4th annual Arroyo Cup Regatta hosted by Rancho Santa Fe Outdoors Club

A group of Regatta designers and owners at the Arroyo Pond in Rancho Santa Fe. Courtesy photos

By Dennis Conner

The fourth annual Arroyo Cup Regatta hosted by the Rancho Santa Fe Outdoors Club was held recently at the Arroyo Pond. As usual, the course ran 80 feet, from the south to the north side of the pond. The wind was fair out of the west, with the sun behind clouds for most of the race.

Much as in years past, contestants were restricted from using batteries or gas to power their boats. Most designs resorted to solar or steam with a few harnessing only the wind or the energy expended by a highly wound rubber band.

While some boats were clearly purchased on Amazon, already fully assembled after having been mass produced in China, others were a mix of purchased yet creative kits that required labor to assemble and make work, homegrown designs, or cannibalized Frankensteinian creations that “came alive” when conditions were right.

Unlike most years, nearly all boats actually made it across the pond. But true to form, most still struggled with steering as the westerly winds blew them off course, trying to beach them on the small tick-infested island. But no need to worry, as many contestants abandoned their viewing seats to retrieve their creations prior to marooning.

Entrants were:

• “Crystal Clear Itch,” a solar water bottle design, weighing less than a feather. Its steering mechanism alone was a sight to behold and unlike most solar boats, this one actually seemed to enjoy the clouds.

• “JFK,” a converted toy U-boat adapted with four large solar panels that not only powered the boat but controlled its steering. Very impressive.

• “Servando,” a deceiving little putt-putt steam boat that had a legal modification to the stern that looked suspiciously like a rudder.

• “Winter,” a sturdy water-bottle catamaran with solar-powered paddle wheels. Given the race day temperature, the boat’s provenance was the source of much discussion, but it soon became apparent that the origin of the name had been lost to time.

• “Roman Galley,” a return entrant from years past, stored in a sock drawer between races. The “Galley” was originally purchased from Amazon, in keeping with the owners’ belief in buying local.

• “Golden Lightning” was an ingenious solar and water bottle catamaran that used a converted Playmobil toy propeller. To turn the boat off, one simply had to turn it upside down.

• “Rubber Wind,” a large, exercise rubber band-powered trimaran, must have been designed by a liberal, given its tendency to turn to the left after being wound up.

• “The Old Man and the Sea,” another smallish Amazon purchase from previous years, proved robust in the heavy seas of the pond.

• “Slicey Cuty Booty,” a rocket-powered attempt to drag a smallish Lego boat across the pond via a dental floss leash. The “Booty” was definitely the hottest boat of the race.

• “The Rock,” a derivative of the rocket-powered boat, substituted the boat part of the design with an actual rock and in place of the flammable rocket propellant, instead used the contestant’s throwing arm.

• “Balooney,” a clever design that used a helium balloon and piece of foam, both purchased from Michael’s 30 minutes before race time, as noted by the receipt taped to the foam. What made the boat clever was not its design or aptitude, but rather its ability to be returned to Michael’s 30 minutes after the race for a full refund. However, the designer of this simple boat was clearly not aware of the unwritten Regatta rule whereby boats are to be severely over-engineered to the point just shy of total failure, if not beyond.

Several other meandering putt-putt boats owned by the ROC Yacht Club and brought out strictly for photo opportunities were also present on the pond.

One of the first boats to cross the pond was the Crystal Clear Itch. Like the engine that never gave up, this craft kept going and going until hitting the cattails next to the finish line while avoiding the wind by hugging the eastern water line.

Balooney took off next and quickly completed the course in seconds, only to be just as quickly blown off course as it attempted the unprecedented “round the world” return journey. The rescue of Balooney was underway as Servando headed out to the course. With his rudder modification in place, Servando proved to be better than most putt-putt boats as the loopy circumference of his path was much larger than the tight circles these boats usually travel in. He finished the course after 8 minutes, 14 circles and a few taps from the “Stick of Love,” a cattail used to gently rectify the course of wayward boats.

After spending 17 minutes winding the 4-foot rubber band that powered Rubber Wind’s air propeller, the Wind looked furious as it sprayed water in its wake, yet traveled only 10 feet. Subsequent windings yielded better results, but the boat had trouble managing even 20 feet, given that its tail section was coming apart from the stress of the rubber band and that it only wanted to turn to the left.

JFK attempted the crossing next, but was prevented by cloud cover. Sputtering for a few minutes, it was soon recalled to the starting line. All other solar boats, save Crystal Clear Itch, were similarly grounded for the time being. So, now it was time for Booty. Local canines found the rocket design most curious, soaking the electronic launch mechanism just moments prior to launch. Mission Control problems aside, the accumulated design flaws and malfunctions resulted in a launch pad fire, engulfing the entire rocket save the Lego boat.

The Roman Galley and Old Man and the Sea were launched simultaneously, challenging the Sun God still hiding behind clouds. Their highly sensitive solar panels proved capable, if not weak. With lots of bailing and taps from the Stick of Love, these boats spent the next 45 minutes traversing the 80-foot course.

Meanwhile, the co-owner of the now-rescued Balooney was having recovery issues of his own, having lost his left flip-flop to a large, submerged object in 4 feet of water. Given the size and weight of the object and the fact that it was in a large canvas gym bag, rumors abounded; but most agreed it was probably a body dropped off by a resident with a dubious past. The RSF Trails and Rec Committee has been contacted for retrieval and eventual autopsy.

With the sun now playing peek-a-boo, all previously grounded solar boats hit the course. JFK took off like a champ, only to be entangled in the free-spirited Balooney’s tether. After disentangling, JFK made several more impressive, unimpeded trips across the pond, setting many speed and accuracy records, while Balooney re-shifted its sights on the far end of the pond. Winter and Golden Lightning worked well, but their solar panels lacked the sensitivity of the others, hence they alternated between excessive speed and foundering.

By this time, all boat designers were either in the water retrieving their creations, exploring the island or devouring some of the many snacks brought to combat the heat and humidity. With the course clear, The Rock made his debut, traversing the course in fractions of a second only to be reminded that the “boat” that finishes the race must be identical to the one that started. The owner/designer was nonplussed as he looked for his “boat” among the weeds on the far shore.

Given the relative success of the Regatta, race organizers are contemplating a rule change for next year’s event, which requires boat designers and owners to use an identical list of building materials, constructing their craft and paddles on-site, with the designers themselves powering their vessels across the pond.

Thanks to Harrison & Ross (JFK), Owen (Servando), Dr. Kottler (Balooney), Evan (Old Man and the Sea), Cody (Roman Galley), Jake (the Rock), Natalie & Anthony (Booty), Kelly (Rubber Wind), Avery (Winter), Golden Lightning (Jackson), John John & Will (Crystal Clear Itch) along with Jewel, Jack, Liam, Lila and Dean.

Stay tuned for more adventures of the ROC as Beach Camp and its “Crush Their Spirits” Dads vs. Kids Football Game next month.