Boaters, town supervisors face off in cardboard boat races

Making A Splash

It was close, but in the end, there was only one winner.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith steadied her cardboard boat, then waited for the signal to go and immediately gained a lead in her Peconic Riverfront face-off against Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman on Sunday, August 26, in the 10th Annual Cardboard Boat Races in Riverhead.

The two supervisors began paddling, propelling their three-to-four-foot war machines along the water, passing a buoy to make their way back to the dock. Throngs of spectators cheered them on. The two vessels drifted into each other, provoking some playful pushing from their captains, who tried to untangle them on the way to the finish. Rival spectators alternated between shouts of “Go Laura,” and “Come on, Jay.” But then Jens-Smith began edging ahead, eventually crossing that finish line before Schneiderman. The Supervisors’ Cup was on its way back to Riverhead after three long years.

“It was a little bit scary getting into the boat. It was sort of tipping from side to side and taking on water, but once I got myself settled and started rowing, it all worked out okay,” said Jens-Smith, who set another record last year as the first female to be elected to lead the town in its 226-year history. She described her boat, a navy blue vessel reminiscent of an amphibious military machine, as only the best configuration of cardboard and duct tape that one can get. Truth be told, her secret weapon was designed and constructed by a couple of volunteers from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“They built a beautiful boat — a nice, sleek boat that would just rip through the water nice and easy,” she said, which propelled Jens-Smith to overtake Schneiderman and end up victorious.

Schneiderman, who wore a Southampton High School Mariners T-shirt, successfully defended the town’s title last year against previous town Supervisor Sean Walter, but after he saw photos of Jens-Smith’s vessel on Facebook a few weeks ago, he became concerned. He thought of it as sleek and mean.

“I always get a little nervous,” he admitted while carrying his vessel — which looked like a sailboat with the town’s seal emblazoned on the top — down to the riverfront minutes before the race. Afterward, he called it a good day in the water. “The trophy will go back to Riverhead for a little while. Not for too long though,” he said. “Laura ran a great race. It’s all about the fun of it.”

Schneiderman did withstand some playful razzing from at least one spectator.

“Hey, Jay, I’m going to tell the whole town you lost the trophy,” yelled a man. A good sportsman, Schneiderman took it all in stride and laughed it off.

Pirates and Gnomes

The Supervisors Cup Race was not the only one throughout the day. There were four different races, which included all age levels, as well as races for single boaters.

The crew of the Cardboard Black Pearl — a nod to the pirate ship from Pirates of the Caribbean — also took their third place for what it was and enjoyed their time on the water.

“We were spinning around in it a bit, but after we got ourselves together, it went pretty well,” said 14-year-old Aquebogue resident Kate Foley, an eight-year veteran of the races who formed a team with her high school friends from Latin class. The youngsters wore pirate costumes as they manned their boat; some carried little skeletons on their shoulders. “We made it around the turn without any problems and we came back,” added Foley.

Mostly all of the entries carried a theme. Some boaters chose the theme of pirates, others gnomes — taking it far enough to create a gnome mascot to pose in different positions around the parking lot like the character in the movie, Amelie. Still others tapped 1970s cartoons like “Scooby-Doo” and conjured up the Mystery Machine van for inspiration.

The winners of the Grand National Regatta and Outlaw Race christened their boat Avengers Assemble and donned costumes like Spider-Man and Captain America. The Most Creative Boat went to a Wayne’s World ensemble, which featured crew members dressed as the “Saturday Night Live” skit heavy metal heroes Wayne and Garth inside their robin’s egg blue 1976 AMC Pacer.

Other teams drew their inspiration from real-life heroes. Team USA, which featured the Farruggia cousins dressed as a firefighter, police officer, soldier, and angel in a tribute to the Twin Towers attack on 9-11, took first place in the Youth Regatta and won the Commanders Choice Award.

The quartet’s spokes-kid, eight-year-old Jemma Farruggia, described the race as a nail biter because the group almost came in second. Gasp.

“I was scared because I felt like we were going to tip over, but at the last second we came in first, so we are kind of happy about that,” she said. The cheers from kayakers nearby boosted their morale and the crew began to row furiously until they reached the finish line, overtaking their competitors, The Green Slime of the Ancient Mariner, in the process. They were going so fast, they hit each other with their paddles.

“We got brave,” she said.

Eddie Farruggia, age nine, said he was also worried they wouldn’t make it. “I tried to tell everyone to row the same way, so that we could actually turn,” he said. After that, it was smooth sailing as the group sailed into first place.

The boat races drew an estimated 300 spectators throughout the day, many of them on hand to cheer for friends and family.

For her first time at the races, Mattituck resident Sherri Kelly was in awe of the young children that participated. “They were adorable and they worked so hard,” she said. “It was great. The boats were beautiful.” She was supposed to partner up in the races with a friend, but she could not make it when the date was rescheduled. “I was trying to pick up some pointers for next year,” she said.

peggy@indyeastend.com