From Crik to Creek: Cruising Down the Crum

Early on Sunday morning, Swatties gathered to race handmade boats down the Crum in the annual Crum Regatta. This notable and highly Swarthmorean tradition of racing homemade boats has been a part of Swarthmore since it was first held in 1969 — it was not, contrary to popular belief, first held in 1972. In fact, the May 2, 1972 edition of The Phoenix announced the “Third Annual Crum Regatta,” showing that the race was already going strong by ’72.

The Crum Regatta is now held during Garnet Weekend at 10:15 on Sunday morning o(although it originated as a springtime event), and boats are made from anything that will float. It is likely that ever since its origin, Engineering majors have consistently dominated the Regatta, because they consistently manage to create boats that both float and stay together for the entire 500 meters of the shallow Crum Creek. Historically, boats were broken up into “divisions” based on their length, so as to create fairness among the contestants. Some notable boats include the “Dookie,” made up of a bicycle that stood atop a plywood platform, the “Delta Upsilon Indomitable,” DU’s boat made up of empty beer kegs tied to plywood, and a plastic laundry basket with empty soda bottles taped taped all around it — all entrants in the 1989 Regatta. More recently, boats have been made of balloons, enormous water jugs, and floor tiles.

The Crum Regatta does not only awards prizes to winning contestants. The Leif Erikson award goes to the first place boat, and the Christopher Columbus award, once for second place, is now given to the boat most demonstrative of the spirit of the Crum Regatta: in a typically Swarthmorean demonstration of historical accuracy and even political correctness, the prizes remind us that the Vikings, and not Columbus, were the first Westerners to discover America. The Crum Creek (formerly, “Crik”) Cruiser award was once the prize for the best-engineered boat; today, it is given to the team with the best costumes. The Queen Elizabeth III award is given to the boat that most creatively uses alternative materials, and the Special Captain’s Prize is awarded to the last boat to cross the finish line (even if it hardly resembles a boat anymore). In addition, boats are allowed to win more than a single one prize: in 1981, pieces of a boat that came apart enroute won both first and third place. However, the prizes were not always as tame as the awards we have today. During the Third Annual Crum Regatta (in 1972), for their first-place finish in a 16-foot homemade Kayak and with a time of 9 minutes and 6 seconds, the winning team received a six-pack of beer and a bottle of rum.

The rules for the Crum Regatta are relatively loose: as long as one member of the team stays on the boat, the finish is valid — even if only a small piece of the boat finishes, which is a common occurrence. In addition, only human muscle power can propel the boat down the currentless Crum Creek — so the heavier the boat (and the more people on it), the harder the task. “Human muscle power” is probably intended to mean students rowing their boats; however, more often than not, one or more students simply runs along the bottom of the creek, pushing or pulling the boat toward the finish-line.

This year, the Regatta drew in a significant number of participants. The winning boat and recipient of the Leif Erikson award was the Hallo Weiner. The Cod Father drew the Christopher Columbus award for its Crum Regatta spirit, and The Chopportunity earned the Queen Elizabeth III award for its incorporation of alternative materials, while the intrepid crew of the Where the Wild Things Are had the costumes necessary to garner them the Crum Creek Cruiser award. Finally, the last craft to finish was the Crumsty Crab, whose team was rewarded with the Special Captain’s Prize for their persistence.

The rules, regulations and prizes of the Crum Regatta have changed in substance and in name throughout the years, but the spirit of the race has only grown since its inception. The race has always been an ideal way for Swatties to put their considerable brain power to creative ends; to nobody’s surprise, each year’s boats have wittier names and more innovative structures than ever before. We may wish that a six-pack of beer could still be bestowed upon us for a victory at the Crum Regatta, but for now, we can aspire simply to share the name of a famous Viking explorer as we sail (or trudge) down the less-than-raging waters of the Crum. Until next year’s Regatta!

The Phoenix

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