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Cardboard regatta, Head of the Zesiger, winners Rebecca K. Oman ’08, Chensi Ouyang ’08, and Ellann Cohen ’08 cross the finish line after their first run on Friday, Oct. 19. Their boat, Ship Happens, was the only vessel to survive at the end of the day.
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MIT held its first annual Head of the Zesiger Cardboard Boat Regatta Friday, Oct. 19. The event, held one day before the 43rd annual Head of the Charles Regatta, took place in the Zesiger Center Pool and ended with only one boat afloat.

In addition to fastest time, the boats were judged in four categories: best looking, best technically constructed, most spirited, and the illustrious Titanic award for best sinker.

Contestants were allowed to use paper tape and caulk on the seams of their boats, and to paint boats with enamel, lacquer paint, varnish, or water sealant. Each boat had to be less than three meters long and 1.5 meters high. For the races themselves, there were semifinal heats in which two boats competed head-to-head. In each round, the three crew members and boat had to paddle — using kickboards as oars — to the 50-meter mark, turn at a buoy, and return.

The boats were judged on a scale from one to 10 by five judges from the Institute: Professor Wesley L. Harris, Dr. Kim B. Blair, Professor Thomas J. Allen, Professor Donald R. Sadoway, and Dr. Ari W. Epstein PhD ’95.

Ship Happens and Unsinkable II competed in the first heat. Ship Happens, an all-white vessel with partitions for each rower, was captained by Ellann Cohen ’08, who was joined by Chensi Ouyang ’08 and Rebecca K. Oman ’08. The Unsinkable II, sporting a lacquered cardboard hull, was captained by Christina A. Jaworsky ’11 and manned by Alex T. Val ’11 and Justin T. Lan ’11.

Contrary to its name, Unsinkable II was not so unsinkable. The ship sank before the race even began, and when the team attempted to compete with just two members, it sank again. Although Ship Happens automatically won the round, they still completed the course in a speedy 1:58.74 thanks to synchronized, even strokes and straight steering.

“We started with a bunch of boxes that we had left over from when we unpacked,” said Jaworsky, captain of the Unsinkable II. Jaworsky said she and her teammates calculated the boat size needed to support their weight and painstakingly caulked each seam of the cardboard.

The second heat pitted the two pirate teams, Conner Four Pirates and The Black Pearl, against each other. The Conner Four Pirates, a yellow boat, was led by Ainsley K. Braun ’10 and crewed by Maia R. Bageant ’11 and Alexander F. St. Claire ’08. The Black Pearl, which sported a pirate flag and decorative cardboard oars, was captained by Alan D. Foreman ’09, while Stephen P. Fournier ’09 and Gavin M. Cotter ’09 made up the crew.

While the Conner Four Pirates were more successful than Unsinkable II, water started rushing into the Pirates’ boat from the start. “The cardboard buckled under our weight,” said Jaworsky. Despite efforts to remove the water with a pitcher, the boat sank after approximately 10 yards.

However, the Conner Four Pirates valiantly refused to abandon the race, attempting to use the twisted cardboard as a raft for another 10 yards before the vessel finally sank for good. The Black Pearl, on the other hand, had a bit of a rocky start as the crew members struggled to reach the water with the kickboards, but they soon leveled off and finished with a time of 3:32.08.

In the final round, Ship Happens faced The Black Pearl. Although The Black Pearl had won its semifinal heat, the water weakened the structural integrity of the boat, causing it to sink shortly after the final race began. The team on The Black Pearl tried to keep the cardboard vessel in one piece and dragged it along, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Some members of the audience suggested they “seize [the other team’s] boat,” but members of the fated boat were determined to go down with their ship if necessary.

Meanwhile, the team from Ship Happens tried to beat its previous time, but failed, finishing just over at 2:03.35.

After the final round, prizes were awarded to the teams with winners and runner-ups in each category. With average scores of 6.4 and 8.1, The Black Pearl and Ship Happens were the runner-up and winner for best looking, respectively. Similarly, the runner-up for best technically constructed was The Black Pearl with an average score of 6.2, and the winner was Ship Happens with an average score of 8.8. The runner-up and winner for most spirited went to Conner Four Pirates and The Black Pearl, respectively.

For fastest time, which was based on the heat rounds, The Black Pearl was runner-up and Ship Happens was the winner. Finally, the Titanic award for best sinker was ironically awarded to Unsinkable II with Conner Four Pirates as runner-up.

At the end of the Head of the Zesiger only one boat was left intact, but everyone’s spirits were floating high. The competition demonstrated MIT student creativity and willingness to get a little wet.