STORIES FROM SEAS
BY: SARAH REDDING
Ready for Competition, WKU's Concrete Canoe Team
Students gathered on Saturday February 2, 2018 to complete the concrete canoe’s final pour. Work lasted all day—from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.— and a mixture of seniors and underclassmen contributed to the production line. Tucker Baker, the project manager, detailed the work that has already been completed and what remains to be done.
After an unsuccessful canoe last year, the team decided on the Bennu, a phoenix-like bird from Egyptian mythology, as this year’s theme. The team has been working diligently since August to develop a mix that is durable and lightweight with a creative or inventive twist.
For their inventive twist, the team settled on using hemp fibers provided by WKU’s Department of Agriculture to give their concrete mixture tensile strength. However, its inclusion has posed a set of challenges to the team. Hemp has never been used as a fiber, especially in concrete, before and there is very little research about the material available. Therefore, the team had to seek special permission to use the material. They were granted the request and completed several stages of prototyping and testing.
The team must separate the fibers from the hemp chaff by hand in order and delicately add them to the concrete mixture. Between four and six students gathered around a large mixing bowl, slowly adding the hemp a pinch at a time to avoid clumping and ensure the best payoff in tensile strength.
Now that the canoe is poured, it must cure for two weeks and undergo a series of refinements to smooth the surface and remove any blemishes.
Meanwhile the canoe team will continue working on other components of the competition: rowing practice, writing a paper detailing the project, and developing a presentation focused on construction and design.
By working on the concrete canoe team, students get a chance to apply skills they’ve
learned in a classroom and face real world challenges that aren’t always foreseeable
during planning. Although the focus may seem to be entirely on the concrete mixture,
lessons learned and skills acquired apply to other related fields, including work
with water resources, transportation, and construction.
Baker worked on concrete canoe teams for several years as an underclassman and encourages other students to do the same. He says that underclassmen that get involved early give themselves an edge as seniors. They can apply lessons learned from previous teams, and better promote the project’s success as leaders in their senior year.