The Roth Pond Regatta is an event that has been taking place annually at Stony Brook dating all the way back to 1989. Cardboard contraptions disguised in paint and tape line the edges of Stony Brook University’s infamously mucky Roth Pond, set to sail across the glistening green liquid, past the string of red, white and blue plastic flags marking the finish line.
But this tradition is much more than a university-wide phenomenon — it lies within the community’s history, which is laden with tales of the building and sailing of wooden boats.
“We do live on an island, and we live in a maritime community, and people are interested in maritime heritage,” said Charles F. Kenny, a member of the original group of directors that created a traditional small boat building program in Port Jefferson in 1989. “There are a number of people that still sail and recreate on Long Island Sound.”
Kenny and other community members opened the Bayles Boat Shop in 2006. The shop resides on the site of the Bayles Boat Yard, one of about 30 yards in the Port Jefferson Harbor complex that constructed vessels during the 1800s up until about 1910, Kenny explained.
Inside the timber frame construction, labeled by a strip of dark wood with the words “Bayles Boat Shop” engraved in gold, about 30 volunteers practice the craft of boatbuilding on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The volunteers have constructed or renovated about 14 vessels to date, and recently built a 17-foot kayak.
“We are an educational program, so we do spend a lot of time teaching, and learning ourselves,” Kenny said, noting that community members who participate in boat construction projects regularly develop their skills through the work.
Students at Stony Brook educate themselves every year, as they form teams to build boats that will race in the Roth Regatta—an event infamous for its sinking ships. Using only cardboard and duct tape, students attempt to construct boats that will float.
Deborah Machalow, Undergraduate Student Government Executive Vice President, said the Regatta brings students together.
“When you really think about it, building a boat out of cardboard and duct tape is comical,” Machalow said. “People get pulled in by the tradition and the laughs.”
Jawad Mourabet, a sophomore engineering major, competed in the Regatta for the second time in his college career Friday, April 27 and said that people come to the Regatta not only to see the race, but also to see the different and creative boat designs.
“If you only have duct tape and cardboard, there is only so much you can do, but with the imagination of some people you can get so extravagant with it, which is why it is so successful,” said Mourabet, who participated in Tabler Quad’s Douglass College boat build.
But Mourabet does not think about the area’s history or maritime surroundings when he thinks of the Regatta. He sees it as a day when everyone on campus, for once, participates in events planned by USG.
“We should be having more days like that,” he said.
Evan Burke, a junior business major, participated in the Regatta for the first time this year, and said that he enjoyed the boat building as well as the competing.
“This was my first Regatta, and since I had so much fun it will definitely not be my last,” said Burke, who also worked with the Douglass team.
Burke also noted that part of the boat building was socializing with the people in his building.
“We were always playing a lot of music, eating snacks and having a good time,” Burke said.
But whether students see the event as a bonding experience or the manifestation of the area’s rich history of boat building, all agree that boat building brings people together—just as people at the Bayles Boat Shop come together twice a week to keep tradition alive.