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July 18, 2019

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How to set sail in a cardboard boat for Pirate Fest

2014 Pirate Fest At Lorenzi Park

Steve Marcus

Reya Bacon, 6, poses with a rope that she made during the second annual Pirate Festival Las Vegas in Lorenzi Park Sunday, April 27, 2014.

2014 Pirate Fest At Lorenzi Park

Renee LeRoux, left, and Mannifred Yates pose during the second annual Pirate Festival Las Vegas in Lorenzi Park Sunday, April 27, 2014. Launch slideshow »


• When: Noon-7 p.m. April 8; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. April 9-10. The boat race is at noon Sunday.

• Where: Lorenzi Park, 3333 W. Washington Ave., Las Vegas

• Cost: $10-$15 for single-day admission; $20-$30 for three-day wristband

• Regatta divisions: Pirate boat contestants can compete in the dinghy class for boats with one or two crew members, the schooner class for groups of families or friends with three or more crew members or the corsair class for business group entries with three or more crew members.

• For more information: Visit

Water splashes as the pirates thrash their oars through the waves. They struggle to reach land. It’s only a matter of time before enough water pours onboard that their ship plunges.

These pirates aren’t sailing the Black Pearl through the Seven Seas. They’re paddling homemade cardboard boats through a lake at Lorenzi Park.

It’s part of the Cardboard Regatta, the main event of Pirate Fest Las Vegas. This year’s race is the third annual and is expected to include more than 30 boats.

The event was started in 2013 by Rich and Jan Strelak as an offshoot of their haunted house business. They have been staging haunted houses since 1999.

“We were looking for another event to do outside of October that would attract a wider scope of people,” Rich Strelak said. “Being in the haunted house business, we knew that pirate costumes were always popular. No matter what superhero movie came out that year or what was ‘in,’ pirates are always one of the most popular costumes.”

The festival includes other pirate-themed events to keep visitors busy throughout the weekend.

“We don’t want people just watching or sitting there,” Strelak said. “We created games so people are taking part in everything.”

Building a cardboard pirate ship sturdy enough to float people across a lake may seem like an impossible task, but Strelak says it’s much easier than it seems. So gather your mateys and prepare to set sail at Lorenzi Park.

The Rules

It’s well documented that pirates aren’t keen on rules, but these are among the guidelines competitors must follow:

1. The entire boat must be built from corrugated cardboard. It may be of any thickness but cannot be bonded to any other material such as vinyl. Noncorrugated material may not be used, particularly resin- or wax-coated packing cases, except as decorations.

2. Wood, metal, Styrofoam, rubber inflatables or other materials that provide buoyancy are prohibited.

3. No sandbags can be used to provide ballast or to steady the boat.

4. The hull of the boat may be painted with one-part paint, but no epoxy glue, fiberglass resin, multipart paint, plastic or duct tape may be used.

5. All crew members must be visible and able to exit the vessel with ease.

6. Decorations can be made of anything, provided they don’t assist in the flotation or structure of the boat.

7. In-boat contestants must be at least 16 years old, and no pets are allowed inside the boat.

8. Contestants must dispose of sunken or discarded boats.

What you'll need

• Lots of cardboard. Try collecting it from a business, such as Costco or Sam’s Club, that receives bulk large items. Zappos, a race sponsor, also supplies cardboard at the event while supplies last for competitors who are confident enough to build their boat in less than three days.

• Duct tape, masking tape and strong glue to hold your vessel together.

• Strelak suggests using paper or manila folders to build a model of your boat. Trial-and-error is much easier on a miniature than a full-scale vessel.

Can this thing really float?

• The science: How do you make a boat out of cardboard and tape that will hold three or more people? Easy: Use science. The key is displacement. The boat must displace an amount of water equal to its own weight. For example, water weighs 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, so a boat that is 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 1 foot tall will hold 1,123 pounds before it sinks.

• Consider the dimensions: Build your boat at least 18 inches tall so you can sit and paddle comfortably. Be sure the center of gravity isn’t too high or the boat will flip.

Longer boats travel faster but are harder to turn. Boats shorter than 10 feet are difficult to steer.

Build your boat 30 inches wide for one person or 48 inches wide for two. Pro tip: Build your boat slightly larger than that so crew members can sit comfortably. But don’t build it too big or it will be difficult to navigate.

Three steps to entering the regatta

How to

Fold and cut the cardboard in the same direction as the corrugation. It will fold much neater and straighter.

• Step 1: Build your boat.

Be careful not to damage the corrugation of the cardboard or its strength will be compromised. Score the lines you plan to fold with the handle of a butter knife to make folding easier. Use glue to layer the cardboard and tape to cover the joints (but not to hold them together). Pro tip: To make a double hull, put down one layer of cardboard, then curl strips of cardboard and lay them on top. Then layer another piece of cardboard on the curls. The hull will be extra strong.

• Step 2: Paint it.

Cover all exposed duct tape with masking tape. Masking tape holds paint better, and duct tape will shrink if exposed to paint.

Apply numerous coats of outdoor latex paint to the boat to waterproof it.

Paint both the inside and the outside of the boat to prevent the cardboard from becoming soggy when water splashes inside. Pro tip: Be sure the paint you use is designed for outdoor use and is designed to conceal; indoor paint is designed to breathe.

• Step 3: Decorate it.

Decorations can be made from anything and aren’t strictly regulated like the rest of the boat. The only rule is: If the decoration is removed, will the boat still float and stay together?

Be creative, and have fun.

What type of racer will you be?

Are you going for speed or creativity? Or will you purposely sink your boat for a shot at the “Davy Jones Award?”

“If your boat is going to sink, you might as well sink it in style,” Strelak said. “We have a group that is a band called the Pirates of Pop that purposely sink their boat every year. One year, the guy was punching holes in the bottom of the boat with his oar and it still wouldn’t sink, so he kicked out the sides of the boat and it finally went under.”

Many companies use the regatta to showcase their businesses. Allegiant Airlines has designed a ship to look like a Boeing 747, Metro Police raced a floating squad car, and Galaxy Theaters made a boat that looked like reclining movie theater seats.

Other crews take a theatrical approach.

“We had a fencing academy make a boat one year, and they weren’t going for speed at all,” Strelak said. “Once they got into the middle of the lake, they jumped up on their deck and started having a sword fight for everyone to watch.”

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