, who organized this year’s event with his daughter Kristina and Laurie and Kevin Zaneski of Riverhead. “It’s probably one of our biggest draws. It’s always a winner.”

Attendance estimates were slightly lower than the average 3,000 spectators the event typically draws, likely because it was rescheduled following a massive fish kill in the river in June.

And while organizers said there might have been fewer participants than usual, the contestants who did show up brought the usual creativity and architectural ingenuity to the yearly tradition.

Bob Stiles of Bohemia said he and his clan usually call a family meeting at Thanksgiving to start discussing what they will build for the summer event. This year Stiles dressed as Barney Rubble, while other crew members wore Fred, Wilma, Betty and Pebbles costumes. They recreated the Flintstones’ prehistoric sedan in cardboard.

The Stiles crew has raced in the event since its inception, taking home several honors along the way.
“If we win today it will be our seventh trophy,” Stiles said Sunday. “We use full-time kayakers. They are conditioned for this.”

Robert Holeman of Shirley and his coworkers at Floyd Harbor Realty in Mastic used carpet tubes and duct tape strips turned into improvised rope to build a bright yellow raft.

“We lovingly call it the ‘mac ’n cheese’ craft,” Holeman said. “I’ve been coming for years, I’ve spectated, but I always wanted to do it. When I heard it was postponed, I rounded up all the agents and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

But members of the League of Awesome Cardboard Boat Builders are perennially the event’s showstoppers, this year constructing a cardboard replica of the DeLorean time machine from the “Back to the Future” movies.

Team members came dressed as the movie’s iconic characters, including Marty McFly and Biff Tannen. The group has also come as the cast of Gilligan’s Island and Ghostbusters characters in years’ past.

“It just gets bigger and bigger,” said Mark Sisson of Mattituck, who wore a white wig and goggles à la Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown. “We had 12 people working on it. We couldn’t even keep track of all the duct tape we used this year.”

Photo Caption: A scary moment for the crew aboard the Hammer of the Gods. Luckily, the vessel was able to sail on. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

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