Milking It All I Could.

Posted by admin on August 5, 2013 in Growing Up |

Being back in Seattle, I am continually reminded of my past. Oh, no, not that past. Rather, I am talking about the many things I have had the chance to do in my life, many of them just one time – check things off the list and move on activities.

This was certainly the case with the Milk Carton Derby. If you’re not from the area, let me explain this event to you, as it is a classic WTF Northwest event. The goal is to create a waterborne craft that is floated entirely by milk cartons. They can be the cardboard kind or the plastic kind, as long as the method of flotation is milk cartons, you’re good to go.

As a Seafair Pirate, we entered the derby a time or two. I can safely say that the Thoroughbred Racing Machine was not floated in any way, shape or form by milk cartons. Oh, sure, we tacked a few on the side of the craft, but there was no attempt to conceal the long stretches of styrofoam that provided all of our flotation.

Building a milk carton boat does require some understanding of physics and a little bit of science. First a single milk carton will support three to five pounds of weight as a flotation device. Second, cardboard milk cartons, when subjected to long periods of time in the water, will start to fail. The real pros seal them in paraffin, or forgo the classic cardboard milk carton in favor of the plastic jugs.

This was certainly our strategy. But that’s only part of the puzzle. In order to compete, you need to decide what category you’re going to enter. There are several racing categories, military and commercial categories, and then there’s the open category where pretty much anything goes.

You can imagine which category we chose. Hardly sporty, there was no way I would ever be in a racing category, so open category it was. The rules are simple. Basically, it’s anything goes, as long as it floats using milke cartons.

Game on. If you’ve ever been to the Milk Carton Boat Derby then you know that these craft are usually not very well engineered. Inevitably, teams try to build a craft entirely out of milk cartons, with the stresses and strains of waterborne activity eventually causing their failure, usually at the most inopportune moment.

Being the creative type, I immediately went out of the box in the design process, well, out of the carton. I knew we needed a better structure, so crafting anything out of milk cartons alone was out of the question.

Instead, I went with what I knew. Having built tree houses, hydros to tow behind my bike and a tank out of a 1962 Ford Galaxie, the only option would have to be wood. By my own calculations, we would need some 200 milk cartons to float this thing, which meant a big space to stuff them all into. I finally hit on a freighter design, one that had a cavernous superstructure that could hold all the milk cartons we could save up in a year.

The craft was stunning. It was perhaps 15 feet long from stem to stern. It looked just like a freighter, painted gray, a couple of faux cranes and hooks on the front of it, a big smokestack on the back, and just because I love all the little details in life, I built a helicopter landing pad on the back, complete with a model helicopter purloined from one of the shelves in my room.

It was perfect, right down to the name on the bow and stern, which for some reason escapes me all these years later.

On the appointed day, we loaded the monster onto a trailer and headed for Green Lake. As we pulled in, we could see heads turn. I don’t think anyone had thought to build a real looking boat before.

We dutifully unloaded our freighter and completed all the entry forms. Eventually, it was time for the judges to check the craft to make sure it was legal. This included having two life preservers on board and checking to make sure that the entry was floated with milk cartons and nothing else.

They obviously did not believe this thing could be floated entirely by milk cartons. We even had to go so far as to tip it over and unhitch the chicken wire and dump out half the cartons so they could see all the way to the deck above. We were legit, of course.

When it finally came our time to take to the water, four of us lugged the 400 pound freighter to the water’s edge. As it went in, it continued to sink deeper and deeper. I thought it was just going to go under. Then, suddenly, it popped to the surface like a cork, drawing about four inches of water.

We hopped aboard and took to the course. It was slow going. The freighter was not built for speed, but majesty. We finally made it to the start line and just before the starting gun fired, I dropped two smoke bombs into the smoke stack, the smoke wafting out in the breeze.

It was a super craft in all respects. What it didn’t have in speed, it made up in beauty, it’s battleship gray exterior chugging across Green Lake at a snail’s pace. When we finally made it back to shore, we stood up on it, jumping up and down, trying to rock it. It would barely budge.

We didn’t win. In fact, they tried to disqualify us because we ended up taking it back in the water because people wanted pictures of it. No matter. We made our point loud and clear. Brilliant design and engineering trumped the rules. And really, who cares about a bunch of stupid rules. Given my history, certainly not me.

The once proud ship remained in dry dock for years on the back patio. It was still there the last time I visited my childhood home, a once proud ship, her better days behind her, rusting and peeling, a forgotten relic of a race to the finish in the Seafair Milk Carton Boat Race.

In the Emerald City, thinking about collecting some milk cartons for another glorious run,

– Robb

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