Monday, May 5, 2014

Sweet 16

And a lovely celebration it was, too.  For the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, that is.

First rule of the race:  "Sculptures must be human-powered! No pulling, pushing, paddling, or other propulsive method is allowed except by Official Pit Crew and Pilots (sometimes called Kinetinauts). Stored energy is allowed for non-propulsive purposes only. It is legal to get assistance from the natural power of water, wind, sun, and gravity and friendly extraterrestrials."

And lest anyone think that because Baltimore is on the east coast and on the water it's flat - that would be a no.  I've biked the Tour du Port through the city a couple times and I can attest to some killer hills.   As in 90 year old pedestrians were moving faster than I was by the time I finally pedaled to the top. (I ran over a dead rat during the first Tour.  Thought I was going to fall off the bike laughing - it was SO Baltimore!)

The sculpture race route is about 14 miles long, and includes sand, mud, and water hazards.  Nonsense is not only encouraged but pretty much a requirement.  Spectators do have a few rules:

  1. Hands, equipped with white gloves should be waved vigorously over head whenever viewing Kinetic Sculptures or when on camera.
  2. Tall Spectators must take care to stand in back row when witnessing Glorious Events. On no account should Spectators throw their bodies in the path of oncoming Sculptures.
  3. Cardboard Grin must be worn at all times when personal misery or state of mind interferes with maintaining a normal happy smile.

This was one of the fun things my daughter and I would do together when she lived in Charm City, and we always headed for the water hazard over at Canton because you can climb down on the rocks and get a good, if hard, seat.  Also, leg powered land machines plus water is interesting.  When I arrived Saturday morning, the kayak Posse was already putting in.  They pick up garbage, tow wayward entries back, and have a softer seat than I do.

It is, after all, a race, with awards for things like Worst Honorable Mention and Best Bribes, so there are judges who watch for flagrant rule violations (as opposed to the "my foot is bracing the tire but my hands aren't touching anything" type of violations) and announce competitor's names so we can cheer and chant them on.

There's also always an ugly nun with the judges - I haven't figured that out yet.

The first one in was Swan.

Many of these entries have never been tested on the water before this moment, which is part of the fun.  Swan turned out to be as water-worthy as its avian counterpart.  Which was almost boring.  Note the "foot padels".

The next arrival quickly learned a lesson - you are on the water and there's a breeze. Anything in the construction of the craft that can catch that breeze will. And the cover on the covered wagon acted just like a sail.  They struggled for a bit on the way out, but made it back in pretty good time.  Note that some kid's rocking horse has been stolen to pull the wagon.

While many of the entries are amazingly complex, some are simpler - a bike in one form or another with styrofoam or plastic bottle floaters.

It IS, however, the Baltimore Inner Harbor - the water is, in a word, foul.  So people try to keep as much of themselves out of it as they can.  In fact, one of the rules involves not allowing more than a certain percentage of the body to get wet.  Yeah, dream on.  Winner of the Golden Flipper Award this year:

Ewwwwww!!!!!  Right over the handlebars when he hit the water.  Next year, Doodle, lean back, not forward.  I've seen entries simply disintegrate when they hit the water.  Which is kinda appropriate, given the water quality.

Fifi (the first pic) is an old friend who has raced for years.  This year, however, another old friend was missing:

Seems they were in Tahiti at a tiki bar and PLATYPUS (Personal All-Terran Yacht Proven Un-Safe) went missing.  The tiki bar and its occupants are searching the world (well, maybe just Baltimore) for him.

The construction of some of these things is amazing.  While the leg power for Pokey the PLATYPUS was transmitted through individual bicycle chassis, the energy the crew generated was combined in a Suzuki SUV transmission, with an automotive drivetrain, wheels, and tires to carry him and crew through the course. There's some serious work goes into these entries.

I mentioned tows and wind - Good Dog need remedial obedience training when its lovely fur-covered sides acted as a sail and it wandered up along the shoreline until a couple kayaks got lines on it and brought it back.  Here it heads for the water before it makes like ML's Belle and heads off.

That's not unusual - when I last saw the Norse longship a couple years ago the sheriff's boat was towing it out of the cove it had sailed off to.  Fixed sail, no control, wind.

It's really hard to come back out of the water, too.  The slope is steep, the water and muck tries to suck you back, and as often as they rake it out there's sticks and debris that the tires slide on.  Standard bicycle tires in particular tend to not grip well and it can be a battle to come out without a penalty-inducing tow.

There were a lot of other entries - 33 in all, although not all of them tried the water hazard.  My very favorite was Tick Tock the Croc, and it won in the category of Art as the People's Choice, Grand Mediocre, Marine Posse Favorite:

And, well, it's Baltimore, where good food and good beer abound. Rat Patrol had the right idea (even if Natty Boh, while iconic, is an awful beer):

I could have stayed in Canton,but I was feeling a bit more old fashioned, so I headed off to Fells Point just around the harbor, and after walking and poking around the shops for a while and enjoying a gorgeous day, Brewer's Art Ozzy occured. Several times.  And yes, yes, crab cakes with Old Bay did too.  It's Bawlmer, after all.

For bunches more pics, as well as entertaining info and race rules, check out

The pics are a mix of mine (the worst ones and ones not involving water) and people who are much better photographers than I and who have loaded their stuff to the website.  Also David Jennings over at  Because I was using a cell phone.  And the battery was dieing.


  1. Sounds like a fun day out! :-) And some of those are 'creative' to put it mildly... :-D

  2. That looks like it would be fun!

    1. It is - but I gotta get a funny hat for next year so I fit in better.

  3. Nice! Glad you had fun PH!

    1. Had a great time - much cheering and clapping was involved.

  4. next time you're up here, make a point to go to Parts & Labor. it'll be well worth your time.

    1. Oooooooo! That looks really interesting! Bawlmer has some of the best, most interesting restaurants to be found. I'm thinking of coming over for Hon Fest this year so I might have to give it a try. I miss that dirty, gritty, strangely beautiful old city.

    2. a couple i'm friends with managed to talk their way into the first soft opening...their review is here. they even managed to get my brown-liquor-averse friend to drink and ENJOY bourbon!