Students paddle to victory in concrete canoe competition

4/13/2010 - By: Mike Wolterbeek

Strong backs and strong engineering propelled students from the University of Nevada, Reno to a win at the Mid-Pacific Conference concrete canoe competition Saturday in Chico, Calif. The team’s first-place performance earned them a spot in the national competition in June.

“We’re always nervous going into the regional competition because our conference has a high level of expertise,” team advisor Kelly Lyttle said.

The Wolf Pack paddlers bested seven other teams, all from California, in “Battle Born,” their lighter-than-water canoe built with a creative mixture of cement, fibers and other exotic materials. The competition is a combination of fast paddling, engineering, design, a technical paper and oral presentation.

After dominating the race portion of the competition with three first-place finishes and two second-place finishes, the team took first in the final product portion, second in the oral presentation and third in the technical paper portion of the event.

“At the awards banquet we were on pins and needles,” Lyttle said. “We knew it was going to be close.”

The Nevada students edged out second-place San Jose State University by less than a percentage point with a score of 91.5 points out of 100.

The 25 team members, led by project manager and senior civil engineering student Kim Rafter, have been working on the new canoe for eight months using design specifications laid out in the 76 pages of rules and regulations governing the American Society of Civil Engineers competition.

The boat must be 20 feet long and no more than 31.1875 inches wide at the middle. A complete set of design specifications and drawings, including concrete mixtures, dimensions, structural elements and floatation materials, are used by each of the teams in building their boats. A new requirement was to have two recycled aggregates in the mixture.

“We already had one, and, after a lot of effort to find a light material, we found a recycled product used in road striping,” Lyttle said. “It was a bit heavier, requiring us to encase Styrofoam in the ends for added flotation.”

The team will travel with “Battle Born” to San Luis Obispo, Calif. for the 23rd Annual ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition June 17-19, which is hosted by California Polytechnic State University.

“This is great news,” said College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis. “We have established a strong tradition in the national competition.”

This will be the team's fifth national appearance. They won the national title in 2008. The Nevada team has represented the Mid-Pacific Conference four times at the national level with all top-10 finishes: in 2006, sixth place; 2007, third place; 2008, first place; and 2009, fifth place.

The team's National Concrete Canoe Competition performance record includes:

  • Best Overall (2008)
  • Most Design Points (2008)
  • Most Race Points (2009)
  • Best Design Paper (2007, 2008)
  • Best Oral Presentation (2006)
  • Best Product (2007)

The ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition provides students with a practical application of the engineering principles they learn in the classroom, along with important team and project management skills they will need in their careers. The event challenges the students' knowledge, creativity and stamina, while showcasing the versatility and durability of concrete as a building material.


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