How to Build (and Sink) a Cardboard Boat - Benjamin Sharp


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How to Build (and Sink) a Cardboard Boat - Benjamin Sharp

For my work experience this year I chose to work with Seas Your Future. I sailed with them on the summer voyage last year and I have been keen to get working with them ever since. The Bristol Harbour Festival was happening the same week as my work experience so the team at Seas Your Future put me on. At first, I thought that I would just be giving tours and helping out on board, however, the plans changed to something much more exciting.

One of the festivities at the Harbour Festival is a Cardboard Boat Competition. Competitors have to build a boat completely out of cardboard, tape and varnish (to make it waterproof). The competition is very popular among the crowds and, surprisingly, it is possible to get your boat around the course and back to the dock.

We arrived at about two o’clock on Friday ready to start building, The Pelican was in dock and she looked magnificent. There were three people building the cardboard contraption and we started with fairly high morale. The plan was to have a really thick base made up of five layers of cardboard: this would provide, in theory, plenty of floatation and strength for someone to sit in the vessel like a kayak. There were tall walls two sheets thick glued to the sides and a sharp point on the front. To waterproof the hull we covered it in gaffer tape and varnish. 

The first problem came when we were glueing the sheets together. The Pelican didn’t have much glue so we ended up using three different types which, in hindsight, was the least of our problems. After a long day’s work, we left the boat on the quayside ready for the race the next day: she looked good.

The next morning I returned to the harbour to put some finishing touches on her like the logos and the paddle. It was not good. Overnight the moisture in the air had got to the adhesive on the tape and the sides had collapsed; we had two hours to fix it. With help from the Pelican crew, the sides were taped back on and the paddle was made but everything now wobbled slightly.

Down at the water, we inspected the other competitor’s boats and, honestly, it was a bit embarrassing. The other two had spent almost a week on their boats and they looked really good, mine just looked like cardboard and tape.

We lowered the craft (can I even call it a boat) into the water and the announcer counted down to go. As I stepped in I thought “huh, this actually might work” and so I set off paddling for the buoy. After ten seconds water started coming up through the cracks in the sides but I carried on. At thirty meters there was a nice layer of water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat but I was still going strong. By fifty meters (halfway to the buoy) the water was almost halfway up the sides of the boat and I was definitely sinking. I stood up in the wreck and gave the crowd one final salute as my ship collapsed under me.

The other boats both made it back to the pontoon, and rightfully so, they had put lots of time and effort into their boats.

Back on Pelican I got cleaned up from my little swim and prepared to enjoy the rest of the day’s events. The Pelican offered tours to the public throughout Saturday and Sunday so I helped out on deck telling people about my voyage last summer and what Seas Your Future does.  She was a very popular destination for the public, who hadn’t seen many tall ships before. She also offered a perfect place to watch the stunts and events in the harbour.

Every few hours the Pyronaut, a fire-boat built in 1934 gave a display; spraying water from its eight water cannons (is that the right term? They were like big water pistols). The water created a mist which pleasantly cooled off the spectators on board.

The National Freestyle champion in flyboarding, Jack Moule, performed in front of crowds on the Pelican. His performance of barrel roles and dolphin dives was so captivating that the ship started leaning to one side as people oohed and aahed at his display.  Every few hours he would be up in the air, his feet attached to a board pushing high-pressure water down to keep him hovering. Near the end of Sunday, he pulled out all the stops as he let off smoke grenades and dressed up like Spiderman and James Bond (not at the same time though). 

For the rest of my work experience, I was due to work on Seas Your Future’s new boat Nansen.  The Nansen is a topsail schooner from Germany, she was christened as Edith in 1919 and changed hands a few times before landing in Hamburg as a sailing cargo/ training ship. She is ever so slightly longer than Pelican but slightly thinner. The crew at Albion dock have done an amazing job on her refit; most of the bulkheads have been removed from the hull and the yardarms have just had their last layer of varnish. They still have much work to do but once it is finished she will offer a new, and larger, training platform for sail training and ocean science.

On the Monday after the festival, I met up with Jo (the bosun) and we started to varnish the last yardarm. The yardarms are what hold the square-rigged sails and the ones from Nansen were old and knackered. The other yards had been completed with their ten coats of varnish (yes, tens, my boat only had one) over the weekend so we only had one coat to do on the main course yard. Later on, when there were more of us, we started making wire coils that wrap around the stays and standing rigging on the ship. Over the course of the day, we made 50 total coils before running out of wire.

After this, the practical side of my work experience was completed. I had a really good time and got to try all sorts of jobs. I certainly had the best appointment out of all of the people in my class. After a day of travelling back on Tuesday, I started the “office” side of my work experience.

The Wednesday started with a call with Simon and Min where I got a brief history and explanation of Seas Your Future. I then set off writing this blog and doing a SWOT analysis from an “outside” perspective. For the second half of the day I further analysed a survey about fundraising, it was really useful as I learnt to apply methods I’ve learnt in school to real-life problems.

Thursday was my last day working with the Seas Your Future Team, it has been really great working alongside so many different people in so many different jobs. Today I finished (or am finishing) writing this blog. I also wrote a piece for the newsletter about the voyages Pelican has been on this month. At two I had a meeting with Carl who designed the logo and the branding for Seas Your Future, It was really useful as I am also a designer and I am hoping to take design for my A levels. He told me to keep a free mind and stay open to the World.

Seas Your Future is the operating name of Adventure Under Sail,
Charity 1124276, VAT 174919961.

For more information contact: 
T: +44 (0) 1305 839835