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Annual Kardboard Boat Regatta brings smiles, laughs

Even though his son, Josh, sank into the Kishwaukee River on Saturday on the boat he helped build, Todd Burns of Sycamore could not have been happier.

“It was great to see them smile and have fun and come out for a community event, and that’s really what it’s about. [There were] a lot of people laughing in the stands and cheering,” Todd Burns said.

Josh Burns, 14, and his friend Wyatt Strohacker, 14, also from Sycamore, competed in the 10th annual Kardboard Boat Regatta aboard “USA Tank,” a boat they started building a couple days before the race. The rules of the competition limit construction materials to only cardboard and duct tape.

The boat race is the closing event of Kingston Fest, a one day festival of food, games and competitions held at Kingston Township Park to raise funds for community projects and scholarships for high school graduates.

The up-and-back race around two buoys about 175 feet apart in the Kishwaukee River began with individual time trials and concluded with a head-to-head, free-for-all, with five boats competing at once.

And while they didn’t win the time trials and ended up sinking during the head-to-head race, the boys did take home two trophies from the competition: the Flamboyance Award for best decorated craft, and the Pirates of Pizzazz Award for most-spirited crew.

“That’s why we came out here – to have fun and try to get a trophy,” Josh Burns said.

During the time trials, Burns and Strohacker struggled to made headway against the strong current. Burns’ father ended up “assisting” their boat while wading in thigh-deep water.

“When I saw how fast the current was and how wide we had built the boat, we knew we might be in a little bit of trouble. That’s why I stayed with them, just to keep them off of anything and from the banks,” Todd Burns said.

The winner of the Fleet-of-the-Fleet trophy for fastest time trial in a speedy 54.7 seconds was the Blackhawks Canoe, piloted by Sean Brigham and Michelle Erckfritz.

The Blackhawks Canoe has now raced three times, twice at this event and once in Crystal Lake last month at their Cardboard Cup Regatta, where they finished fourth out of about 30 boats.

“I’m a river rat. [When] I get off work, I’m in my kayak or my canoe. That’s what I do,” said Brigham, a Kingston resident.

The Blackhawks Canoe was built by David Graf, a friend of Brigham’s dad. Graf also built the H.M. Sea Hag, a pirate ship complete with a crow’s nest and a mermaid figurehead. He began building it the day after last year’s race.

“It took him a year, but if you look at the detail on it, you’ll understand why,” Brigham said.

The H.M. Sea Hag, with David and Sarah Graf aboard, finished third in the time trials but won the head-to-head race, coming from behind to edge out the Blackhawks Canoe at the finish line.

The winner of the Titanic Award for the most epic sinking was “Three Men in a Boat,” manned by Jason, Kurt and Nicholas Harjung. After capsizing near the start of the time trials, they lightened the load and finished as two men in a boat.

“Once we got going, I knew it was going over,” Nicholas Harjung said. “It was cold at first. It was fun. It was all worth it.”

Their brief voyage with a three-man crew, however, was enough to win them the Kishwaukee Ferry award for the most passengers.

Jason and Nicholas Harjung said they can’t wait until next year.

“We’re putting our designs together now,” Harjung said.

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