The Michigan Concrete Canoe Team will do anything to stay afloat, even if it means duct-taping the canoe during a competition.
Or so says Engineering junior Lexi Walter, head captain of the University’s Concrete Canoe Team, remembering a failed 2008 competition when the team’s carefully planned canoe cracked.
Each year, the team works throughout the semester to build a concrete canoe, which it races at the annual North Central Regional Competition.
The MCCT tries to get undergraduates involved in advanced research of cement mixes by turning research into a competition, according to the team’s Web site.
Walter said she first learned about the concept of a concrete canoe when she visited colleges during her senior year of high school.
After learning about the canoes, she said she became fascinated with the idea and immediately joined the University’s team at the beginning of her freshman year.
“I didn’t even know concrete could float,” Walter said.
The team spends its first semester each year researching ingredients for the concrete. Walter said members must consider “cement content, water content and air content, in order to make a canoe with a low specific gravity.”
After designing the canoe hull in AutoCAD — a program that allows the team to draw out plans in 3-D before physically building the canoe — the team uses the design to create a foam mold of the canoe.
The concrete, made in a mixer at G.G. Brown Laboratories on North Campus, is then poured into the mold to create the final canoe, which is used in the annual competition — the highlight of the year for the team, according to Walter.
“Competition weekend is just a blast,” she said. “You get to meet other teams and talk and commiserate about what went terribly and what went great.”
While the University’s team has not yet won the competition, team members say the experience is always one to remember.
The competition, usually held in late March, will be held at Western Michigan University this year. Teams in the conference will race the canoes in a regatta. The winning team must not only have a well-made canoe but also must be able to row it quickly, making the race a competition of both the mind and the body.