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Cardboard Boats Sail and Sink for the Last Time at Gateway


Team Powerhouse won this year's competition with a fine looking (and somewhat seaworthy) vessel. NPS photo.

Last month, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST), an award-winning magnet high school situated in the Fort Hancock Historic Area of Sandy Hook, held its 11th Annual and Final Cardboard Boat Armada in the Sandy Hook unit of Gateway National Recreation Area. It was a wonderful experience for the dozens of students who competed, but now it’s time to move on to a different competition theme. What will be next?

Every year since 1999, teams of MAST students have constructed cardboard boats and entered them in a cardboard boat regatta at Sandy Hook. The cardboard regatta project, a concept that actually originated with technology education teachers at the Admiral Farragut Middle School in Pennsylvania, involves students in a fun-to-do project that develops teamwork, design, and construction skills.

If you were a student participant, you got a big bang out of it. Following the rules, you and the other six or seven members of your team built the boat. Then you tried to sail the thing from the shore to Plum Island, the sandy remnant of a washover fan situated on the inland side of the Sandy Hook barrier spit. The boat almost certainly sank before it got to the finish line (only one of ten boats survived this year’s event), and that was at least half of the fun.

Building a cardboard boat that will actually float (at least for a while) is quite a challenge. All of the boats and paddles were constructed only with cardboard, contact cement, and caulk. It was OK to apply latex (water-based) paint to exterior surfaces for waterproofing.

There was an additional twist. The rules for this year’s event required each of the ten participating teams to choose an explorer, do research on his exploits, and design a cardboard boat that resembled the explorer’s ship in some discernible way. The vessel constructed by this year’s winning team, Team Powerhouse (motto: “Yes We Can!), represented Italian explorer-navigator-cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.

Teacher Wendy Green, one of the originators of MAST’s cardboard boat regatta, says that the boat competition has been fun, but it’s time to move on to another fun theme. What the MAST freshmen will be working on for next year’s project remains a closely-held secret for now, but Green has playfully suggested that it could have something to do with walking on water or walking underwater. ‘walk on’ or ‘under’ water.

Postscript: The mission of the Marine Academy of Science and Technology (founded 1981) is to “develop literate, ethical and productive members of society empowered to meet the challenges of a global community by providing a rigorous academic environment with a core specialization in marine science and technology.” All students participate in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC). We can all be proud that this blue ribbon school is situated within and makes productive use of a National Park System unit.

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