Seventh annual Build-a-Boat Challenge sees novice boat builders row for preservation of Ocean Institute treasures

The Ocean Institute challenged young boat builders to construct water-worthy crafts for its seventh annual Build-a-boat Challenge. With the help of adults and team sponsors, young participants designed, built and decorated vessels for a race in the Dana Point Harbor. Pictured here, four time winners, Team Pink Pearl. Photo by Barbara Merriman
The Ocean Institute challenged young boat builders to construct water-worthy crafts for its seventh annual Build-a-boat Challenge. With the help of adults and team sponsors, young participants designed, built and decorated vessels for a race in the Dana Point Harbor. Pictured here, four time winners, Team Pink Pearl. Photo by Barbara Merriman

By Barbara Merriman

It was perfect weather for building a boat.

And although competitors in the Ocean Institute’s Build-a-Boat Challenge are supposed to remain in their vessels, several participants in this year’s event inadvertently made contact with the water.

Early Saturday morning, 11 teams arrived at the Institute’s parking lot to ready their assigned spaces. With their tools charged and paint readied, their excitement was bubbling over.

Each team’s provided materials included three sheets of plywood and four 1-by-1 lengths of pine. Challengers could bring their own fasteners—yes, duct tape is a fastener—and their own plans.

At 8 a.m., when the signal was given to begin construction, bedlam reigned.

Rules state each team must have as many young participants as it does adults, so with adults manning most of the tools, the youngsters used their creativity to paint—sometimes painting each other, and not always by mistake.

In constructed boats, participants raced in heats, with winners of each competing against one another for bragging rights, and the privilege of having their name displayed in the Institute’s lobby.

This event started in 2004 as a way to raise funds for the maintenance of the two tall ships at the Ocean Institute—the Pilgrim and the Spirit of Dana Point—and is held almost annually.

Dennis Gabrick, an Ocean Institute board member and a boater himself, was the driving force behind the event’s restart after a three-year hiatus. Gabrick said he recognized the value of this event in establishing camaraderie, team building and community spirit, as well as, for raising funds.

Each team entered is assured of winning an award, and this year none of the boats sank—except for a couple who knew that they weren’t going to win, so they sank on purpose.

There were various awards given—in the form of belaying pins, made in the wood shop at the Institute—for many categories such as sportsmanship and craftsmanship.

This year’s winning team, sponsored by Toshiba, was now four-time champion team Pink Pearl. Team Rubber Ducky sponsored by Bryan Stirrat and Associates was a close second.

Entertainment was provided by Gary Seiler, who kept everyone in good spirits with his acoustic performance.

Teams were sponsored by Toshiba, Preserved Treescapes International, the Mission Hospital Foundation, John S. Meek Company, Inc., GE Capital, the city of Dana Point, the city of Laguna Niguel, Bryan Stirrat and Associates, Blue Water Design Group and Al Larson Shipyard.

Barbara Merriman grew up in Illinois but spent many years in Connecticut before relocating to California in 1994. She is a former public school music teacher with a love for outdoor sports, primarily sailing and golf. She keeps a sailboat at Dana Point Harbor, has a passion for protecting the environment and serves on the Board of Directors at the Ocean Institute. She often travels from her Dana Point home to Massachusetts to visit her daughter, Anne, her son-in-law and their two boys.

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