Dawg Paddling to Nationals: The Concrete Experience
The University of Washington Concrete Canoe Team is heading to Johnstown, Pennsylvania on June 17th to compete against 23 other teams for the title of best concrete canoe team in the nation and abroad. This year, the teams range from three time national champion Clemson in the east to the powerhouse Cal Poly SLO in the southwest. International teams will also make an appearance at the conference, including such names as Ecole de Technologie from Montreal, University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, and Tonji University of Shanghai. We are honored to be able to compete at this level and look forward to seeing what these elite teams bring to the competition.
Founded in 1975, the UW Concrete Canoe Team has made it to nationals a total of 10 times since its creation. This year will mark our 11th return to the National Competition and the 7th time in ten years. Our best placement came in 1999 with a fourth place finish. Last year in Champaign, Illinois, our team managed a 16th place finish at Nationals after squeaking by at the Regional competition.
This year, our team nearly swept the competition at Regionals by placing 1st in both our presentation and final product, tying for first in races with our runner up Saint Martin's University, and scoring second in our design paper due to a minor technicality. After cleaning up our design paper and continuing paddling practice, we believe we will be competitive at Nationals and able to improve on last year’s performance.
Meet the Pacific Northwest Concrete Canoe regional champions!
The Concrete Canoe Team is comprised primarily of UW civil engineering students. With over 30 members on the team, we form a vibrant and diverse community with engineers from many different walks of life. The drive required to work in the Concrete Canoe team brings us to together, but we are about more than just the project at hand. We are a group whose shared passion for engineering has formed a tight knit community of friends and colleagues. The concrete canoe team is truly an experience unlike any other: when else in your life will you be able to make a racing canoe armed with little more than concrete and engineering know-how?
Over the course of the year, we work together to bring our canoe through design and construction into the finished project you see today. Although we do consult the faculty for specific questions regarding concrete design, this is a completely student run project, and it is our job to plan it out and see it to completion. With so many facets to the project, we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of every member on the team. It was a herculean effort, but take one look at our canoe and we think that you will see that it was worth it.
The Lady being displayed at competition. A 300 pound canoe never looked so good.
This year’s canoe, The Lady, stands proud at 21’ 6” long with a weight of 310 pounds. While this weight may seem like a handicap against National teams whose canoes weigh closer to 200 pounds, our streamline design and experienced paddlers maneuver The Lady more elegantly than a ballroom dancer.
Our theme this year was “The Lady Washington” in honor of Washington State’s tall ship. With the help of the art club at the University of Washington, we stained our canoe with an evocative silhouette of the Seattle skyline with The Lady Washington sitting majestically on Northwest waters. Our theme is also incorporated into our canoe stand, display, and cross section. When we present The Lady at competition, she rests on a handcrafted wooden stand that accentuates her figure. Partnered with our display and cross section, our canoe brings a taste of 18th century elegance to a modern competition.
Our trading post themed display features concrete test cylinders, design specifications, construction photos, and the talents of our aesthetics team.
To the Races!
After all the judging and presentations, the canoes are launched to prove their mettle in a series of canoe races. This is where the quality of the canoes become especially apparent. Well designed canoes can cut through the water despite their weight, while the paddlers can break a sweat just trying to other canoes to the starting gate. Skilled paddlers also make a huge difference. The UW concrete canoe team has a dedicated paddling team. Despite Seattle’s dreary weather, every Sunday will find our paddlers out on Union Bay practicing their craft.
There are five different races in the concrete canoe competition: two person men’s and women’s endurance races, two person men’s and women’s sprints, and a coed sprint. In the endurance races, the paddlers must maneuver their canoe through the slalom, a series of switchbacks between buoys. This tests the ability of the paddlers to turn the canoe, which is not an easy task as the weighty canoes can build up considerable momentum. After the slalom, the canoe must be paddled the remaining loop for a total 600 meters. The men’s and women’s sprints complete a shorter 200 meter course without a slalom, with the coed sprint doing a double loop on the same course for a total of 400 meters.
A common misconception is that the four person coed race is the most structurally intensive race in the competition. The truth is in fact quite the opposite. Concrete is very strong in compression and usually fails due to the tension developed by the bending moment in the canoe. The coed races don’t cause many problems because they distribute the load more evenly due to the additional paddlers. The two person men’s races actually require the most strength from the canoe because the two paddlers are heavy and spaced at opposite ends of the canoe. This causes the canoe to want to bow upwards and crack at the top. That said, the coed race caused problems for some teams because the canoe sits lower in the water during that race, making it easier for the canoe to take on water and sink. We avoided both these issues by making sure that our reinforcing provided the needed strength to resist bowing up in the middle and that the water line on our canoe was high enough that we didn't take on water while racing.
The UW coed paddling team, ready to make waves!
More than Just a Competition
Although going to the national competition will be the crowning achievement of the year, we believe how we reach out to our local community is equally important. Creating a concrete canoe is a great way to demonstrate the extent of modern engineering abilities to youth. It is our hope that the work we do inspires a new generation of engineers. This is one of the reasons why a group of our team members volunteers to participate in the UW Engineering Discovery Days each year, despite conflicting with the schedule for the Regional competition. This is an event where UW engineering programs present their to the community in order to raise interest in engineering.
In addition to raising awareness about engineering in the community, the UW Concrete Canoe Team is a great way for aspiring UW engineers to explore the Civil Engineering Department. As opposed to the competitive environment surrounding UW engineering programs, the Concrete Canoe Team offers a supportive environment for students with a genuine interest in engineering to explore their possibilities.
Working on the concrete canoe team gives its members experience working on a complex and unique project like those that they will encounter in their careers. Our team prides itself on using current industry standards when we test our concrete mixes. This occurs in a specialized mixture design class where seniors on the team are able to consult with leading faculty member in the department. Our structural design team also gets practice analyzing the strength of our canoe. The irregular shape and variety of materials in the canoe make it more akin to an actual construction project than the simple beams and frames that are usually analyzed in class.
We also work to develop a network that helps enable our members as they enter their careers. These connections can be from other teammates, local engineering firms contacted through our fundraising group, or even through other concrete canoe teams at the competition. It is not uncommon for members of the team to land internships or jobs through the network they make on the concrete canoe team.
We Need Your Help!
We realize 5,000 dollars is a lot to ask for in a short period of time. Much like The Lady Washington wouldn’t have existed without French aid during the Revolutionary War, we wouldn’t have this great canoe without our supporters.
During this year, we tried to be as economically efficient as possible. All aggregates, cementitious materials, and admixtures were reused from previous years or donated by engineering producers. We were also able to reuse last year’s mold by making slight adjustments to it. This saved us the cost and waste of cutting a brand new foam mold and disposing of our old one. Because of our rustic maritime theme, our aesthetics team was able to reuse and recycle most of the materials used for the display, stand, and cross section. Even at Regionals, our team opted to stay at family members’ houses in the area rather than incur the expense of renting hotel rooms for everyone on the team.
Despite all of our scrimping and saving, we are still facing a major budget deficit if we hope to make it to Nationals. The trip from Seattle to Johnstown is over 2,500 miles. With our schedules restricted by finals and graduation, which occur the weekend before competition, we don’t have the time to drive. Instead, our team will be taking a redeye flight into Philadelphia and driving four hours from there to Johnstown. The cost of the flights and car rentals in addition to the cost of shipping the actual canoe via trailer account for the bulk of our need for funding.
We take a great pride in the work we have done this year on the UW Concrete Canoe Team. It is our hope that the beautiful canoe we’ve made inspires a confidence in the prowess of our engineering generation, evokes the value of the work we do, and catalyzes others to join our cause. If it were just a matter of keen minds and diligent man-hours, we would would have everything we need to make it to Nationals on our own. But, as with any great endeavor, monetary investment is required for our success. Rest assured that any additional funds we raise will be used to support next year's concrete canoe team, promoting another class of dedicated engineers. We sincerely appreciate any support that you can offer our team and thank those who have helped us get where we are today.
Thanks for your support!
Carol Ann and Don Ross
Dave Deress Wiss, Janney Elstner Associates, Inc.
Larry and Karen Karpack
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Make an Impact
Paint a smile on a member's face! Every dollar makes a difference!
Transport 1 pound of our 300 pound canoe! By transporting our canoe to Nationals, you will allow us to display our product and participate in the canoe races on the last day of the competition.
Move our trailer 30 miles! The trailer holds vital components for our participation in the competition, including our canoe, stand, and display elements.
Allow a team member to connect with and share experiences with other engineers and professionals for a day. We will gain valuable insight to apply in future years and real world experience applicable in industry!
Head Out The Window!
Pay for one of the four rental cars that we will need to get the team around Nationals! These will get us from the airport to the competition and all of the networking events.
Paws In The Air!
Get the team out to Pittsburgh by funding the plane trip for one team member!