Race To The Bottom

By John Swartz

They came, they sank. It happened in an instant. This writer was in good position to record the start of Sunday’s annual Cardboard Boat Race at the Port of Orillia. Both boats got off swimmingly. With a quick dash to the north side of the basin from the pier, mere seconds, the audience groan, then cheer said it all, the S.S. Minnow, crewed by Mayor Steve Clarke and four councilors was out of the race – and in the running for the Titanic Award given each year to the most spectacular sinking. Unfortunately, it all happened while in transit, so there is no video or photo of the catastrophe.

It happened so soon and so quickly, the crew could have jumped to the safety of the pier from the point of sinking and not got wet, but in true Cardboard Boat Race fashion, most of the crew dove in to swim after the other boat, Green Eggs and Ham (The Friendly Diner’s entry), intent on tearing the rival top bits.

Before the race, the council crew was optimistic they would prevail.

Crew of the S.S. Minnow

“The suit is a statement, I think, to the other team, I’m indicating I don’t expect to get wet,” said Tim Lauer. He was dressed either for a funeral, or a wedding in a very nice black suit, with shoes. “Black suit? Because this is a formal occasion.” He said.

The crew adopted characters from Gilligan’s Island, hence the boat name, S.S. Minnow. Steve Clarke was the skipper (tough call on that one). Dave Campbell was Thurston Howell the 3rd.

“Well you see old boy, being Thurston Howell the 3rd, one must dress appropriately for a cruise,” said Dave Campbell, dressed in a dinner jacket and ascot, affecting the voice of Jim Backus’s iconic character.

“I am hoping we have more luck than we did on the initial three hour voyage about 50 years ago,” said Clarke who had all the confidence in the world for his crew. “That is just their secondary career. They are all seasoned, salty dogs. They’ve been building for this for decades now.” Something was mentioned about provincial law which states when 5 or more councillors are in the same place, it’s a council meeting. Clarke claimed different jurisdiction, “Maritime Law, maybe even a bit of pirating,”

Wearing a red sweater, which seemed appropriate in the slightly cooler temperature of the day than recently (and of course what would have been tropical heat on the TV program), Jay Fallis was unmistakable as the Gilligan stand-in.

“That was an executive decision by the skipper and the millionaire,” said Jay Fallis of how he got the part. “I am Gilligan, so chances are I’m taking the boat down.”

Mason Ainsworth made up the 5th, claiming to be the show’s original producer since the only remaining characters were Lovey, Ginger and Mary Ann.

“I’m just a visitor to the island, but as the guys tell me I was smart enough to get off the island before the show started. I just came back for this.” said Ainsworth. He was happy to point out a design feature of the boat. The transom bore a message – No Jump Zone.

“Specifically it’s for Rob (Kloostra). Rob unfortunately couldn’t make it today, but the first time, our past council, Rob jumped in a little bit too excited and put a bit of a hole in and we went down pretty quick.” Kloostra can take no credit for this year’s debacle.

The only thing they really had going for them was Dave Campbell. As a former member of the perennial entry from Northern Business Machines/KRS Cranes, he’s been on more ‘winning’ boats than anyone, even he, can remember.

“This is my inaugural cruise I suppose” with council he said, “and I’m looking forward to it.” He then said his former boating partner, Evan Devine, would come out of the race on top wither way..

“Evan’s the one with the talent of course, he built both of them,” said Campbell, ‘He’s a winner no matter what.”

Green Eggs and Ham crew, Gavin Ramsay, Eran Devine, 
Evan Devine and Brolin Devine.

Devine, with team mates Eran and Brolin Devine, and Gavin Ramsay, thought they had the advantage to outlast the Minnow..

“I think the councillors will go first. They are carrying an awful lot of weight“ Devine said. And to make sure the point was not lost, he continued, “That council carries a lot of weight, in the chambers and in the boat.”

He even suggested he wasn’t leaving things up to something as vague as over packing for a trip.

“The councillors are probably going to go down first. We won’t say there’s some compromise on that boat, but it is the crew. We have a superior crew.” Translation: even if his crew (with one frail teenager on board) is no match for the 4 crew members of size of the Minnow, plus the half-back Fallis, when it comes to simple dynamics – nothing separates you from the drink but a sheet of cardboard. And if that isn’t enough, well, nice boat you got there, shame if it isn’t taped together properly.

Evan Devine, as Campbell noted, has designed cardboard boats for a while.

“We’ve been in it every year with some sort of boat and sometimes multiple boats,” Devine said. Or, in the case of the 2019 race, all the boats in the race – all two of them.

Just before the boats where carried to the starting pier, Tim Lauer convened a meeting of the Minnow’s team to go over strategy.

“In the past we have taken off like fools,” said Tim Lauer. ‘The trick is to do a circle and sink near the dock.”

It turns out his strategy had more to do with making sure they were home in time for the hockey game (yes, it’s only a month before the first pre-season game happens, but Lauer has been known to inquire about game scores during council meetings).  

“Our number one goal is not necessarily to win, is to get that cardboard close to the dock,” so they don’t strain themselves cleaning up after the race.

Of course, the strategy worked, minus the round trip of the basin.

To add insult to injury, most of the historic race will be rumour and legend because camera A failed and all footage was lost, this is what remains from Camera B.

The last photo of the S.S. Minnow.

Image 1 of 5

(Photos and Video by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)


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