Only a few hundred yards from some of the most stately yachts around, about 120 people were working to make a different type of seaworthy vessel made out of more humble stuff: cardboard.
With names like “Will it float?” and “Titanic,” Santa Barbara Maritime Museum executive director Greg Gorga joked that that the Kardboard Kayak participants gathered Saturday at West Beach didn’t have much confidence in their boats’ seaworthiness.
It’s an annual tradition for the museum, with each team getting the same materials to build their boat, the largest of which were two 4-foot by 8-foot pieces of cardboard.
There’s nothing special about the cardboard, “except that it’s 100 percent water absorbent,” one volunteer laughed.
Teams also got a ream of brightly colored duct tape, a yardstick, a box-cutter knife (signed liability waivers were required) and a marker.
Working on their boat on the beach were Elise and Charles Meyer, with their 10-year-old son, Jase, and his friends, brothers Colin and Mason Martz.
It was their first time participating in the race, Elise said.
“The boys like building things, they love playing with Legos,” she said. “We thought this would be an opportunity for them to be creative.”
The event was turned over to the museum from Semana Nautica — Gorga couldn’t remember exactly where the idea came from to build ocean vessels out of degradable material.
But since the museum assumed responsibility seven or eight years ago, “we’ve been having a lot of fun,” he said.
Gorga has seen participants drive up from Los Angeles, and the seriousness of each team varies.
“We’ve had teams come with pre-drawn plans and CAD drawings, and then I’ve seen teams talk for 55 minutes and then build in the last five minutes,” he said, adding that the latter type of teams don’t do well.
The boats must be maneuvered around a buoy about 25 yards offshore and the first to return to the beach wins.
About 30 teams participated Saturday, with up to four people to a team.
The money teams pay to participate helps support the Maritime Museum’s education programs, including one that allows local students to spend the night on two tall ships in the Santa Barbara Harbor.
Many of the students are low-income and have not been on a boat before, Gorga said.
After an hour, Gorga picked up his megaphone announcing that it was time to head down to the water, the moment of truth for many of the more haphazard looking vessels.
Family and friends gathered around watching the racers successfully navigate the buoy to go on to make it back to the beach in one piece, with others folding in half under the weight of the person steering.
But all were happy, if some a little soaked, when they returned to shore.