Tuesday, July 20, 2010

12-year-old Elo Wittig wins four medals in Cardboard Boat Regatta

By Kate Flynn*

Boats begin lining up for the first heat of the June 19 Cardboard Boat Regatta Races. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Spectators lined the Houghton Waterfront on Sunday, June 19, to witness one of Bridgefest’s most popular annual events: the Cardboard Boat Regatta Races.

The morning was bright and chilly as three boats lined up for the initial heat: the Gremlin Fitzgerald, 3PT LO, and the City of Hancock.

The Gremlin Fitzgerald and its crew, from left, Houghton High School students Caitlin Carver, Isabel Sharp and Audrey Knuttila (assisted by a Dad?) get ready for the first heat of the Cardboard Boat Regatta Races during Bridgefest 2010.

The Gremlin Fitzgerald -- built by Isabel Sharp, 14, Audrey Knuttila, 14, and Caitlin Carver, 13, of Houghton High School -- was openly deemed less than seaworthy by its creators.

"We got out of school early and wanted to do something fun with a group," Sharp said. "We built it in four days. We started with six people, and ended up with three," she added. "We’re not really expecting it to float. We’re going for the best sinking."

The Gremlin Fitzgerald capsizes early in the first heat. In foreground, at left, is Elo Wittig in his boat, 3PT LO.

The Gremlin Fitzgerald did indeed tip over right after shoving off from shore, but the girls quickly righted it and got back in -- but not before officially receiving the title of "first boat tipped over." 3PT LO, manned by Elo Wittig, dressed as the "Dark Lord," won the race.

The Gremlin Fitzgerald recovers and continues the first race. Although Elo Wittig won the first heat, the girls were awarded a prize for their costumes as well as their sinking.

Many of the spectators didn’t know anyone competing in the race personally, but attended the event to round out their Bridgefest experience. Gretchen Caspary, an '81 graduate of Houghton High School who now lives in Chicago, spent the weekend watching the fireworks and eating some of the food that Seafood Fest and the surrounding vendors had to offer for this special 50th anniversary celebration of the Portage Lift Bridge.

"I just wanted to come up for the weekend -- I heard that Bridgefest was this weekend and I hopped in my car," she said. "It sounded fun. We’re supporting the Gremlin Fitzgerald and Houghton."

After the second heat was won by Aspirus Keweenaw, Hancock and Houghton took their traditional rivalry to the water in the third.

Crews for the cities of Hancock, left, and Houghton prepare their boats for the third heat of the 2010 Cardboard Boat Regatta.

Hancock and Houghton run a close race in the third heat of the Cardboard Boat Regatta. (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)

Hancock won, but the races weren’t over yet. After Vindictive, a small, one-man boat, won the fourth heat, Houghton scored a victory over Aspirus Keweenaw.

Houghton and Aspirus Keweenaw compete in the fifth heat of the Cardboard Boat Regatta. (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)

Elo Wittig's 3PTLO scored another victory -- this time against Hancock -- in the sixth heat.

In the sixth heat, Elo Wittig, the "Dark Lord," chases Hancock's large boat as they round the first buoy.

Elo Wittig's tiny 3PT LO passes Hancock and heads for the second buoy ...

... and the finish for a victory.

In the end, Wittig's 3PT LO won the award for Fastest Boat, while Houghton won the distinction of #1 Team. Aspirus, with a blue boat covered in silver tinsel, won Best Decorated, along with the City of Hancock’s red and gold boat. The Best Costumes were awarded to Elo Wittig, dressed as the "Dark Lord," and the Gremlin Fitzgerald crew, whose goofy, traffic-cone-shaped hats helped them stand out from the crowd. The Best Boat Design/Fastest Boat awards went to 3PT LO and Hancock and Houghton, while the Best and Fastest Sinking was awarded to both the Gremlin Fitzgerald and Vindictive.

Boats set out for the seventh heat of the Cardboard Boat Regatta.

12-year-old Elo Wittig, who walked away from the event with an impressive number of medals (four in total), is not new to the Cardboard Boat Regatta. His "Dark Lord" costume, though, was new this year. It consisted of a polar-fleece ski mask pulled over his face.  Now in his third year of competition, Elo steered his small cardboard craft with ease.

In a final challenge from the City of Houghton, Elo Wittig heads for the finish and another victory for his 3PT LO.

"We watched for a few years and thought, hey, we can do that," said Elo’s father, Robert Wittig, who built this year’s boat in about eight hours.

Robert Wittig, Elo Wittig's Dad, stands behind the boat he built for this year's Cardboard Boat Regatta, held on Father's Day during Bridgefest. Elo won four medals in this year's races. In  2009 he won a First Place Overall Medal. Is that Elo behind his Dad?

*Editor's Note: Guest reporter Kate Flynn, a student at Beloit College, is doing an internship in journalistic writing this summer for Keweenaw Now and for the L'Anse Sentinel.

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