Arnette House Regatta returns

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Posted August 17, 2021 | By James Blevins,

A boat modeled after one built by Tom Hank’s character in the movie “Cast Away” takes off in the Arnette House Regatta in 2018. After the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19, the event will return on Sept. 18. [Kim Blaser/Submitted]

Some boats will sail, and some will sink.

And, for the organizers of the Third Annual Arnette House Regatta, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

The event—set for Sept. 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Park and Big Lake Weir Beach—asks boaters with little to no experience to build seaworthy crafts from just about anything they can find, with some caveats.

No fiberglass material, for instance. No old kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, standup boards or pontoons. No caulking compounds, two-part or mixed adhesives, no rubberizing paints or sprays.

That would be too easy. The event organizers want racers to challenge their creativity in the design and build of their boats.

“There are a lot of things that people can come up with,” said Cindy Moore, community & development coordinator at Arnette House. “It can’t be enclosed. That’s one of the rules. The boat must be open in case it tips over. We don’t want anyone getting hurt in this event.”

“You can make a boat out of anything,” said Denise Paradis, assistant shelter and group home manager at Arnette House. “Just be creative. Anybody can go into a garage and look around and go ‘Yup. I’m going to need that. And that, and that.’ It’s like a MacGyver thing. Who wouldn’t have fun being MacGyver?”

Fun is at the center of the event, which replaced a previous static fundraising effort.

“Denise and I were sitting in the office and thinking to ourselves: ‘We got to come up with another event,’” said Moore. “We’ve been doing the annual benefit for so long, and we wanted to do something different.”

Paradis first saw a cardboard box boat race in Indiana and thought the idea would be perfect for Ocala.

All money raised goes to the nonprofit Arnette House, which was established in 1981 and offers emergency shelter for runaways, homeless and at-risk adolescents in Marion County.

The first regatta took place in 2018 and raised $6,000. The second in 2019 raised $8,000. The third was scheduled for 2020, but the pandemic forced organizers to cancel the event.

This year’s regatta has already raised close to $9,000.

So far, eight entries are confirmed, and more spots are available. The entry fee is $150 per boat. Motors are not allowed.

“Anyone can do it. You don’t have to have building skills. Though it helps,” Moore said.

Arnette House Regatta participants prepare to launch their boats during the 2019 edition of the event. After the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19, the event will return on Sept. 18. [Kim Blaser/Submitted]

David Ulloa, maintenance and safety manager and vocational leader at Arnette House, has several regatta entries under his belt.

“If you make the boat too sophisticated, with too much software, it’ll sink. Or it won’t float fast enough,” Ulloa said.

Moore said some designs that look unseaworthy actually work. Others not so much.

“Some people truly have no idea what they’re doing,” chuckled Paradis. “Like they’re rowing in the wrong direction while sinking. But failing is half the fun. It really is.”

The deadline to enter is Sept. 6. For information and rules, visit or call Moore at (352) 622-4432, ext. 231.

“I think of all our events, and we do quite a few, this one is by far the one I get the most excited for. The one that is the most fun,” Paradis said.

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