For Zach Jastrzemski, it was a case of go big, or dont go at all.
There he was with his dad, Pat, under a gray tarpaulin canopy in their Fort Wayne backyard on a recent Saturday afternoon, making adjustments to the skeleton of what was beginning to look like a good-sized rowboat. Meanwhile, at a nearby picnic table, his mom, Roxanne, was mixing up a new batch of paste.
What had gotten the family into a spirit of togetherness was building a boat – entirely out of sheets of corrugated cardboard.
And although mixing cardboard and water might seem to spell disaster, Zach, a 21-year-old IPFW engineering student, was feeling confident.
After all, hed come up with a design big enough to hold most of his family.
Our boat, as a whole, we can hold eight. We have a definite six, Zach said.
But we have six kids and 11 grandkids, so I think well be all right as far as crew, Roxanne adds.
The Jastrzemskis were on pace to participate in Saturdays inaugural Cardboard Regatta at RiverFest – an event that challenges local residents to construct cardboard crafts seaworthy enough to be paddled from one side of the St. Joe River to the other and remain in one piece.
Jessica Butler, regatta coordinator and director of the IPFW Alumni Association, an event sponsor, says more than a dozen boats are expected to compete for bragging rights and cash prizes.
Theyll be entered for speed in three divisions: one-person guppies; two- to four-person dolphins; and whales capable of carrying six or more. There are also specialty divisions for kids, schools and corporate groups and boats built in two hours from materials provided on site.
Boats also will vie in several classes based on appearance and team spirit. Theres even a Titanic Award for the most spectacular sinking, Butler says.
The idea of a cardboard regatta, she says, began in the early 1960s as a class project at Southern Illinois University, where students were challenged to build a one-person boat and race it 100 yards while remaining totally dry.
In the 1970s, the event moved beyond campuses, and now there are regattas in river-, lake- and ocean-front cities around the world, she says, including the well-known annual Americas Cardboard Cup race in Crystal Lake, Ill.
In the area, the Steuben County United Way has sponsored races since 2009 on Lake James, with the next race scheduled for Sept. 7.
A competition at Lake Wawasee scheduled for June 1 was postponed.
Cardboard regattas draw thousands of spectators all over, Butler says, adding that at established regattas, people come up with spectacular designs, many of which are posted on the Internet.
One of my biggest inspirations is the Longview cardboard regatta (in California). Those boats, theyre impressive. There are Theyre pirate ships, paddle wheels, catamarans. You can watch them on YouTube, and it looks like more fun than you can imagine. And of course, the most fun is to watch em sink, she says.
Thats why we think its a good way to promote the rivers and also be out on the rivers.
Zach Jastrzemski started building his familys boat after attending a how-to session in May. There, two IPFW engineering faculty members, Nick Mehta and Steve Horney, also an accomplished kayak racer, pointed out the pros and cons of boat design, including how to ensure that a boat would, indeed, float.
Mehta told the group that depended on two things – buoyancy formulas as old as Archimedes and making the cardboard watertight.
To do the latter, he said, boat makers typically use duct tape on the seams of the cardboard and use paint or lacquer to coat the hull.
Making sure the boat doesnt sink, he said, is another issue, one that involves making the cardboard sturdier by gluing several sheets together.
You can use a hot glue gun, but if its hot that day, it goes back to the exact state it was in the gun, he said, recommending wood glue or regular white glue as sufficient to hold cardboard together.
Zach, however, says that wasnt cost effective for such a large boat. Instead, his team is using a flour-and-water paste.
Our secret is we use high-gluten flour. Remember when your mom made flour paste? Well, we use the same principle, says Roxanne, 56. When its wet, it kind of looks like pizza dough, but when its dry, its like concrete.
The family has a second secret. Both Pat and Zach work at Supervalu in Fort Wayne, giving them easy access to cardboard in various configurations, including some with baffles they planned to fashion into seats.
I had no idea what they were used for, but I knew that I liked them, Pat says of the material.
Many competitors, Butler says, used free or discounted cardboard provided by one of the race sponsors, Kelly Box & Packaging of Fort Wayne.
Zach, who did the boats buoyancy calculations, says he doesnt know how fast the boat will be because this is a first-time effort.
Were not particularly going for speed. Theres power, and then theres speed. Were going for speed with power. Weve got a lot of hands, he says. Of course, our No. 1 priority is just to stay afloat.
Others on the crew are his brothers, Jake and Matt, and brother-in-law Tony Easterly.
And the entry should be snazzy to look at.
With the name (Jastrzemski), were going to go with a Polish theme – red and white with a falcon on it, like the flag, Zach says.
Yeah, what did Dad say? So everybody can come out and see the Polish Navy sink, Pat counters, laughing.
Well, I dont think its going to sink, Roxanne adds. But if it comes home, I think well have to figure out that someones going to get it and make a flower garden out of it.