Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, July 21, 2001

Having fun is only rule
in Plywood Cup

For the last dozen years, or so, there has been an annual boat race in the waters off Ala Moana Park that makes a mockery of most safe boating practices.

The boats are hastily and questionably assembled, have less than adequate buoyancy and are usually overloaded with crew members of limited skill.

Had the contest not always provided a popular and comic diversion from the biennial Transpacific Yacht Races or Kenwood Cup Series and, more importantly, a successful fundraiser for the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawaii, I'm sure it would have been banned long ago.

The race -- coordinated through the Waikiki Yacht Club by past commodore Lyle Holden -- is officially called the Plywood Cup Challenge. The challenge is for teams to design, build and race boats in a very limited time and with very limited resources.

This year, seven teams -- made up of groups representing not only Transpac entrants and yacht clubs, but local restaurants and businesses -- each put up a $500 tax-deductible entry fee to join in the competition.

In return, they were each given a few basic hand tools and some raw materials consisting of plywood, assorted lumber, nails, caulking, rope and sail material. They were also given just two hours to build their race boats.

"There are only three rules in this contest," Holden told the teams. "One: This is a fun race. Two: The race committee will be the sole judge of what fun is. Three: In the event of a protest, refer to rules one and two."

Without further direction, Holden gave the signal to start. The teams sprang into action and within an hour, seven very individual designs began to take shape.

Two boats had pointed bows, while the others had more of a landing craft, blunt bow look. But the details of their construction were as distinctive snow flakes.

When the time for building was up, the boats appeared ready to take to the water, however they were given an hour "to let the caulking set up."

The actual race was over a roughly 300-yard triangle course, in which one leg had to be sailed, while the other two legs could be paddled by each boat's two crew.

Moments after the start, one entry quickly submerged, amid a chorus of laughter erupting from both spectators and contestants. And it wasn't long before a second boat met the same fate.

Still, five boats somehow managed to survive and cross the finish line relatively afloat. In fact, the crew aboard the Kaneohe Yacht Club's entry -- which later claimed the award for "Best in Design" -- even took their boat out for a pleasure cruise after the race.

It was somehow fitting the other two trophies for "First-in-Race" and the "People's Choice" were captured by teams representing two Transpac boats that had not fared well in the Los Angeles to Honolulu race.

The "First-in-Race" award went to Uproarious from San Diego and the "People's Choice" award -- for the most cash donations made to the United Cerebral Palsy Association in the name of the boat -- went to Merlin's Reata from Fort Worth, Texas.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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