Students from the University of Washington fill their canoe with water for the swamp test, which measures their canoe's buoyancy.
More than concrete and paddles

Neal Hutzler traveled from the shores of Gichigami to watch the Gitchee Gummee finish 10th on the beaches of Lake Sammamish. While mildly disappointed, the chair of Michigan Technological University's department of Civil and Environmental Engineering sees great value in the competition. Hutzler believes student involvement helps create a strong department and learning experience.

His faculty is involved in several important concrete research projects. “When students come to them for canoe advice, they also discuss what's new in concrete,” said Hutzler.

Hutzler's correct. Each design paper includes an example of student-faculty interaction. In many cases, the advisers use the canoe as a mini-research project.

Bryan Phillips, project manager of Rocked Out, Western Kentucky University's entry, looked to his faculty for help to create a lighter, more efficient canoe. His team used Spiderwire experimental lightweight fiber to replace heavier steel reinforcement the team had used in previous canoes.

Their adviser's attendance at an American Concrete Institute convention helped Russell Buhler's team from the University of Oklahoma. In his technical presentation, Buhler explained that his adviser suggested internal curing to better hydrate the canoe's concrete.

Buhler said that internal curing is a process that slowly releases mix water from fully saturated, expanded shale aggregate. Following the advice, Buhler was able to streamline his mix design and reduce the overall weight without sacrificing strength. More importantly, the team used internal curing to help reduce stress cracks.

Judging innovation

When Kelly Patterson stopped to look at a tabletop display explaining the pre-stressing process used to build Cerulean, team members stopped joking around. The team captain from the University of Nevada-Reno explained how they positioned, tensioned, and released the 16 steel cables cast in the canoe's hull. Patterson, director of engineering for Oldcastle Precast Group in Chandler, Ariz., and one of the five judges, was impressed.

Cary Kopczynski, president of Bellevue, Wash.-based Cary Kopczynski & Company, had a “selfish” reason when he agreed to be a judge. “There's a severe shortage of new engineering students in our region,” he said. “Getting a chance to meet some of the best minds entering the concrete design industry was well worth my time. Maybe some of these men and women will want to live in the Pacific Northwest.”

The National Concrete Canoe Competition is organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers. BASF is the founding sponsor. Other 2007 sponsors included the American Concrete Institute, Baker Construction Inc., Bentley Systems Inc., Holcim Inc., Norchem, ICS Penetron, Pennoni Associates Inc., Propex Concrete Systems, and U.S. Silica Co.

— Author Rick Yelton was a judge for the 20thAnnual National Concrete Canoe Competition. For more information ,