And while the methods differed, the aim was the same - to stay afloat.
The scene last week was the Bruce J. Walter swimming pool in Union City, and the event was the first annual Project Pride 2003 Great Recycled Raft Relay Race.
It was organized by Union City Library Board member Joe Sivo and Union City Recycling Coordinator Tina Yandolino and comprised of teams from five grade schools in Union City: The Thomas Edison School, Christopher Columbus, Woodrow Wilson, Robert Waters and the Roosevelt School.
According to a handout put together by the organizers, the goal of the regatta was to "be the fastest school to transport your entire team of 12 students to the other side of the Bruce Walter Recreation Center pool and back with a raft made of recycled materials."
The race was a two-fold educational event. The aims were to make students aware of recycling and the cleanliness of their own neighborhoods and to teach the fundamentals of science.
Along with the usual relay race rules, the students had to adhere to a stringent list of "banned objects and materials." These included glass, wood, PVC pipe, aerosol or pressurized cans, tire tubes, tires, BBQ propane tanks, fishing line inflatable rafts or real boat parts, beach balls, small objects, nails, water-based paints and dyes, and Styrofoam.
According to Sivo, any school that couldn't field a water-worthy craft was allowed to build a craft "for artistic merit." One school did just that, constructing a craft out of about 100 one-liter silver-painted soda bottles. While the craft came nowhere near sea-worthiness, its futuristic appearance and size (about 8 feet long and 5 feet wide) drew cheers from the 100 or so students in the stands.
The buildup to the race was intense, and since this was the first such event, getting the teams organized was a bit chaotic. The decibel level rose exponentially as the minutes ticked by.
Finally, the various craft were placed in the water and the respective teams were lined up behind them at poolside. The teams sported different-colored swim caps and some students who had taken a pre-race dip shivered in a combination of excitement and cold.
With the wail of a bullhorn's siren, the race began...and it was almost immediately obvious which team's crafts would do well, and which would, well, sink.
No use crying over...
A craft with a hull made of milk crates began to sink almost immediately, with the team members on top struggling to even stay afloat. The lack of rudders caused even the sturdiest of craft to move from "port" to "starboard."
After a few laps, the simplest craft had the race all but in the bag. Made of six five-gallon spring water cooler bottles and held together with duct tape, the craft, belonging to the Edison School team, proved not only sea-worthy, but also highly maneuverable.
Students on the teams and spectators in the stands screamed and cheered as one as the Edison craft approached the finish line. The waiting team members jumped in the water and gave each other high fives as the thrill of victory overcame them.
A visibly thrilled Tina Yandolino shouted over the din, "This is our first effort to teach the students the importance of recycling. It's been a real team effort. It turned out to be very exciting. It was quite a challenge. It's great, it's fantastic. Better than we expected."
Said a winded and excited 13-year- old Victoria Delgado of the winning Edison team, "I'm so excited!"