Concrete canoe team hopes it has a "Blueprint" for success

WMU’s concrete canoe team is getting ready for race day in April, when members will compete against other schools in the region – both off and on the water. The annual competition sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) involves up to 11 schools from Michigan and nearby states. This year’s event is being hosted by Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich.

The canoe -- named “The Blueprint”  -- is indeed blue, thanks to a powdered pigment added to the concrete mix. It was cast in March and required some 28 days of curing. For the second year in a row, the team designed a canoe using a “female” mold rather than a “male” mold, with troweling of the concrete on the inside of the Styrofoam mold, rather than the outside.

“Using the female mold allows us to attempt a more complex design,” said Ethan Carpenter, a civil engineering major and member of the team who will be team captain next year. “While it’s similar to last year’s canoe, we found last year our boat was too buoyant, so we’ve worked on ways to get it lower in the water.”

A significant change for teams this year is the requirement that the amount of manufactured aggregate used in the concrete – usually glass spheres -- must be no more than 25 percent of the total. The remaining aggregate must be natural, such as rocks and sand.

“What that means for the teams is that boats this year are going to be a lot heavier, a lot more dense,” Carpenter said. “You have to find a balance so that your boat isn’t too heavy but meets that requirement.”

Races include a men’s sprint, women’s sprint, men’s endurance and women’s endurance (each with two paddlers) and a coed sprint with a four-person crew. Teams also are judged on a technical presentation about their boat and their display.

Carpenter thanked the team’s donors that have provided expertise, use of equipment and in-kind and cash donations.  “We couldn’t do this without the support of our sponsors, including Building Restoration, Inc., SME and Landscape Forms,” he said.

Dr. Osama Abudayyeh, chair of the civil and construction engineering department and faculty advisor for ASCE, said the project is a great way for students to work as a team, get practical experience outside the classroom and at the same time develop project management skills. “Designing and making a concrete canoe really challenges our students’ knowledge and creativity,” he said.

WMU has participated in the concrete canoe competition since 2004. WMU will host the ASCE’s North Central Regional Conference in 2018.