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LIers take Riverhead cardboard boat race into their own hands

Gabrielle Comanda, 23, of Center Moriches, and Sam

Gabrielle Comanda, 23, of Center Moriches, and Sam Notaro, 28, of Riverhead, paddle their cardboard boat, Hope it Floats, on Sunday, July 31, 2016. Photo Credit: Victoria Pendzick

After the Town of Riverhead pulled the plug on its annual cardboard boat race, two groups of Long Islanders decided to hold a race of their own down the Peconic River.

Two boats competed in the “outlaw” race Sunday morning on the Peconic in downtown Riverhead, said race organizer Mark Sisson, 63, of Mattituck.

Sisson and his four crewmates paddled The Outlaw, a 13-foot-long vessel with red flames painted on its sides. The group handily defeated Hope It Floats, helmed by Gabrielle Comanda, 23, of Center Moriches, and Sam Notaro, 28, of Riverhead.

Comanda, who’s new to cardboard boat racing, said she was just happy their boat made it to the race’s midpoint — an old milk carton that bobbed about 100 yards from the dock — and back in one piece. Comanda and Notaro started building their boat back in June, and the vessel’s bare bones were already in place when they learned the race had been called off.

Town officials decided to cancel the June 26 race, an annual summer event since 2010, over concerns about water quality and the potential for another bunker kill, said Town of Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

Tens of thousands of bunker fish suffocated in the crowded Peconic River last year, forcing officials to reschedule the race from late June to late August.

Walter said he was disappointed they were unable to hold the event again this year, but was “happy to see” that Sisson and company enjoyed themselves Sunday.

“We were pretty upset,” Comanda said. “We hung onto the boat just in case the race got rescheduled. So when we learned Mark was going to have the race anyway, we were totally in.”

The pair rushed to waterproof the boat the morning of the impromptu race by wrapping it in duct tape. They secured a final piece of cardboard on the back with the vessel’s name scrawled in Sharpie before launching the ship into the Peconic.

Comanda and Notaro had an early lead, but as their boat began to take on water, they were easily overtaken by Sisson and his crewmates, who have participated in the town’s official race since its inception in 2010 and spent about 10 hours building their boat out of old television boxes.

As The Outlaw cruised past the finish line, there was little hope for Hope It Floats. Comanda and Notaro slowly paddled their waterlogged vessel even as the walls of the craft began to buckle and the bow of their boat became completely submerged.

For their efforts, Sisson presented Comanda and Notaro with a trophy – a roll of duct tape mounted on a block of wood.

“We did this just to have a fun afternoon and to see how well the boat steered,” Sisson said. “I hope the official event gets put on next year, but if not, I’d definitely want to have another outlaw race.”

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