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Cardboard boat races draw crowd to Lake Gogebic celebration

 

Michelle Thomasini/Daily Globe

Josh Lopac, of Bergland, pushes his daughter, Ava Lopac, in a boat during the 17-41 age group at the Hoop ‘n’ Holler Tavern’s 12th annual cardboard boat races Sunday at the north end of Lake Gogebic in Merriweather. In the background, Colin Heathman, of Appleton, Wis., tries to keep his vessel from flipping.

MERRIWEATHER – All floated, some flipped, but none sank at the 12th annual cardboard boat races held Sunday by the Hoop ‘n’ Holler Tavern in Merriweather.

About 75 people came out in hot, sunny weather to watch racers in five categories test the waters at the north end of Lake Gogebic in cardboard and duct tape creations. Toddlers, youth and seniors alike paddled around buoys in the shallow waters just offshore, trying to be the first to round the final corner and glide to the finish line.

Four boats were built for this year’s races. Though the number of boats each year can be low, “a lot of the boats get repeat races with the older races,” said Carolyn Maves, who owns and operates the Hoop ‘n’ Holler with her husband George Maves.

The toddler group featured two participants: Ava Lopac, of Bergland, and Henry Heathman, of Appleton, Wis. The two were pushed through the course by their fathers, Josh Lopac and Colin Heathman, and tied for first place.

Drew Packee, of Milwaukee, paddled to victory past one other participant in the 5-12 age division. This was his second year and second win in the races.

Packee, whose grandmother lives in Wakefield, said there’s no secret to winning. “I just paddle,” he said. He said his family visits the Rhinelander, Wis ., area sometimes during the summer and often goes canoeing there, so that experience helped him.

Some racers were able to cool off when their boats flipped. Three of the four participants in the 13-16 age group flipped during the race.

There was a benefit for one lucky boater who fell into the drink. “Whoever has the most dramatic sinking out there gets the Titanic Award,” Maves said. This year’s award went to Colin Heathman when he took a spill during the 17-40 age group race.

Four participants battled for the top spot in that division. As two racers approached the finish line, their boats got too close together and one fell off, allowing Kylie Abel, of Stevens Point, Wis ., to glide to the win.

Abel, who has participated every year of the races, got her first win this year. “It took 12 years to win a race,” she said. “It’s about time!” She also said there’s no real secret to winning aside from “being really lucky.”

Abel raced on the “Will-n-Abel,” a star-spangled vessel made by her adopted aunt, Jill Meyer, and her husband Ron “Perchman” Meyer, of Merriweather. The “Will-n-Abel” won the Most Patriotic award.

The winner of the 41 and up division was Debbie Castle, of Rolla, Mo. Castle also navigated the waters in the “Will-n-Abel.”

“I’m representing for the Scott sisters,” Castle said, referring to her sisters, also of Missouri. She said this is her 52nd summer visiting the area. Her father, Dr. James J. Scott, worked at White Pine Copper Company for three months every summer and brought his family along to stay with him.

The races have been “something a little extra” to do in the summer after a big start 12 years ago, Maves said. “We started it when Bergland had their centennial celebration as just something extra to add to the events,” she said. “It was crazy that year. There were about 1,000 people here.”

It normally draws participants and a crowd that are about half locals, half visitors, she said. Many participants are people who stay for the summer at their own places or camp, she said. Some spectators even watch from boats on the lake or at the tavern’s dock.

Maves said that while the cardboard boats are often a bit soggy by the end, “only a couple of them usually sink. They’ve made them pretty seaworthy.”

The event offered cash prizes and beach towels for the winners, as well as plenty of giveaway toys for all the youngsters, even those who didn’t race.

“Special thanks go to our co-sponsor, Gogebic Range Bank,” Maves added. “Can’t wait to see you at next year’s races.”