Forsyth Tech students compete in cardboard regatta on Belews Lake

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Ryan Milholand, left, gallantly hands his paddle off to Maggie Gwin - "Princess Bubblegum" - during the Forsyth Tech Cardboard Boat Regatta at the Piney Bluff Boat Ramp, Friday, April 25, 2014. Sixteen students mechanical engineering students paired up to build eight boats from single-ply cardboard, liquid nails, duct tape and paint, and sail around a three-bouy course without sinking. Princess Bubblegum and her partner, Dakota Gaddy, far right, were adrift after their homemade paddle snapped at the first stroke, prompting Milholand to share his paddle as he completed his course with his partner, Bryan Javiria, second from left. Javiria continued paddling. (David Rolfe/Journal)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Eight boats — with themes inspired by Princess Bubblegum, TV serial killer “Dexter” and NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt — slipped into Belews Lake under threatening skies Friday morning for Forsyth Tech’s annual Cardboard Boat Regatta.

Constructed by second-year mechanical engineering students out of single-ply cardboard using liquid adhesive, duct tape and waterproof paint, the boats had to maneuver around three buoys and return to shore safely.

Life jackets were required.

Don Solomon, the instructor of the Strength and Materials class, said the boats counted for just a percentage of the students’ grade in his class. Forsyth Tech instructors enlisted to judge the entries graded each boat for appearance, construction, imagination, load-carrying ability and the quality of a construction log.

“The key thing is to make it there and back,” Solomon said.

Students unloaded their boats and lined them up at the edge of the parking lot for judging.

Some resembled sturdy fishing skiffs; others appeared unable to escape their heritage as humble cardboard boxes.

“We talked about buoyancy and displacement,” Solomon said, eyeing one of the larger students carefully. “The most difficult thing is keeping them from becoming waterlogged.”

As raindrops began to fall, students hoisted their boats and carried them to the water’s edge at the Piney Bluff boat ramp, gingerly climbed aboard and pushed off into the lake.

A few of the boats were propelled by small trolling motors, but kayak paddles were the most common means of propulsion.

The “Jake” was crewed by Maggie Gwin, dressed in a long pink gown and a red wig to impersonate the cartoon character “Princess Bubblegum.” Teammate, Dakota Gaddy, dressed as “Finn,” used a paddle cut from a scrap of plywood.

The paddle snapped on Gaddy’s first stroke. He retrieved the paddle head and gamely churned on. Princess Bubblegum sat in the bow and offered encouragement as the Jake drifted lazily.

The other boats traced a large arc around the buoys, with the motorized skiffs taking the lead. A boat painted to resemble the late Earnhardt’s car, complete with a leaning number 3, cruised ahead.

“He’s kicking up a wake,” a spectator said admiringly.

A sturdy, shovel-bowed boat carrying Ryan Milholand and Bryan Javiria was about to complete its circuit when it met the drifting craft of Gwin and Gaddy. Milholand gallantly passed his paddle over to Gwin, who passed the paddle to Gaddy. Milholand grasped the sides of his boat as Javiria resumed paddling.

Eventually all of the boats returned to shore, and some pushed off to enjoy another turn around the lake. A couple of the cardboard boats suffered a few soggy wrinkles, while others remained crisp and dry.

Solomon declared the regatta, which has been a tradition for about 40 years, “a great success.”

“No sinkers,” he said approvingly.