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Rock-Solid Determination Wins the Race
WINNERS University of Wisconsin-Madison's Arick Groth, David Chmielewski, Amy Roth, Linda Vanevenhoven surge forward in the
co-ed sprint.

Every year hundreds of civil engineering students dedicate months of hard work and solid determination to make the seemingly impossible a reality—design and construct a racing caliber canoe from concrete. This year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison captured its second consecutive national victory at the 17th annual National Concrete Canoe Competition, which was held June 18-20 in Washington, D.C

The competition, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and Master Builders, Inc., gives civil engineering students the opportunity to apply practical engineering principles they have learned and to gain management skills with team cooperation.

Universite Laval earns second place.

"There are a multiple number of factors for participating," says Rhett Dotson of Texas A&M University. In addition to the experience gained from a leadership position and the excitement of competing, "you make some of your best friends."

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2003's reigning champion, beat 21 other teams participating in this year's competition, which the Catholic University of America hosted. Universite Laval an invited guest from Canada, placed second, and University of Alabama-Huntsville received third in the competition. Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., and Milwaukee School of Engineering placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

Rock Solid University of Wisconsin-Madison
Iceberg Universite Laval
ConQuest University of Alabama-Huntsville
Cast Away Clemson University
S.S. Milwaukee Milwaukee School of Engineering

The competition is 75% academics-based. Judges base scores on a design paper, an oral presentation, the final product's aesthetics and structure quality and races. Each of the four parts is equal in weight.

University of Alabama-Huntsville finished third in the overall competition.

Although NCCC rules restrict the use of paint (except for the letters used for the school and canoe name), stains and cement dyes gave canoes a variety of lively colors including green, blue and orange. Even more vivid are the names of the canoes. Drexel University morphed MTV's television show Pimp My Ride into "pimp my canoe" and named its floating ride Ghetto Fabulous, says Dave Gryger, a freshman team member. Gilligan's Island and the S.S. Minnow inspired Milwaukee School of Engineering's island theme and its canoe S.S. Milwaukee, says team member Adam Boucher. The University of Wisconsin-Madison found inspiration in its team's strength and chose Rock Solid for its canoe, which measured 21' 8" and weighed in at 180 lbs. "Our canoe's name is mainly based on the team and the development of the mix design," says Preston Tokheim, co-captain of the team. "This year we had a lot more dedication as far as a team. We knew our mix design was rock-solid."

When designing a concrete mix, the team must consider the balance of the watercraft's speed, maneuverability and structural quality. NCCC rule changes presented even more challenges for this year's teams. Regulations restricted the water to cementitious materials ratio to a maximum of 0.5. "The biggest obstacle was to get the flexibility that we wanted while meeting the requirements," says Sarah Yeldell, team captain of the University of Alabama-Huntsville team.

Clemson University puts its canoe through the swamp test. Canoes must be able to float when filled with water to be eligible to race.

NCCC also required the addition of sand in significant proportions to the cement mix, which makes a heavier design mix. While the University of Minnesota's L'Etoile du Nord weighed only 105 lbs., Montana State University's Golden Stonefly tipped the scales at 350 lbs. This year's average canoe weighed 190 lbs., following a trend for heavier boats in the past couple of years. In 2003, the average canoe weighed 167 lbs., about 50 lbs. heavier than the average in 2002.

Some teams had additional challenges regarding the construction of their canoe. Drexel University's team had funding problems and time constraints, says team member Gryger. Focusing on the goal was the hardest part, and sanding required an enormous amount of patience, says Wisconsin-Madison's Tokheim. Sanding Clemson's Cast Away required 417 hours, says team member Matt Goodner.

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona's canoe Kellogg's Greatest completely fills with water as the team reaches the finish.

The races, held at Lake Fairfax in Reston, Va., consisted of 5 races: women's slalom/endurance, men's slalom/endurance, women's sprint, men's sprint, and a co-ed sprint. Some paddlers trained during the year about once a week, but others trained more intensely. Paddlers did weight training and practiced three to five days a week, but as competition time came closer, they trained seven days a week, says Shannon Pierce, co-captain of the University of Wisconsin-Madison team. The team's 3,600 total hours of rock-solid work and determination paid off.

"It's a great feeling knowing that you can put your mind to something so unique that every time you mention that you built a concrete canoe, you have to give an explanation," says Tokheim.

(All photos courtesy of ASCE)

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