Try not to sink: Boat races in Riverhead

Katherine Lovett of Riverhead (left bottom), Mark Sisson,

Katherine Lovett of Riverhead (left bottom), Mark Sisson, of Riverhead, Jeff Griffiths of Riverhead (top left) and John Lovett of Riverhead finish first in the timed section of the Great Peconic River Cardboard Boat Race in Riverhead.(June 24, 2012) NEWSDAY PHOTO BY JACQUELINE CONNOR (Credit: JACQUELINE CONNOR)

Get out the cardboard refrigerator box and get down to the river -- it's boat-racing time in Riverhead.

Now in their fourth year, Riverhead's Great Peconic Cardboard Boat Races are sure to be a hit, officials say. Last year, more than 70 boats competed in four races. Hundreds of spectators are expected to line the banks of the Peconic River and cheer on their faves, making predictions which boats will sink and which will stay afloat.

MAKING THE BOATS

The boats, made of cardboard and dressed up with paint and accoutrements, have become quite sophisticated, organizers say. In years past, boats have been done up as a pink Cadillac, the Starship Enterprise and in a Hawaiian theme. Crews also dress the part.

The event has become so popular that organizers set up separate heats within the four categories this year, which means more winners and more trophies.

"It's a family thing," says Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen, an organizer of the event along with the Riverhead Business Improvement District. "Many come to see the boats. And they are getting pretty crafty."

The basic rules are simple: build a boat to hold one or more people with only cardboard and tape (such as duct tape). Size doesn't matter, but boaters must wear life jackets. Other requirements are listed on the Riverhead Business Improvement District website.

"We're collecting cardboard," says Charlene Carrano of Center Moriches, mother of boaters Madeline, 9, and Harrison, 11. Last year, the kids sailed in a Batmobile boat they made with the help of a friend who is a boatbuilder. "It was so much fun. The kids can't wait to do it again."

This year's theme has not been decided, Carrano says, but two of her children's friends are joining the crew.

Besides the youth race (up to age 12), the competition includes races for boats with single occupants, a pontoon/ barge race as well as an "Anything Goes" National Regatta. Trophies will be given for the best theme, prettiest boat, most creative, best-costumed crew, commander's choice -- and, new this year -- the Titanic award for the boat that sinks the fastest. Not to worry, the water isn't deep.

"Each year it gets bigger and bigger," Gabrielsen says.

AT THE RACES

The races are held along Riverhead's downtown area, behind Main Street on the Peconic River. More than 3,000 showed up last year to watch the festivities. There will be food trucks and other vendors, a popular Hula-Hoop contest -- for both adults and children -- takes place at 11:30 a.m. -- and this year there will be a DJ.

One of the day's highlights is the ultra-heated but all-in-good-fun Supervisor's Race, where Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter vie to take the trophy back to their respective town halls. The Peconic River is the dividing line between Southampton and Riverhead towns. The trophy, which has changed hands each year, is now proudly displayed in Throne-Holst's office.

"I plan to keep it here," the Southampton supervisor says. "My good friends at the Flanders Fire Department are building me another boat for this year, and I'll be ready to go."

But Riverhead supervisor Walter has other designs: "I plan to take the trophy back to the town where it rightfully belongs -- Riverhead."

Great Peconic Cardboard Boat Races

WHEN | WHERE Noon Saturday, on the Peconic Riverfront, downtown Riverhead. Boat registration starts at 9 a.m. Boaters must wear life jackets. Check website for boat construction and safety rules.

INFO 631-208-8159, riverheadbid.com

COST Free

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