Morgan's Cardboard Boat Regatta highlight of small-town July 4 celebration

Thursday , July 05, 2018 - 5:00 AM

Jerry Pierce floats down the Weber River with his flooded cardboard boat during the Cardboard Boat Regatta at the Fourth of July celebration in Morgan on July 4, 2018. This was the second year for the boat race.

BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner

Jerry Pierce floats down the Weber River with his flooded cardboard boat during the Cardboard Boat Regatta at the Fourth of July celebration in Morgan on July 4, 2018. This was the second year for the boat race.

MORGAN — While few people would admit they watch NASCAR for the car crashes, most everybody at this July 4 race was there for just one reason.

To watch boats sink.

On Wednesday afternoon, the second annual Cardboard Boat Regatta — part of the Morgan County Fourth of July celebration — took place on a relatively calm section of the Weber River.

Hundreds of spectators lined the river for the timed event. And while there was plenty of enthusiastic clapping as the creative cardboard-and-duct-tape vessels floated past, the crowd erupted in a roar that could be heard in Henefer each time one took on water and sank.

Which, surprisingly, wasn’t all that common.

In fact, all but two of the 17 boats that started the race made it to the end of the 1,837-foot course in — more or less — one piece. That was in stark contrast to last year’s event, during which most of the boats fell apart and sank on a course that was only half as long as this year’s.

Linda Rawson, a member of the Morgan Area Chamber of Commerce, was in charge of this year’s race. She said 25 boats had registered for this year’s event — as opposed to last year’s dozen — but eight were no-shows. She estimates between 500 and 600 spectators turned out to watch the fun.

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According to Rawson, the fastest time was recorded by the Bauerle family’s “Ute Boat,” a sleek-looking red-duct-taped canoe that shot the river in just over three and a half minutes.

Both the Best Costume Award and the People’s Choice Award (determined by spectator voting) went to Mauricio Melendez, of Morgan. Melendez’s boat was the outrigger canoe from the animated Disney feature film “Moana” — complete with a sail and the crazy chicken from the movie. He also dressed like the character Maui.

This was the second People’s Choice Award for Melendez and his Morgan-based travel agency. Last year, they did a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-themed pirate ship that also had a sail.

“Last year’s sail was too big to go under the bridge,” he said.

The Most Epic Sink Award went to Jerry Pierce, of Morgan. Pierce never really managed to get into his “boat” — it just kept sinking at the put-in dock. Despite his nautical troubles, Pierce took it all in stride, swimming the course holding his waterlogged cardboard creation beside him. And not only that, but he was singing.

“He was singing, I think, ‘Proud to Be an American’ or something,” Rawson recalls.

Pierce is quick to point out that the Morgan race isn’t like those weak cardboard regattas done on a calm pond or small lake.

“We’ve got some current,” he said. “One of the bends has got a little eddy, and we’ve even got a little rapid.”

Pierce also noted: “The boats have gotten more elaborate this year.”

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Well, all of the boats except his. While most of the other boats had hulls and gunwales and bridges and were shaped like, well, boats, Pierce’s was basically a rectangular cardboard box painted with an American flag and a sign for his real-estate business on the stern of the boat.

“Total? I’ve got about four hours of work in this,” he said proudly.

That’s compared to Jason Johnson, of Morgan, whose massive, two-level monster-truck boat was a thing of beauty on the river.

Johnson figures if he counts all the time box hunting, building, painting and responding to the good-natured Facebook taunts among competitors, he and his family have about 100 man hours in their boat.

Johnson said he saw one contestant trying to build a cardboard boat that very morning.

“Some guy watching the parade saw the boats go by, and he was building his boat in the back of his truck,” Johnson said.

The yearly contest sparks a run on cardboard boxes in Morgan County. The most difficult to find? The strong and sturdy watermelon boxes, according to Pierce.

“Those are very coveted,” he said. “That’s the special sauce.”

Sara Trageser owns a Mountain Green dance company. She, her husband and two of her dance students piloted a sparkly unicorn-shaped boat downriver.

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Well, technically, Trageser says, it’s an alicorn — a cross between a unicorn and Pegasus. It featured a tail for a rudder and wings for paddles.

“We watched the race last year, and it looked like so much fun,” she said. “So we entered.”

Trageser said the idea behind their entry was to help promote her dance studio. She figures they spent about $200 on their cardboard boat.

Asked if she realized there were easier and cheaper ways to advertise her dance studio, Trageser didn’t miss a beat: “Yeah, but it’s not as much fun.”

Destination Sports, a local river-guiding company, handled the safety along the river, along with the Morgan County Swift Water Rescue Team.

Morgan Mayor Ray Little said the regatta was only part of a full day of festivities — which included a pancake breakfast, flag ceremony, parade and jet flyover, vendor booths, kids activities, food trucks, a concert, a Morgan’s Got Talent show, and fireworks.

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Little said he was pleased with this year’s turnout, which represented a change of venue for the event. It used to be held at the city’s Riverside Park, but they were outgrowing that space and it was moved to the Morgan County Fairgrounds.

“Last year we had four or five booths. But this year, look,” the mayor said, waving around at a couple dozen booths set up on a grassy area near the rodeo grounds. “And we had 54 entries in the parade this year. That’s amazing for a small town like this.”

Although the turnout for the Cardboard Boat Regatta was “amazing,” Rawson admitted she, too, was a bit disappointed in the lack of sinking ships this year. And she said the board is already considering how to make the race more difficult.

“We might have to make it more complicated next year,” she said. “We’ve been talking about ways to do that, like maybe letting the crowd blast the boats with water.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at