Tonawanda News

July 19, 2012

Crafting a boat with character

By Mia Summerson,
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — This year’s Canal Fest will mark the 29th annual Sika Challenge Cup “Down & Dirty” Boat Race, and participants have already gone to work trying to create the most seaworthy vessel they can using nothing but Sikaflex brand adhesive, five boards and some plywood.

The competition was started by Zeke Zeisz who, according to the event’s current organizer, Paul Krause, had attended a Sika Challenge Cup and decided to bring the competition to Canal Fest. Zeisz stayed involved with the annual event until his death in 1999. Krause has been managing it ever since. 

According to Krause there are usually 17 to 20 adult teams and 10 youth teams. The teams have four hours to assemble the frame of their boats, and then they take it home to paint and decorate it. They compete in three categories, fastest build, best design and race winner.

While the youth teams are given boards that are cut in compliance with a pre-existing design, the adult teams are given a limited amount of

raw material with which to design their boats.

”Sometimes (a design) will look crazy, and work. Sometimes it will look solid, and sink,” Krause said. “It’s about about the physics of the boat on the water.”

He pointed out the project of two men working nearby who decided to design the bow of their boat so it was curved upward at the bottom. That will allow less of the boat to touch the water, making it faster, Krause explained.

One of those men, Kevin Hanlon, said that his pair’s focus was simply on building a good solid boat, and that using the curved bottom similar to that of a canoe is a pretty reliable design. 

”We just come to have a good time,” Hanlon said. “Of course we want to win, but it’s just a great time.”

Hanlon and his teammate Jonathan Anner, of the Town of Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda respectively, have been participating in the Sika Challenge Cup since the 1990s, winning the final “consolation” race and also the best design contest in 1996.

Guy Kunkell of Pendelton was standing by as his son Thomas put his boat together. Kunkell said he had participated in the race two years earlier. 

“There are two tricks to this,” he said. “Keep other boats away from your paddle, and using the buoys to your advantage.” 

According to Kunkell, having a strong bow is essential, because you can use it to bounce off the buoys to help make the boat turn in a way that makes it easier to circle the buoy, instead of having to paddle around it. Also a strong bow will help keep the rest of the boat remain together, as it faces the most pressure from the water.

Thomas, who is a first time competitor in the Sika Challenge, said he saw his older brother participate last year and decided to sign up this year because it looked like fun.

Since Thomas is part of the youth team, his boat came predesigned, but that isn’t stopping him from getting creative with it.

“We’re going to paint it to look like a banana,” he said. “And then we are going to dress up like Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong for the race.”

Since the boats are judged on their creative designs as well as their seaworthiness, the decorating process is an important part. Over the years the Canal Fest Sika Challenge has seen an orca whale boat, a shark boat and even a fire-breathing dragon boat.

The last session of boat building will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. today at the Long Homestead. Contestants will have until the start of the race to finish decorating. The Sika Challenge Cup will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at the canal between the Delaware Street Bridge and the mouth of Ellicott Creek.