Boat racing is inherently exciting. When you kiss goodbye to dry land and gain a fresh take on the horizon, the shift in perception inspires. Now take it a step further and think epic endurance, speed and even design mixed with the solitude that comes with setting out on the water.
Here is a look at the world’s most extreme boat races.
World Championship Cardboard Boat Races
The organizers behind the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races, which run on July 28, are blunt about the race’s roots. The races were founded in 1987 to promote tourism around Greers Ferry Lake in central America’s Ozark Foothills. Local newspaper owner Pat Zellmer came up with the inspired oddball idea of a regatta consisting of vessels made almost entirely from cardboard. Aspiring competitors are tasked with building a cardboard, human-powered boat capable of completing four heats around a 200-yard half-moon course.
A quarter of a century from its launch, the raucous DIY race staged at Sandy Beach, Heber Springs, Arkansas, shows no sign of flagging. Prizes include Pride of the Fleet and the dreaded Titanic Award. How anyone manages to stop their cardboard craft from getting soggy and sinking is a mystery on a par with the Bermuda Triangle.
The theme for this year’s silver jubilee event is “Yellow Submarine.” Past entries include USS battleships, trains, planes and even the Starship Enterprise.
One way to go overboard and make a boat race really extreme is to dispense with water altogether. Australia’s Henley-on-Todd Regatta demonstrates that move. The event to be held on August 18 in Alice Springs, on the site of the Todd River involves boats with their hulls cut out being carried across the dry riverbed. The local tourist board describes the event as a race in a cloud of dust. According to the organizers, the event ranks as the single longest running one in the remote red-dirt state that hosts it, the Northern Territory.
Henley-on-Todd dates back to 1962 when Reg Smith and his friends at the Alice Springs Meteorological Bureau dreamed up Henley-on-Todd as a joke. A spoof of the classic race between Cambridge and Oxford Universities held at Henley-on-Thames in England, it mocks the manners of the original British settlers. Henley-on-Todd is affiliated with the charitable Rotary club of Alice Springs with proceeds going to humanitarian projects.
Beer Can Regatta
Aussies are reputed to be some of the world’s sportiest people. They are equally well-known for liking a frosty beer. The Beer Can Regatta, which happens on Mindil Beach, Darwin, in Northern Territory, deftly addresses both sides of the Australian mind, with competing vessels made from aluminium cans. The rules of the regatta are set out in biblical-style commandments. “Thou shalt not take the name of the craft in vain. Any craft bearing signs or lettering that may be offensive will be barred,” one commandment says. Another commandment ordains that no contestant may drown or drift off course and roll up at a place called Mandorah.
The Beer Can Regatta debuted in 1974 thanks to two members of the Darwin Regional Tourism Promotion Association, Paul Rice-Chapman and Lutz Frankenfeld. Rice-Chapman had a deal with a brewery to run some kind of water festival and he was working on making rafts from ditched beer cans. Frankenfeld expanded Rice-Chapman’s idea, adding an outboard motor to a prototype vessel. Bingo! The Beer Can Regatta was born. It is now run by the community group Lions Clubs International.
The toughest race in this list, the Vendee Globe, is a round-the-world, single-handed yacht race performed nonstop, without help. As Forbes said, if the Vendée Globe is not a measure of cardiovascular endurance, at least it ranks as a test of “mind-numbing solitude.” The Vendee Globe owes its existence to a French former deep sea diver, Philippe Jeantot, who founded the race in 1989. Jeantot had competed in the BOC Challenge, now the VELUX 5 Oceans Race, in 1982 and 1986. He won both times. Still, the perfectionist was frustrated by the race’s stop-start character. So, he decided to launch a new round-the-world non-stop race, which he pictured as a unique challenge for single-handed sailors. When the Vendee Globe first ran in 1989, it was won by part-time artist Titouan Lamazou, with Jeantot placing fourth. The next race ran in 1992 and has since run every four years.
The Vendee Globe starts and finishes at a western France seaside town called Les Sables-d’Olonne. Challenges that Vendee Globe entrants face include violent winds and giant waves rearing up from the Southern Ocean. The extreme adventure race takes competitors beyond the scope of standard emergency services. To reduce risk, entrants are obliged to undergo medical and survival courses. They must also show solid racing experience, such as completion of an earlier Vendee Globe.
F1 Powerboat World Championship
If you thought Formula 1 was purely a motorcar category, think again. Launched in 1981, the F1 Powerboat World Championship is a Grand Prix style event run on water rather than bitumen. Each season, F1 powerboat teams compete in 13 venues around the world. Each powerboat traces a circuit marked out in a designated stretch of water, usually a lake, river, or bay. Competitors barrel along in deftly designed catamarans that combine a capacity for extreme speed with maneuverability worthy of a slalom skier. Each catamaran weighs 860 pounds (390 kilos). The light weight is thanks to the deployment of carbon fiber and Kevlar, a stronger-than-steel substance used in bullet proof vests. A vessel’s tunnel-shaped, aerodynamic hull generates lift, fueling speeds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under two seconds, faster acceleration than a state-of-the-art F1 car, the website says.