The choppy waters and stiff breeze that persist at Lone Star Lake, 10 miles southwest of the University of Kansas campus, aren’t a typical laboratory setting. But for this year’s concrete canoe team at the School of Engineering, there’s no better place for research.
The team has spent hours on the water in a concrete canoe – honing their paddling and steering skills in hopes of perfecting their technique as they prepare for this year’s American Society of Civil Engineers Mid-Continent Conference Regional Concrete Canoe Competition April 24-26, in Stillwater, Okla., hosted by Oklahoma State University. The competition requires students to design and build a canoe using concrete as the primary material, then provide detailed presentation materials about the project as well as race against other teams in the canoe.
After narrowly missing a trip to the national competition last year (KU placed second; only the first place team advances), confidence is high for a stronger performance this year.
“We got first in presentation (last year), our design paper was solid, and our canoe looked great, but we had never been in the water with it until the competition,” said Jeremy Boger, a senior in civil engineering and concrete canoe team leader. “We have a paddling coach this year, and we’ve spent a lot of weekends at the lake practicing.”
Boger is in his third year on the team. He’s worked to improve continuity from year to year, including creation of a reusable canoe mold and a uniform filing system for information gathered by the team throughout the year. Establishing that foundation has meant more time this year for the 30 members of the team to practice paddling and focus on other structural improvements
“We’ve moved from this being a construction project which gave us an empirical understanding of a concrete canoe to more of an engineering project where we can really focus on improving the canoe and our overall performance,” Boger said.
“We’ve been able to do a significant amount of materials testing and try out different reinforcements. This process confirmed what we knew last year, but everything on this year’s canoe is better tested.”
Well aware of challenges on the water, the team has concentrated on ways to make a faster, more buoyant canoe.
“We’ve been able to spend a lot of time on the mixture of our concrete and are working on ways to make this year’s canoe lighter. We’ve been able to reduce the weight by about 15 percent,” Boger said. “The hydrostatic properties are good. It’s a good racing canoe, and we should be able to get more speed when we’re paddling. All that practice certainly helps, too.”
With a first place finish at regionals, the KU team would advance to the Concrete Canoe nationals, set for June 19-21, at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, in Johnstown, Pa.