Considering the amount of emails students receive on a daily basis, it’s not uncommon to gloss over the various club and departmental events that keep campus alive. But last week, one particular Student-Info announcement caught my eye: The Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC) would be hosting a build-your-own-boat race at the Kokosing River on Saturday.
“So you think you can build a boat? Make it float? Ok. Prove it,” BFEC Student Manager Kendall Lloyd ’21’s email read. “Masks and a winner’s mindset are mandatory.”
While I’m sure many of my peers deleted the email before they even read it, I was immediately intrigued. There was something about the event that seemed so ridiculous, silly, exciting and really, just so Kenyon. With this attitude in mind, I grabbed my friends Jaret Dan ’21 and Charlie Scarborough ’21 and headed down to the BFEC on Saturday, ready to take home the crown.
We arrived at the BFEC pavilion and, along with three other student teams, got to work. Upon arriving, I couldn’t help but wonder what had brought the seven other people to spend a gorgeous Saturday afternoon building boats from recycled materials to race on the Kokosing.
For Claire Haynes ’23, the answer was simple: “I like boats, and I like crafts.” Her teammate Sally Vogel ’23 agreed. “I just like playing around, and it seemed like a very nice day today.”
But for others, this wasn’t your typical Saturday afternoon: Donning a Jeopardy!-themed baseball cap and matching mask, Adam Bell ’22 was celebrating his 21st birthday. “I’ve just been looking for fun things to do today, and this seemed like fun,” Bell explained. “It was just a good idea.”
Several of us — myself included — were inspired by Haynes and Vogel, who constructed the base of their boat using a “raft” of old Mountain Dew cans, held together with bright, pink duct tape. Other variations included a two-liter soda bottle and a raft of sealed, used water bottles taped together.
But beyond this, there was little in common between each of the boats, and each relied on various methods to propel through the water. Considering it was a particularly windy day, Scarborough thought we might use the weather to our advantage: Using recycled foil, popsicle sticks, streamers and, of course, duct tape, we fashioned ourselves a sail for our boat. Haynes and Vogel, on the other hand, added three plastic spoons on either side of their boat, effectively functioning as oars.
Other teams, like Bell’s, were only concerned about keeping their boats above water; the soda bottle at the base of their vessel was filled with water, while the attached take-out container ensured that it would stay afloat. The team did have their doubts about whether the river was deep enough to accommodate their model. “We may end up with a Suez Canal kind of situation,” Bell said, before turning to his teammates and, taking some inspiration from the Ever Given, suggesting, “Oh! What if we blocked the stream for all the other boats?”
As for decoration, the teams got creative with their boats’ presentation. On our foil sail, Dan hastily drew all three of our sets of initials in black Sharpie and the Autobot symbol from the Transformers franchise. I added the finishing touch: two red streamers on either side of the sail, flowing through the wind.
As for our competitors, Bell and his friends decided to keep it simple, and took advantage of the vast supply of duct tape, adding red and yellow strips of tape on top. Haynes and Vogel, on the other hand, took a different approach, using a bright green balloon with a smiley face drawn on it as their centerpiece, which they secured in place with pipe cleaners. The teams ultimately voted their boat most creative.
With our duct taped vessels in hand, we were off to the races. As we placed our boats in the water, we watched in anticipation, crossing our fingers that our hazy, high-school knowledge of physics (that is, except for the one physics major in attendance) would get us the win. Much to everyone’s surprise, none greater than the victors themselves, it was Haynes and Vogel who took first place. They credited their victory to a pair of children’s scissors that they had added for extra weight.
While Scarborough, Dan and I were satisfied with our boat’s showing, finishing in a solid third place, others were not as content; as feared, Bell’s team struggled to keep their boat moving, and, unlike the Ever Given, did not stop other boats from passing it.
So while many Kenyon students might have preferred to take a dip in the Kokosing last Saturday rather than race a fleet of makeshift boats, I, for one, was thrilled to spend one of my final Saturdays on the Hill doing something so uniquely Kenyon.