Makeshift mariners set sail at 31st cardboard boat races

Posted: July 27, 2017 at 1:45 a.m.

Dezirae Plummer (left) and Tresia Orellana experience that sinking feeling at last year’s World Championship Cardboard Boat Races in Heber Springs.

A race fueled by creativity and manpower will return to Greers Ferry Lake this summer as Heber Springs hosts the 31st World Championship Cardboard Boat Races on Saturday.

Participants from all over the southeastern United States and beyond will take their uniquely crafted and decorated vessels to Sandy Beach and set sail on a 200-yard course with hopes of taking home first place.

World Championship Cardboard

Boat Races

8 a.m. Saturday, Sandy Beach on Greers Ferry Lake

Admission: Free

(501) 362-2444

"It has grown from one Saturday afternoon to an entire weekend event now," says Julie Murray, executive director of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. The event attracts thousands of observers each year and has been featured on ESPN and other national media outlets.

An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 spectators will watch the races unfold from the beach; a couple of thousand more will anchor boats in the water to catch a view, Murray says.

"People come very early to take their place on the beach, set up their umbrella and spend the day on a beautiful, crystal clear lake," she says.

The races are split up into four divisions, based on age and number of participants. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and boats are checked to ensure they meet regulations. The rules are simple: no metal, wood or plastic foam of any kind. Just cardboard.

"Pretty much it is cardboard, duct tape or Liquid Nails," Murray says.

There is no size restriction for boats; some are small enough to seat little children, others large enough to require hauling in on a trailer.

Trophies are given to the winners by division, but other awards include the Pride of the Fleet award, given to the best design; the Captain's award for the most spirited team; and the Titanic Award for the most dramatic sinking.

"But they have to make it at least 50 yards before they sink to qualify," Murray says.

The event has grown over the years to include other contests, such as a volleyball tournament, a treasure dig and a watermelon-eating competition.

"It has grown in different ways," Murray says. "The chamber added boat building workshops. Those happened two to three months out before the races last year and we did them again this year. That really seems to help people with their comfort level with building a boat."

It is one of the largest fundraisers for the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. There were 32 racing participants a year ago, and that number is anticipated to grow this year.

"We love that other events are being added around it," Murray says. "We love that it is turning into a whole entire weekend of fun, and we want to build on that."

Weekend on 07/27/2017