The Stella Historical Society intended its entry to win the 10th annual cardboard boat regatta at Lake Sacajawea this year.
But it chose a rather unlucky name — “The Titanic” — in keeping with the theme of this year’s race, “Blockbuster Movies.”
With several thousand people watching from the lake banks, the Titanic lived up to its name. It sank in the final heat when it was crunched — not by an iceberg — but by two other boats. “We didn’t expect it to sink. We actually expected to win, but we got sandwiched by those dang politicians,” Titanic’s captain David Huddleston joked.
Two boats piloted by Grocery Outlet employees and supporters of Congressional candidate Carolyn Long nudged his boat.
On a sunny but breezy Monday evening, 2017 champions Greg Mares and Al Knorr repeated as the fastest boat in the regatta, coasting to victory in a small kayak-like craft dubbed “Men in Black.”
“Folks have improved, and who knows what’s going to happen,” Knorr said. “There’s folks gunning for us … we have a target on our back.”
A field of 14 boats entered the regatta, making it one of the smaller competitive fields in the history of the race.
The Grocery Outlet vessel was inspired by “Grease,” and it finished third.
Team member Scott Skinner said the classic musical was an easy pick for inspiring the crew’s boat, “Greased Lightning.”
“The theme is blockbuster movies, and if (“Grease”) doesn’t ring a bell to anybody, what are we doing here?” he said. “This was our chance to get in poodle skirts.”
The afternoon also featured two political campaign boats: One for District Court Judge candidate Debra Burchett (whose boat was titled the “Burchett Blockbuster”), in addition to the sailed by a team of Carolyn Long supporters.
Long, a Vancouver Democrat, captained her own vessel, dubbed “The Hunt for Blue November.” It featured a cardboard submarine, a bow to the sub in the Sean Connery movie, “The Hunt for Red October.”
“We’ve got a Cowlitz Action Team here, they decided on theme (and) the design,” Long said. “They told me about it and I was over the moon, it was so smart.”
Long added that although this was her first year at the regatta, she hopes “it’s the first of many future years.”
The regatta has, of course, never been completely about crossing the finish line. Style counts. Such as the case for Dick Hannah Collision, which went all-out with a massive replica of Jack Sparrow’s famous pirate ship, “The Black Pearl.” According to team member Jimmy Hawkins, the towering ship took more than 600 hours to complete.
“Our main goal was to not be the fastest, but to turn heads,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing. And not only that, but the kids love it.”
The Longview Bridge Club had an equally elaborate boat, with a “Ben-Hur” theme. The group earned the Acorn Award for having the most in-theme ship.
However, for sheer pun power, perhaps nobody topped Stageworks Northwest, who placed two Willy Wonkas (one dressed as the Gene Wilder version, one as Johnny Depp) in an orca whale boat named the “Free Willy Wonka.”
But Willy traded stability for style. The boat, created by Stageworks’ stage designer Jon-Erik Hegstad wobbled along the 200-yard course off Martin Dock before capsizing at the end of its heat.
Sinkings, of course, have always been the biggest crowd pleaser at the regatta. And Willy and his crew got a roar of approval.
But it’s perhaps fortuitous that Long’s boat made it across the finish line.
As the candidate said, “If I’m going down, I’m going down spectacularly,” Long joked. “The captain always goes down with the ship.”