ARLINGTON — Shiver our timbers, the Cardboard Boat Regatta is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor on April 26. The zany mariners and their improbable crafts have become a seasonal tradition for many Arlington families and a big fundraiser for the River Legacy Living Science Center.“This, for us, is the kickoff to the summer,” said Laurie Ackermann, a River Legacy board member and Nature School parent.“I didn’t grow up here; I grew up in a cornfield,” she said. “And we didn’t have anything like this.”While the bigger, unwieldy creations occasionally hold together long enough to ford the wave pool at the water park, some of the best family moments are small ones in the popular miniboat regatta.For the first time this year, the miniboat regatta will have an adult division for moms and dads who have secretly pined for a boat of their own.A perennial favorite with children ages 4 to 12, the miniboat Rrgatta involves assembling and racing minisailboats along water-filled troughs resembling rain gutters by blowing on the sail of the boat.Think of a pinewood derby, only with boats instead of cars.“We noticed that over time, adults were getting involved in their children’s miniboat racing and having as much fun as their kids,” said Kristi Payne, River Legacy’s marketing coordinator. “So we decided to give them their own division.”The new adult division is for ages 18 and up, but that’s about the only difference.Registration is $5 per sailor and does not include general admission to the main regatta event. General admission to that is $8 at the gate, or $6 with pre-registration at the Living Science Center, 703 NW Green Oaks Blvd., by April 25.The miniboat regatta starts at 1 p.m. in the Hook’s Lagoon area of Hurricane Harbor, with check-in from 10 a.m. until noon. Hours for the entire Cardboard Boat Regatta are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.“It’s really amazing,” said Signy, 9, the eldest of the three Ackermann girls as she explained the process of turning a kit of wooden pieces into a seaworthy craft. “You put a rudder on your boat, you paint it, and you can paint the sails, too.”She returns from the race with a trophy most years, Signy said, and everyone who competes gets a ribbon. Her sisters, who are 7 and 5, also compete.Sailboat kits can be purchased at River Legacy’s Acorns Gift Shop. Cost is $6.48. Kits must be assembled and decorated before event day. Kits purchased from scout and hobby shops can also be used, but no catamaran-style sailboats will be allowed this year.A limited number of assembled, waterproofed boats will be available the day of the race for a $5 deposit, refundable when the boat is returned after the races.“Every year when the kids do an event like this, you get to see how far they’ve come in creating their boats,” Ackermann said.Signy already has ideas for the design of her boat for this year.“The colorful ones have always been popular ones,” she said. “I might put my favorite colors on it: blue, gray and dark green.”When not racing, Signy goes on the lagoon rides or watches the big cardboard boats race.“I could [race a bigger boat], but my sisters couldn’t,” she said. “A lot of times the boats fall apart so you have to know how to swim.”Ackermann and her husband, Tim, will be too involved in the other regatta events this year to race their own minis in the inaugural adult race.“We let [the children] do the miniboat racing, and it’s always interesting,” she said. She also likes the educational aspect, especially for girls.“We want them to feel as confident as they can with numbers and engineering,” she said. “There’s measurement involved even in these teeny little boats. You’re making something and learning something.”For more information about the miniboat regatta or any other facet of the Cardboard Boat Regatta, call the River Legacy Foundation at 817-860-6752, ext. 107, or visit www.riverlegacy.org.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657 Twitter: @shirljinkins