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Anything That Floats race planners seek creative watercraft

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Friday, June 19, 2009

Rain or shine, the Anything That Floats race will go on, but no matter what the weather, participants are guaranteed to get wet.

This water-logged event on July 4 is a fun and sometimes exhilarating part of the annual Three Rivers Regatta. Teams of as many as 10 individuals are invited to build creative watercrafts and compete in a race on the Allegheny River -- which most will spend some time swimming in, too.

Teams have until Friday to apply for participation. A maximum of 50 vessels will be allowed. Consideration is based on an applicant's theme, costume, propulsion and vessel design.

"In the past ... a lot of the vessels sank," says Michael Dongilli, senior vice president for ISM/USA, event manager for the regatta. "Some, as soon as they get in the water, sink, but there have been others that are so craftily built that they are pretty impressive."

Don't worry. If you do sink and do it well, there's a prize for you and your team. The craft with the best sinking will receive a plaque and regatta apparel. The winning team will receive a trophy and dinner at the new Rivers Casino on opening night. The best-decorated float will garner its handlers a plaque, Pirates tickets and $100 in gift certificates to Downtown restaurants.

The Anything That Floats race is the first event of the day on July 4. It begins at 11 a.m. near Point State Park on the Allegheny River and travels along a course that's approximately 500 yards. The Coast Guard will be on hand with boats that don't sink. Proceeds benefit the Arthritis Foundation.

Members from the Pittsburgh Technical Institute in Oakdale plan to enter again this year. Previous entries included vessels shaped like a school bus, egg carton and pack of cola. This year, they plan to enter a sea serpent and dress up as Scottish Highlanders. The craft will have two parts that move independently and will be made of plywood, two-by-fours, barrels, construction foam and "lots of paint."

"You never enter to win, because it's not about winning," says Brian Maitland, department chair of the computer-aided drafting and HVAC department at the institute. "But it certainly is about having fun. That's why we do it."

One of the most important rules is that the vessel has to be human-powered. It can't use any type of motor or anything battery-operated.

"It is amazing, the ingenuity, as to how they craft it and design it," Dongilli says. "It also takes a lot of energy and time to make one of these, and people are committed to doing it."

All the work is for a good cause.

"We are very excited to be the benefiting charity for Anything That Floats," says Lisa Mauti, of the Arthritis Foundation Western Pennsylvania chapter. "The race is an amazing time for everyone participating and watching. All funds raised from this race will help the Arthritis Foundation fund programs for people with arthritis, public health education initiatives and local-research grants."

Jake Ellis from Zelienople, along with friend Spencer Faruquee from Cranberry and his father Ben, will maneuver on "Black Pearl," a craft they used in a race in Bridgewater, Beaver County. Their vessel is made from plastic gallon barrels from a dairy farm, an old bicycle from a neighbor, rope and two-by-fours, all for less than $50. They didn't sink in their previous try but wanted to make it go faster for this race., based in the South Side, had a vessel in a previous race that replicated the Racer roller coaster from Kennywood. Nathaniel Beall from North Baldwin is one of the founders of, which is a community Web site with information about events happening around town.

"I really have an appreciation for the people who build these things," he says. "It is very challenging and takes both creativity and engineering skills. A lot of them are built out of wood, and if you don't have any idea what you are doing, it most likely will sink or fall apart. But if that happens, that is also part of the fun of being part of an event like this."

Part of the challenge comes before you even get to the starting line, he says. A few years back, his team built a Flintstone-mobile and had to cut out part of a fence to get it out of the yard, and then lost part of it driving through a tunnel to get downtown. The next time, they built their vessel in parts, and put it together after they arrived at the regatta.

"It was as much fun designing and making the craft as it is competing in the race," says Paul Shushnar of Whitehall, one of the three founders of BarSmart. "Just having people get together at someone's house and come up with ideas, and then turning those ideas into reality, is a good time."

Additional Information:

Anything That Floats race

When : 11 a.m. July 4

Registration cost and deadline : $100 by June 26. Submission of an application does not guarantee inclusion; in that case, a refund is possible.

Where : Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta , Allegheny River near Point State Park

Details : Web site

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