Schoolkids have feral fun at animal-themed environmental boat race

The sixth annual Whatever Floats Your Boat event brings together school pupils, parents, teachers and businesses, with proceeds going to wildlife charities.

Whatever Floats Your Boat is a fun day out for schoolchildren, parents and teachers but it also carries underlying messages about being environmentally aware and also helps foster a team spirit. Clint McLean for The National
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DUBAI // Boats strung together with recycled material and designed with an alligator or crocodile’s head, a lion’s mane or covered with a cheetah’s spots bobbed in the canal near Dubai Festival City on Friday.

Parents, teachers and friends yelled instructions and encouragement in Arabic and English to school pupils who paddled furiously in colourful boats cobbled together with tyre tubes, plastic bottles or wood as the vessels capsized, foundered or sped across the canal in the annual Whatever Floats Your Boat event.

“It has been fun and we have learnt a lot because last year our boat flipped but this time we’re ahead of the other teams,” said Saad Kalim, 19, from Dubai Gems Private School.

“Last year we used big bottles and we couldn’t even sit on it properly so this year we changed the design to make it flatter.”

His teammates, Valmik Lakhlani, Yajantha Yappa and Mahmoud Essam, used chunks of styrofoam painted green and joined with chopsticks to form the boat’s basic structure.

In another race, four girls from Deira International School – Chiara Hildebrand, Maxine Denis, Blandine Maillard and Shamim Khedri – deftly steered their boat, which was made with plastic bottles and bound with fish nets, to beat strong opposition from male pupils.

“We really wanted to win because we looked weak and scrawny and they [the other teams] were making fun of us,” said Maxine, 16.

“But we were really excited and put all we had into it. My arms are still shaking.”

The event aimed to promote ecological awareness among the public is in its sixth year. This year the goal is to raise funds to support the Emirates Wildlife Society and the World Wildlife Fund’s species conservation projects.

Participants make boats from recyclable materials, with corporate houses and schools participating in an event that brings together pupils, parents, teachers and businesses.

A team from Emirates International School called in supplies of used tyre tubes after the ones on their boat became unusable when they reached the event site on Friday morning.

“We had to remake the boat again this morning when some tubes popped but we’ve managed fine,” said Ashdeep Seth, 16, about the effort put in by teammates Hozefa Basrai, Denzel Mutoko and Ghassan Lugman.

The team wound nylon ropes around wooden planks on which four tubes were fixed to form the frame of their boat.

“The best thing is that the school builds the boats together, with all students asked to get material,” Ashdeep said.

“So you get an opinion from everyone about the design and shape. And we also get to hang out with friends.”

Team names ranged from Thunder Tigers, Eco Minions and Water Warriors to Alligator Annihilators, Thunder Ducks and Flying Cheetahs.

In keeping with the event’s animal theme, Ali Kahtan, Ahmed Muneer, Mohammed Abdullah and Rashid Abdul Rahman, from the National Charity School, painted their faces yellow with black spots and whiskers.

There was some disappointment when a few of the boats failed to float well but all the schools were prepared to come back next year with improved designs.

“We were excited but the boat was too heavy; it could not go fast,” said Rashid, 17, about the yellow-spotted boat of plastic barrels and wood bound with rope that his National Charity School teammates took about a month to build.

“The students must build it lighter next time.”

This was the first time the Arabic-language school competed in the event.

An all-girls team from the Universal American School asked neighbours, friends and other pupils for empty bottles and finally collected 50 that they strung together with a green wooden plank secured on top.

“Last year we made our own rope made of plastic bags but that fell apart in the water so this year we used rope,” said Tayma Ashour, 14, about her Sea Turtle Express team, which included Norah Alheraiz, Bana Ashour and Ameena Meikal.

“We must make it a little narrower so it’s easier to steer but it was fun to row a boat we made ourselves.”