It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13. The year was 1970. Swarthmore students headed home after witnessing what may be one of the strangest things they’ve seen so far in their Swarthmore careers: a homemade boat race in Crum Creek. The first annual Crum Regatta. According to our yearbook, “a surfboard won.” It clearly wasn’t a huge event at the time—The Phoenix has a photograph from the day, but dedicated coverage wouldn’t begin until the following year.
Although the world has changed radically since then, the Regatta has remained. Every spring, Swatties flock to the Crum to cheer on their friends as they float, row, or paddle their way to the finish line. Before coming to Swarthmore, I went a little overboard on my research and found the Complete Swarthmore 150, a bucket list of sorts compiled for Swarthmore’s 2014 sesquicentennial. Being head over heels for Swarthmore and doing Everything™, I pored over the list. What got me was #17:
Sail—or sink—your homemade boat in the Crum Regatta.
Of course, as soon as I discovered what exactly the Regatta was, there was no question. I didn’t really know how or when or where, but I knew I would be in the Regatta, and I would win.
Fast forward to late October. An email appears in my inbox: Register Your Team for the Crum Regatta! I wasted zero time badgering my friends to enter with me. We’d build the best boat this campus has ever seen and take the Regatta by storm! About twelve of my good friends agreed to participate, split into three teams. My team, the Aquatic Angels (yes, like the models), decided to use Sharples trays for our craft.
Over the course of lunch and dinner, our team smuggled twelve trays out of the dining hall. The heist of the century! Despite some odd looks from the Sharples staff, the trays were successfully acquired. A trip to the hardware store for duct tape—done. What about blueprints? One of our team members is a massive physics geek and spent a solid two hours calculating the ideal dimensions for our boat. He concluded we had an eight-degree margin for error. Wonderful. Oh, we can tape bottles to the craft to compensate for error? Cue a day-long scavenger hunt for discarded water bottles in every recycling bin on campus.
For two or three nights, the four of us commandeered a friend’s room to build our boat. All the physics calculations went out the window as we quickly realized it’d be a miracle if we even finished on time. Hunched over trays and duct tape and plastic bottles, blasting “Closer” by the Chainsmokers, we worked at a feverish pace. Somehow, we christened the HMS Victory at 11 p.m. or so the night before the Regatta.
Saturday morning arrived. The four of us carried the HMS Victory to Ware Pool, wincing at every crack of duct tape losing the will to stick. (Due to maintenance on the SEPTA railway, the Creek wasn’t sailable.) We arrived, the only one of our friend group’s three teams to do so, though some of our friends showed up just to cheer us on. The competitors lined up. Among the craft gathered were a bona fide rowboat, a member of the swim team, a mattress, and a mass of garbage bags. My roommate did a write-up for the Daily Gazette with more about the teams themselves. Three of our team got in the water with our boat, trying to coax the fourth into getting in. Yes, the boat will float. Yes, we know it’s close to the water but it will not sink, Amelie, please get in the boat.
Well. It didn’t sink. Though it didn’t quite float, either. I pushed, Nick pulled, and Lijia swam alongside, holding up the center so the boat didn’t break in half. I’m pretty sure Amelie was yelling the entire time, but honestly we were all yelling at each other to just keep swimming, we can do it, let’s win this thing! Once we’d dragged ourselves and our craft from the pool and recovered, our friends informed us that we’d netted fifth place. However, we still won the Elon Musk Award for most innovative use of materials. The reward? A cool $50.
All in all, I had a ton of fun doing the Regatta and fully intend to do it again next year. If this year’s is anything to go by, we won’t win first place, but maybe we’ll nab the Jacque Cousteau Award for spirit. Or maybe the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” Award for best thematic approach? Either way, there’s no doubt in my mind that next year’s Regatta will be a blast and a half for everyone involved.