Civil engineers take momentum to national competition

4/4/2007 - By: Sue Putnam

At a Glance:

2007 Canoe Name: Cerulean
Students involved:
  • Nick Maxon, project manager
  • Christine Harms, assistant project manager
  • Michael Taylor, graduate student adviser
  • Kelly Doyle, mix design engineer
  • Adam McNutt, construction engineer
  • Corbin McFarlane, hull design engineer
  • Bryan Truce, paddling coach
  • Brian Fitzgerald
  • Kara Bymers
  • Brittany Miller
  • Dale Keller
  • Tarin Strickler
  • Matt Savage

National Concrete Canoe competition:
June 14-16 in Seattle, Wash.

Despite a collision at the end of one race, the 3,500 hours of labor paid off for the University’s Concrete Canoe Team in the 2007 American Society of Civil Engineers Mid-Pacific Regional Conference.

The student-built concrete canoe was judged in four categories: overall appearance, technical design paper, oral presentation and paddling. The team placed first in three of the four categories, took second overall in racing and will go to the national competition in June at the University of Washington.

“Our success was due to the culmination of three years of combined technical and construction-based expertise,” project manager Nick Maxon said. “We are incredibly strong academically this year, both in the design paper and in the business presentation. Our canoe is among the top five in the nation aesthetically and paddling is very competitive as well. By being so well rounded, we nearly swept all the areas in the competition.”

The University did not have a concrete canoe program for seven years before starting a comeback in 2005. In 2006, the team placed second in their region, qualifying for the national competition for the first time in school history. This year, the team has accomplished an amazing feat by beating UC Berkeley, one of the most statistically competitive teams in the nation.

“Winning this portion of the conference is a big deal because our university has never taken first place in our region,” Kelly Doyle, graduate research assistant said. “It’s much more significant than winning any other portion of the Mid-Pacific Conference, including winning the overall Mid-Pac trophy.”

So besides the facts that this concrete canoe, christened the Cerulean, weighs 175 pounds, has walls that are a half-inch thick and is made of white concrete with a blue acid stain, what makes the 2007 model so special?

“Our hull design this year gives us incredible straight line speed without sacrificing stability or turning,” Maxon said. “Additionally, the use of two layers of carbon fiber reinforcement and sixteen pre-stress tendons, each jacked to 285 pounds, gives us the strength necessary to have a durable canoe ready to withstand the rigors of competition. As shown by our collision with Berkeley, the minimal damage sustained is a testament to the composite strength of Cerulean.”

Maxon credits team members Chad Lyttle and Adam McNutt, the students responsible for the construction of Cerulean, for the boat’s durability. Corbin McFarlane, another civil engineering graduate student, developed the hull design and helped co-write the design paper as well. And Doyle was instrumental ensuring the mix design, presentation materials and displays were among the best in the nation. All of those elements became even more important when the collision occurred.

Just at the end of the co-ed race as the Berkeley canoe and the Cerulean paddled across the finish line, they ran into each other. Unfortunately, Berkeley's canoe sustained significant damage as Cerulean punctured a hole in the side of Bear Force One. But it was the last race and both teams took responsibility for the accident.

Michael Taylor, an engineering graduate research student who developed the analysis, co-managed the mix design and also developed the design paper said the Nevada canoe has proven it’s durability. He can even provide the answer to why concrete floats.

“The concrete is 11 percent less dense than water, yielding a canoe that is naturally buoyant,” Taylor said. “Due to pre-stressing, the canoe has 4,300 lbs of compressive force applied. Now, there are currently no techniques for predicting the turning ability of a canoe, but we developed a method to help improve our hull designs. The concrete mix features 14 unique ingredients which gives it impressive strength and weight properties.”

Taylor said the team developed an innovative construction technique where the concrete and reinforcement were cast in a single layer. Canoes are normally cast in several alternating layers of concrete and reinforcement.

The conference also included the steel bridge category, the mead paper competition, and side contests for fun, such as concrete bowling, tug-o-war, and beach volleyball. The side competitions were used to rate each team's spirit and participation. Although the steel bridge did not meet specifications, Nevada placed second in tug-o-war, first in volleyball, first in concrete bowling, first in spirit and first overall in the Mid-Pac.

“Above everything else, we take great pride in the friendly and spirited reputation we've developed,” Taylor added. “We know from experience how difficult and time consuming the entire concrete canoe process is, so we try and encourage and help other teams as much as possible. At the end of the day, our friendly and helpful reputation is what I am most proud of, and I am glad to have represented Nevada in this way.”

But besides the fun, the spirit and the entertainment, the canoe seems to build engineers with a power all its own.

“Canoe gave people the opportunity to get hands-on experience in project management and team building, and provided a platform to exercise the skills and knowledge being learned in the classroom,” Taylor said. “There was also room for innovation and creativity, unmatched anywhere else in an engineer’s education. I can honestly say that concrete canoe played an extremely important role in my professional development, and was more effective in teaching me about the ‘real world’ than any anything else I've done.”

This year’s conference began on April 26 at Santa Clara University and was co-hosted by San Jose State University. The Mid-Pacific region consists of: Berkeley, Chico State, Fresno State, Sacramento State, San Francisco State, San Jose State, Santa Clara University, the UC, Davis, and the University of Nevada, Reno.

The Cerulean team will represent northern Nevada and northern California in the National Concrete Canoe competition June 14-16, at the University of Washington.


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