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The weird and wonderful world of cardboard boats

By Susannah Palk for CNN
  • Over 100 Cardboard Boat Regattas take place across the U.S. each year
  • Built from cardboard, duct tape and house paint, boats can last up to ten years
  • Some of the more outlandish creations include Tiki bars, steam trains, tractors, pizza slices

(CNN) -- For 10 years passionate sailing enthusiast Thomas Lemon has been building boats that seem to defy all logic.

His remarkable award-winning creations are hand crafted with painstaking precision and love, except for one thing.

They are built entirely out of cardboard.

Lemon and his four-man team have created some of America's most outlandish and inventive cardboard boats.

His favorite is a life-size motorbike boat, which took him five months to build.

"Team Lemon" have also built fighter jets, steam trains, floating tiki bars, dragsters and even a Batmobile, all cardboard-crafted vessels held together by duct tape and house paint.

Making and racing cardboard boats is a pastime which has taken hold across America since its inception in 1974.

Now, more than 100 cardboard boat regattas take place up and down the country during the summer months.

Reinforce the bottom of your boat and then tape the living bejesus out of it
--Ray Perszyk, organizer of the New Richmond Cardboard Boat Regatta.

As the name suggests, only boats made entirely from cardboard can enter and the aim -- apart from staying afloat -- is to race 200 yards, with the fastest boat proclaimed the winner.

In Watkins Glen, New York, more than 80 boats attended this year's race. Caryl Sutterby has organized the event for 17 years and is still amazed by the boats contestants come up with.

"We've had bananas, wine bars, even a pizza slice. People think it up and then turn it into a boat," Sutterby told CNN.

This year, spectators at Watkins Glen were even treated to their very first cardboard boat wedding.

Crew members of the "Duff Diver" boat -- modeled on a pack of Duff beer from the TV show "The Simpsons" -- let on one extra special passenger and held a five-minute ceremony.

With only four days planning, bride and groom, 35-year-old Eric Nowak said "I do" to bride Lisa, covered in silly string and wearing a life jacket.

"We weren't in it for anything special," Nowak told CNN. "We just thought it would be cool to do. And, well, it's never been done."

Sutterby puts the wedding down to the family-friendly nature of the event.

Something 66-year-old Ray Perszyk better known as "Cardboard Boat Ray," organizer of the New Richmond, Ohio, event agrees with.

Tiki bar
Coffee cup
Post box
Steam train
Flintstones car
Viking ship
Pizza slice
Fire engine
Fighter jet
School bus

"It's a fun event. I mean people just don't have a bad time, even if they tip over, which they do," he told CNN.

"In New Richmond we even have a special award, called the 'Titanic Award,' for the most dramatic sinking."

He continued: "People really get into it. The more times they come back the more exotic the boats get."

This is true of "Team Lemon" who compete in their hometown of New Richmond as well as racing in regattas across the country, including Missouri, Illinois and Michigan.

Along with Perszyk, they have set up the world's first Cardboard Boat Museum.

He told CNN: "We set it up and filled it with all the boats we had built and now we get people from all over the world coming to visit."

The museum also doubles as a workshop and "Team Lemon" give help and advice to budding boat builders.

"The key," to building a good cardboard boat according to Perszyk, "is to reinforce the bottom of your boat and then tape the living bejesus out of it.

"As many coats of paint as you can get on it also helps."

Surprisingly, some cardboard boats can last for years, with many racing up to 20 times.

Terry Mathias is regatta co-ordinator for the world's original "Great Cardboard Boat Regatta," setting up around 15 regattas each year.

We've had bananas, wine bars, even a pizza slice. People think it up and then turn it into a boat.
--Caryl Sutterby, Chair of the Watkins Glen Cardboard Boat Regatta.

He told CNN cardboard boating's popularity is due to its inventiveness.

"It's captured people's imaginations. It's the ingenuity of building a boat out of something they believe can't float. People want to take the challenge."

Started in 1974 as a design project for students at Southern Illinois University, by the mid 1980s the competition had evolved into an annual event, with its creator, Professor Richard Archer, helping local towns to set up their own.

"We've been from Hartford, Connecticut to Tempe, Arizona and Orlando, Florida to Longview, Washington," Mathias told CNN.

"The point is for people to use their imagination. We don't want them to build the same thing. We never give out any plans or designs, we give them tips but then they're free to turn any idea they have into a reality," he said.

It's an idea that's turned into something of a phenomenon and not one that's likely to die out any time soon.

Lemon said: "It's just a lot of fun. There's no money in it, it's just bragging rights for a year."