Cardboard Boat Race draws crowd of hundreds to Milburn

Locals take to water for annual Baldwin tradition


Pirates, hippies and zombiesflooded Baldwin’s Milburn Creek for an annual Cardboard Boat Race. The cardboard boats were eccentric and the racers’ outfits equally extravagant for the race on Sunday at Milburn Boat Ramp.

More than 200 people lined the boat ramp off Atlantic Avenue as locals hopped into their homemade vessels. The event, now in its 19th year, was sponsored by the Baldwin Fire Department and Sanitary District No. 2, and featured two races — one for children and one for adults.

“The purpose of the event really is encouraging people to use the waterways,” said John Cools, assistant supervisor for the Baldwin Fire Department and commissioner of Sanitary District No. 2. “Getting in the water, using [the water] and keeping it clean,”

“It’s a little awareness [and] a little family fun,” Cools added. “Growing up in Baldwin Harbor, we were the harbor rats, and we sort of merged the Baldwin and Freeport ‘harbor rats’ together to come out for a friendly little boat race.”

The only approved materials for the boats were cardboard, duct tape and rope or string. The oars had to be made from recycled material. One to six people powered the boats, and winners received trophies.

Edward Phalen, 85, started the tradition out of a desire to use the Milburn Boat Ramp in a way that would be fun for the community.

“I started it, and we ran the first event 19 years ago, and every year it’s gone further,” Phalen said. “I built the first boat and came down here, and it lasted 12 minutes. When I pulled it out of the water … it was like mush.”

Three generations of the Phalen family took part in the tradition — even Ed raced with his children and grandchildren in a ship he christened “Passing Wind.”

“Last year, we came in first place for the adult race, and second place for the kids’ race,” said Sergio Magana, a construction worker and Baldwin resident who was racing for the second straight year with his family.

Their team, dressed as zombie pirates, came packing water balloons and water blasters for when the race dissolved into a water fight. “They have [water] cannons over there, and fire extinguishers,” Magana said. “We weren’t ready last year, but we had to [be] this year.”

“We wanted to come out and see the town festivities,” said Kevin Brown, a member of Boy Scout Troop 182. “I think this is pretty cool. I didn’t know this was going on.” Brown said his troop might make a boat for next year’s event.

Sanitary District No. 2 workers recycled the soggy cardboard, and the Baldwin F.D. had a boat in the water in case of problems, but there were none.

There was a suggested donation of $10 for participants,with the proceeds going to Operation SPLASH, a nonprofit environmental organization that works to clean up South Shore waterways.

The winning teams were the Pickled Tigers, in the adult race, and Team ORCA ,in the junior race.