Captain Zac has a ninja outfit, with a mask and a dragon patch. The kid means business.
He and two cousins will paddle into the East Canal Basin today, racing their 8-foot dragon boat against a cardboard armada.
The ship is a marvel: a scrap-box johnboat with a bubble machine in the dragon's mouth. Zac's grandfather, Ray Schreckengost, built it in his basement, on the Ping-Pong table.
"My grandson is always coming up with these projects," said Schreckengost, the executive director of the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority. "Cannons. Catapults. You name it. I figured, this is one that will take some time."
They got the boxes from a bike shop. Zac, 7, sketched the dragon's head.
"He said, 'I'll design it, because I'm more creative than you,'" Schreckengost said.
They've heard talk about the other boats. There's a Mardi Gras float, supposedly. A starship. A Noah's Ark. All made from cardboard.
Some of those captains are graduates of the Bayfront Maritime Center's cardboard boatbuilding class. They know to build their hulls with multiple layers of cardboard, alternating the direction of corrugate. They know to use paper tape, which holds paint, rather than duct tape, which puckers under water.
"The paint is what seals it," said Rich Eisenberg, the center's executive director. "It's like those cedar-and-canvas canoes from the 1700s. The paint kept them dry."
The center organized today's Cardboard Boat Regatta. The event fits a big part of the center's mission, which is to put more people on the water.
"It doesn't take months of planning and thousands of dollars to do this," said Vince Nientimp, a maritime instructor at the center. He built a boat with kids from the summer camp at the Housing Authority of the City of Erie. They signed their names in the cardboard bow.
Hydiea Phillips, 8, added a flower.
The 2010 regatta had Vikings, a miniature school bus and a refrigerator-box piranha. Just one boat -- a pontoon built to look like women's sandals -- dumped its crew into the water.
Eisenberg wouldn't mind a little more of that.
"Everyone loves a sinking," he said. "That's why they go to car races, right?"
It takes a bit more to convince the crew.
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