For months, a team of University of Houston civil engineering students has been concocting the perfect recipe.
A dash of fly ash, some silica fume, foam, shredded tires, PVA fibers, water, ceramic beads, glass bubbles and most importantly, a little cement. What they ended up with was a concrete mixture light enough to be buoyant.
It’s what they used to pour their concrete canoe, Steer Clear, which took first place in this year’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Texas/Mexico Regional Concrete Canoe Competition. The students competed against 13 teams at Town Lake in Austin last weekend for the title.
High rankings in each of the four portions of the competition—an oral presentation, design paper, physical display and five canoe races—earned them their spot. But it was their concrete mixture—poured to make the 215-pound canoe—that challenged their engineering minds and made the win attainable.
“It feels so great to win,” Jesica Baptista, the team’s captain. “We worked so hard and lost a lot of sleep to make this possible. We literally poured our heart and souls into this and it paid off.”
Building and racing concrete canoes is a proud tradition among civil engineering students that dates back several decades. UH has been competing for much of that time, even earning back-to-back first place wins in the regional competition in 2007 and 2008.
The idea for a four-person, western-themed canoe was hatched last semester. Much time was spent, the team admitted, testing different mixtures to find the perfect light-but-strong combination.
Their final recipe was applied to a wood-and-Styrofoam hull, which they let cure for 28 days. After a test run in the recreation center’s pool on campus, the student’s added final touches—taping off cow spots and a mural of cowboys and cattle they filled in with a concrete mix that was colored with stain and then sanded to perfection.
In total, the students’ estimate more than 1,100 hours was spent on the project, which was just as much about brawn as brains.
Many afternoons and weekends were spent on surrounding lakes and bayous bringing their paddling skills up to speed for two female, two male and one co-ed race in the boat. At regionals, they breezed by their competitors—taking first in three of the races and second in the others.
There will be many more paddling practices in their future, though, Baptista said, as they prepare for the 2010 ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition June 17-19 in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Here, they will face the winners in the 17 other conferences.