Janelle Cammenga-Staff Writer
Senior Stephanie Pausma enjoys the competition aspect the most. “It’s the big finale where you get to show off all your work,” she said.
Junior Bryan Van Belle just enjoys the reactions from people who don’t understand the project’s feasibility. “Everybody looks at you like you’re crazy when you say, ‘I made a canoe out of concrete—and it floats.’”
You can’t blame spectators for looking at him askance–concrete does not naturally float.
Dordt is not alone in its ambition to float the unfloatable. The team tested Moby Dick, this year’s canoe, against others in the region on April 28 and 29 in Platteville, Wisc., at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) concrete canoe competition.
The team also gave a presentation at Ideafest on April 20 to talk about their project.
According to Pausma, the hardest part of this year’s build has been “getting people involved and keeping them involved.” Both she and Van Belle agree that they did not publicize the project as much as they should have.
Competitions always leave students with memorable moments. In 2014, Dordt’s canoe, Prairie Fire, T-boned another canoe and came out on top. “We left a mark with our white canoe in the middle of theirs, and you couldn’t tell with ours,” Pausma said.
Other years, the team was not as lucky. “Kelly and I were stuck for 45 minutes in the lake before we gave up,” senior Breanna Veltkamp said. “The current pushed us to the edge.”
But a lot of work goes on behind the scenes before they compete, before they can cart a canoe over to the competition. Or carry it down the high bay stairs. Or carry it from the old barn across campus to the Rec Center—in the rain—for the Taste of Sioux Center. Or carry Professor Zwart’s canoe across the road to the All Seasons Center so that the team can practice their paddling.
There’s a lot of carrying involved.
Van Belle captains the mixing team, who start the canoe-creating process by making their own concrete. In order to make it buoyant, they mix in tiny Styrofoam and glass beads in the form of microspheres. These beads are so small that you can’t see the individual spheres.
“It’s always exciting when the micro feels like it’s a liquid,” Veltkamp said.
They make two mixtures: one for the inner part of the canoe to be more buoyant, and one for the outer part to be sturdier.
Then the build team takes over, making a form for the canoe and filling it with concrete, leaving the design team to make the whole project look nice. This, of course, is easier said than done. One year, they added a release agent to make it easier to remove the canoe from the form, but ended up making a binding agent. They had to take sledgehammers to the form to free the canoe.
In 2015, they spent 1000 hours on the project, but last year they spent 750 hours working on the canoe. The team spent 463 hours on the project this year.
“Every year we’re improving,” Van Belle said.
Working hours are full of designing, building and sanding, but they are just as full of teasing, bonding and weird conversations, as well.
“It’s a fun club that anyone can be a part of,” Veltkamp said. “It’s not just for engineering majors.”