Teen hurt in cardboard boat race

Girl suffers mild concussion in collision with Jolly Roger

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What was supposed to be a fun event turned frightening for a 15-year-old John Gray High School student who took part in the annual cardboard boat race on Saturday. 

According to Sharon Bodden, her daughter Brittney suffered a mild concussion after hitting her head on the hull of the Jolly Roger ship in the harbor during the race, held on the second weekend of the Pirates Week festival.  

Five local students were paddling in the race around Hog Sty Bay when they were forced to jump into the water to avoid knocking into the 60-foot-long Jolly Roger heading toward them. 

“It was very, very scary for all of the kids, and it certainly ruined the fun of the day for them,” said Ms. Bodden. 

Hundreds of people witnessed the Jolly Roger nearing the cardboard boat. A video of the collision was posted on Facebook, in which multiple onlookers in the crowd can be heard saying, “You’re going to run over them.” 

The Jolly Roger was packed with people, but they did not appear to be alarmed by the event and “continued to shoot the cannons and water guns,” as if it was part of the show, said Ms. Bodden.  

She said she does not know why event organizers did not opt to keep the Jolly Roger anchored with its engine off and wondered why no one on the ship alerted the captain to what was happening.  

As the 47-ton ship came closer to the group of kids, they all jumped into the water, but Brittney got caught in the current. 

“She was trying to get away from the boat but it was right near her. The hull was pushing the cardboard boat around; she jumped off the boat [before that happened], but she was stuck in between the cardboard boat and the Jolly Roger,” said Ms. Bodden.  

Brittney told her mother she felt like she was being “sucked under the boat” as the current pulled her toward the hull, causing her to hit her head against the ship. 

Fortunately, Brittney is a strong swimmer and captain of her swim team, so she was able to push off the ship with her feet and swim back toward her teammates, said Ms. Bodden. 

“It was really scary for them, and for me as a parent, I could do nothing [since] I was on the dock,” she said. 

Ms. Bodden is not seeking any legal action, but she wants the ship owners to be aware that the incident was “unnecessary and rather negligent on their part.” 

Christopher McTaggart Smith, owner of the Jolly Roger, confirmed the accident on Saturday. “There was an unfortunate incident during the race that we are very sorry about,” he said.  

After Brittney returned to shore, Ms. Bodden took her to the hospital. Doctors said she appeared to be fine and sent her home. 

After resting all day Sunday, she went back to school Monday until she started getting head pains, said her mother. “She complained that her head was hurting, so I took her back to the doctor and they said she had a mild concussion.”  

Asked for comment on the accident, Melanie McField, executive director of the Pirates Week executive committee which organizes the festival events, said, “On behalf of the Pirates Week executive committee, as it pertains to our association with the above captioned event, the Caybrew Cardboard Boat Race is a Pirates Week Festival endorsed event but is planned, organized and managed by the Cayman Islands Brewery and its agents or representatives.” 

The brewery’s spokesman Matthew Leslie told the Cayman Compass, “The Cardboard Boat Race has been taking place for the last eight years without incident. The highest measure of safety has always been key to its success with the help of volunteers and the RCIPS Marine Unit.” 

He added, “It is very unfortunate that this accident occurred but the main focus is to ensure it never happens again. As the police investigate the current circumstances, we are in contact with the Jolly Roger as well as the Pirates Week Committee in making sure protocol is set for future events so that we can continue making the event a fun, successful and safe event for everyone to enjoy.” 

Police superintendent Adrian Seales said the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is investigating the incident. 

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The Jolly Roger heads toward the cardboard boat. – PHOTO: STEPHEN CLARKE