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10 Strange and Wonderful Boat Races

The races are strange, but the title refers to the boats. With a little ingenuity, you can build a boat, loosely defined as a "flotation device," out of anything!

1. Beer Can Regatta

The Beer Can Regatta is an annual event at Mindil Beach organized by the Lions Club of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. The participating boats are all made of beer or soda cans! The highlight of this year’s regatta, held Sunday, was the appearance of Extravacans, an enormous motor-powered boat constructed of 30,000 cans! A new category was created for the much bigger “superboat,” which it won as the only entry. In the main race, called The Battle of Mindil, the winner was The Flying Posties. There were other races and competitions in various categories. As you can see here, it is customary to slow down one’s competition by any means available. Photograph by Brad Fleet.

2. Homemade Watercraft Race

The New Paltz Regatta is for homemade boats of all kinds. This year's race took place on April 29th in New Paltz, New York. The annual event began in 1955 when it was launched by the the Delta Kappa Fraternity of SUNY (State University of New York). Now the race is open to anyone, and accompanies a downtown festival. The only rules are that the boats must be human-powered and homemade.

3. Minimal Regatta

The 21st Annual Schooner Wharf Bar Minimal Regatta was held in Key West over Memorial Day weekend. These boats are made of a sheet of plywood, a couple of 2x4s, and duct tape. A few other insignificant materials are allowed, but the results are always good for a laugh. Prizes were given for boats that won the race, boats that sank, creative designs, best costumes, and other categories. See pictures of the event.

4. Concrete Canoe Championship

SUN_0133

The building of canoes out of concrete began as a challenge for engineering students to design a boat to demonstrate the principles of physics. However, this exercise grew into an exercise in designing better materials; i.e. improving concrete. Intramural competitions began in the 1960s, which expanded to competitions between schools in the 1970s. The American Society of Civil Engineers sponsors a nationwide Concrete Canoe Competition. The winner of the 2012 championship was California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, for the third year in a row. Photograph by Flickr user Student Design and Experiential Learning Center.

5. Pumpkin Paddling

Damariscotta Pumpkinfest

Several communities stage autumn events in the sport of Pumpkin Paddling, in which you make a boat out of a giant pumpkin and race against other pumpkin boats. One of the biggest competitions is the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta in Damariscotta, Maine. The pumpkinfest has contests for growing, decorating, and carving pumpkins, but the regatta is the biggest draw. Watch a video to see how it’s done. Photograph by Flickr user Chiot’s Run.

6. Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race

Many years ago, Simon Thackray dreamed of floating down a river on a Yorkshire pudding. That eventually led to a 1999 event in which people built boats out of Yorkshire pudding. Now it's an annual event in Brawby, North Yorkshire, England, sponsored by The Shed. The boats are constructed of flour, water, and eggs, and given a good coat of shellac to make them fairly waterproof. Watch the boats in action in this news report.

7. Solar Splash World Championship

Teams from 15 schools competed in the Solar Splash World Championship race at George Wyth State Park in Waterloo, Iowa. Crossing the finish line first does not guarantee a win in this race: technical inspections, design, and craftsmanship are among the several parameters that count toward a win. The winning team came from Istanbul Technical University. See a promotional video about the event.

8. International Regatta of Bathtubs

La Regate des Baignoires (The International Regatta of Bathtubs) is held every August in Dinant, Belgium. The boats must contain a bathtub and no motor, but beyond that, creativity is the word. Prizes are awarded for "beauty, novelty, and representation of the town" as well as who manages to cross the finish line first. Photograph by Julien Dolhet.

9. Milk Carton Boats

The Milk, Bread, and Honey Festival is an end-of-August tradition in Jelgava, Latvia. One of the biggest events of the festival is the Milk Carton Boat Race, now in its tenth year. Last year, 36 human-powered boats made completely of milk cartons raced, and also competed for prizes in the most original and funniest crew competitions. The event aims to promote both dairy consumption and recycling.

10. Cardboard Boats

Card-Tiki 2010

The building of cardboard boats originated in 1962 at Southern Illinois University as an exercise in engineering design. The idea spread, and now many regattas are organized under the supervision of The Great Cardboard Boat Regatta. They'll even give you tips on building your own boat out of cardboard. The picture above is from a cardboard boat race in 2010 in Hollywood, Florida. Photograph by Flickr user Experiment 33.

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How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol
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Many Americans have a special fondness for the log cabin, viewing it as the home of heroic pioneers, or at least a great weekend escape. But it wasn’t always this way. The log cabin was originally disdained here in America—and it took decades of pop culture and political shifts to elevate the structure to the vaunted status it holds today.

THANK THE SWEDES

While there’s plenty of imagery portraying log cabins in the English colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown (established in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively), these depictions couldn’t be further from the truth. The English had no history of log cabins—they preferred more “refined” frame houses, and would sometimes squat in subterranean dugouts until they could be built. In fact, the log cabin was first constructed in the New World in the short-lived colony of New Sweden, established in the Delaware River Valley in 1638. Such structures had been around continental Europe for centuries, and the Swedish colonists were simply using a skill that had been passed down through generations.

Log cabins might have remained a Swedish anomaly in the New World had it not been for the German and Scots-Irish who adopted them after arriving in the mid-1700s. But none of these log cabins looked much like the quaint, cozy structures we revere today. They often had dirt floors, were crawling with lice and other pests, and were prone to drafts; as one traveler remarked around 1802, the gaps between logs were "filled up with clay, but so very carelessly, that the light may be seen through in every part." Yet as uncomfortable as these cabins were, they offered impoverished immigrants an invaluable slice of freedom. Cheaper and far easier to construct than finer homes, the log cabin thus became the go-to home for newcomers to the New World, helping millions of desperate refugees turn their dreams of settling in America into a reality.

But the practicality of the structure did nothing for the log cabin's public image, or that of its inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin wrote that there were only two sorts of people, "those who are well dress'd and live comfortably in good houses," and those who "are poor, and dirty, and ragged and ignorant, and vicious and live in miserable cabins or garrets." Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, said the cabin dweller was “generally a man who has out-lived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts."

As for cabins themselves, they were generally seen as “rude” and “miserable,” and no self-respecting American would deign to live in one. Not permanently, at least. Cabins back then were temporary stepping stones meant to be abandoned once something better could be afforded; barring that good fortune, they were to be covered with clapboard and added to as the cornerstone for a finer home.

LOG CABIN PRIDE

But the log cabin and its inhabitants’ public image got a makeover after the War of 1812. The nation had just defeated the British for a second time, and Americans were feeling good, forging their own identity and distinguishing themselves from the old world. Log cabins—ubiquitous and appropriately rustic—started taking on an all-American sheen.

Soon enough, writers and artists were portraying them in a positive light. One notable example is James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers, where the house of protagonist Natty Bumppo is described as being “a rough cabin of logs.” That scene in turn is thought to have inspired artist Thomas Cole’s 1826 painting, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake. Together, these works helped spark an entire movement that saw the pioneer as a hero. Log cabin dwellers were no longer disdained for their rough edges; these same edges were what made them romantic and distinctly American.

A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Similar shifts occurred in the political realm during the 1840 election. President Martin van Buren faced an uphill battle for reelection that year, and a politically aligned newspaper thought it could give him a leg up by launching a classist attack against rival William Henry Harrison: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of Hard Cider, and settle a pension of $2000 a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his Log Cabin.” In other words: Harrison was an ignorant hick.

It was a lie—the wealthy Harrison actually lived in a mansion—but most of the public didn’t know it, and his rivals assumed voters would scorn Harrison’s poverty. They were wrong: Millions of Americans still lived in log cabins, struggling day-in-and-day-out, and they were not impressed. (“No sneer could have been more galling,” John McMaster wrote in his 1883 A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War.)

In no time at all, Americans rich and poor were displaying their Harrison love and log cabin pride by holding cabin raisings and patronizing specially-constructed log cabin bars, marching in massive parades with log cabins pulled by teams of horses, and purchasing heaps of Harrison-themed, log cabin-stamped merchandise, including tea sets, hair brushes, and hope chests. With his eye on the prize, Harrison gamely played into this fib, telling frenzied crowds that he’d rather relax in his log cabin than run for president, but that he had heeded their call to run for the White House. That fall, he won handily.

Though Harrison died 32 days into his term, his log cabin campaign became a reliable template for candidates in the years ahead. Franklin Pierce downplayed his family’s wealth in 1852, instead focusing on a brief time spent in a log cabin as a baby. James Buchanan did the same in 1856, and Lincoln’s log cabin youth was brought up consistently come 1860. “Like President Harrison, Mr. Lincoln has spent about one third part of his life in a log cabin,” one biography read.

"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" by Frances Flora Palmer
"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way"
Frances Flora Palmer, Library of Congress

Log cabins became an even more persistent presence in the arts, culture, and commerce in the decades ahead, making cameos in iconic images like Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s 1868 painting Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, in which the cabin is the symbol of an ever-expanding American empire. The log cabin also figured into tales high and low, such as The Log-Cabin Lady—a prescriptive memoir about escaping low-class drudgery—and The Log-Cabin Bishop, an uplifting account of a man who brought religion to the frontier. The Log Cabin Library dime novels even peddled swashbuckling adventures to young boys.

FALSE MEMORIES

Most powerful in terms of ingraining log cabin adoration in young Americans, though, were the scores of false histories that projected the log cabin back onto Plymouth and Jamestown. Historians of the late-19th century had heard so much about the log cabin that they just assumed it was key to American growth and expansion, leading to assertions like John G. Palfrey’s 1860 claim, “[Settlers] made themselves comfortable in log-houses,” and images like W.L. Williams 1890s painting, Plymouth in 1622. The latter shows the colony as a smattering of log cabins and was widely distributed to elementary school classrooms, cementing the image of a cabin-laden Plymouth.

A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

From then on, the log cabin was portrayed as the ultimate proverbial rag from which the rich nation of the U.S. had emerged, as when historian Warder Stevens declared in 1916, “The story of America is written in log cabins.” It’s this tradition of myth-making and believing that inspired subsequent outpourings of log cabin nostalgia: Lincoln Logs in the interwar years, log cabin chic of the 1990s, and today’s reality programs showing urbanites fleeing to the woods.

These days, the log cabin is emblazoned on money and sewn onto flags; it fascinates modern artists like Will Ryman (who created a gold-resin-covered log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art); and it appears in music of all genres, from country crooner Porter Wagoner’s 1965 track “An Old Log Cabin for Sale” to T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s 2008 romantic rap “Can’t Believe It.” That said, perhaps the log cabin itself is the nation’s greatest rags-to-riches story; it went from being sneered at as a poor immigrants’ hovel to being revered as an American icon. Not bad for something that writer John Filson, discussing Boone’s home circa 1784, described as “not extraordinary.”

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Treat Yourself to This 22-Karat Gold Unicorn Mug
Courtesy of ModernMud
Courtesy of ModernMud

What's better than a unicorn mug? A unicorn mug with a horn made of gold.

This magical creation is accented in 22-karat gold, and it's so dazzling that it's been blowing up on Etsy: It recently got 88,000 likes on the retailer's Facebook page. Each ceramic vessel is thrown on the wheel and hand-painted. They hold 12 to 14 ounces and sell for $135 apiece.

Etsy shop ModernMud has plenty more unicorn gear. If you're enamored with the popular mug but want to spend a little less dough, consider the teacup version for $108. Want something to keep your rings on? Nab a unicorn stand or a mug with a horn on the inside. You can even get a unicorn to wear around your neck.

See pictures of the wares below. Still want more unicorns? Check out these mystical gifts for unicorn lovers.

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