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Sink or swim

Cameron Wells talks like a subscriber to the pancake school of naval architecture.

"A lot of people think deeper is better," the Medford 12-year-old says of boat hull design. "But what me and my dad think is, flatter is better."

Cameron was among the contestants at the city of Medford's fourth annual Cardboard Boat Races Saturday morning at Hawthorne Park swimming pool. More than 30 sailors of the paper-product persuasion turned out for the event, which has divisions for kids, adults and businesses, not to mention the coveted Titanic Award for the first boat to sink.

Cameron's boat, the menacingly named Biohazard, had what appeared to be an engine forward of its transom, complete with a supercharger.

"That was my dad's idea," he says.

The races went on all morning, pitting paper sailors and their craft against one another two at a time, 80 yards down the pool and back. Some of the boat skippers are grizzled veterans of past summers at the pool.

"Every year we learn from our mistakes," says Cameron, "like not forgetting to seal the front and back so water won't get in."

He says his boat sank his first year, then he turned in the best time overall in last year's competition. He estimates he spent three months and about $100 creating Biohazard.

Most of the boats look like the biggest item in their budget is duct tape.

"It'll do anything," says Bobby Buckmister, 16, a crew member on a pontoon-style boat called Free Willie.

Recreation head Sue McKenna, of Medford Parks and Rec, says the races don't teach seamanship, raise money or have any redeeming significance whatever — unless you count sheer frivolity.

"It's strictly for fun," she says. "I stole it from the Internet."

The Great Cardboard Boat Regatta originated in 1974 at Southern Illinois University and has since spread across the country. McKenna's team, a partnership between the Medford Kiwanis and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Rogue Valley, entered a black boat with pontoons of hard cardboard, trimmed out with Liquid Nails and lots of — what else? — duct tape.

Entrants (it's $6 for individuals, $25 for businesses) board their vessels with the help of a submerged "tot dock" used for swim lessons. They wear life jackets, and a lifeguard swims along with each boat. Top prize is a $100 certificate from Water World, a Medford boat dealer. The Titanic Award goes to the slowest time or quickest sinker, whichever comes first, or last, as the case may be.

In the day's first heat, Cameron Wells faced Skylar Lynch. The 9-year-old Medford girl says her boat, Funky Flamingo, is the outgrowth of a family vacation in Hawaii, where she saw sailboats and swam with dolphins. Donned in leis, flip-flops and a mock-seashell bra, she piloted a craft with faux palm trees sprouting from its deck.

The crowd urged her on, but the little girl was no match for the salty Cameron and the swift Biohazard. The 'hazard completed the course in a blazing one minute and 40 seconds as Skylar had trouble with the turn. After the race she vowed to return with a craft that's "not so tippy."

In the next heat, 11-year-old Kris Anderson guided his pontoon boat to a win over the tiny pink craft of Shyanne Woods, 9, who suffered a capsize. In the first close race, 11-year-old Zane Lawyer, skippering a red and black craft with an upswept bow, eked out a win over 10-year-old Denver Wells, piloting a Batmobile-inspired craft with an apparent souped-up engine.

In the end, the Medford Walmart entry skippered by Quinn George, 25, of Medford, took the business category, and the Jackson Pool lifeguard boat, crewed by Janelle Legacion, 16, of Medford, prevailed in the grown-up division.

But the best time of the day, by far, was Biohazard's 1:40.59.

And the coveted Titanic? It went to a fast-sinking, submarine-ish design skippered by 8-year-old Trey Young of Grants Pass. The boat was appropriately named for Neptune, God of the deep.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

Sink or swim