You might say that the UConn Concrete Canoe Association has a hefty task in front of it: Designing a concrete mixture that will float and then using it to build a racing canoe isn’t exactly simple.
But by April, UConn Concrete Canoe Association President Brian Lassy said, the more than 30 members of this club will have turned out a concrete canoe that’s ready to race.
“We’re working on mix designs, so we actually design a concrete mix that floats,” Lassy said. “That takes a lot of time to kind of fine-tune it, and they change the rules every year, so we gotta change it every year.”
Lassy, a fifth-semester civil engineering major, is presiding over the club for the second year now. He spoke about the steps the club goes through to ensure a great finished product.
“[In October], it’s gonna be moving towards creating the mold, so we’ll spend a lot of time forming the foam, gotta sand it down, glue it together, make sure there’s no divots, then we coat it with paint or polyurethane to make sure it doesn’t stick to the concrete afterwards,” Lassy said.
Since concrete takes about 28 days to fully set, the club constructs the canoe in their lab at Depot Campus before they leave for winter break. When the day comes to pour the canoe, the club spends six to seven hours mixing their special concrete in giant mixers, putting concrete on the mold and just hanging out.
Upon their return, the club must demold the canoe. The club uses a male mold (meaning that they place the concrete mixture on top of foam shaped to form the inside of the canoe), so members have to flip the canoe right side up and use various tools to extract all of the foam boards.
The finished product is about 18 feet long, 2 feet wide at the widest and 12.5 inches deep at the base.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has been hosting a national concrete canoe competition among university teams since the 70s, and the current University of Connecticut club started in 2011. (It had previously been active until about the year 2000.)
When engineering professor Kay Wille (who incidentally teaches Design of Reinforced Concrete Structures) restarted the club in 2011, UConn definitely had some hurdles to overcome.
“We were pretty bad at the beginning,” Lassy said. “I think we got 13th out of 13th in the region. We were beat by a team that didn’t show up with a canoe.”
How is that even possible, you might ask? It’s because there are four elements to a team’s score, and the finished product (the canoe and its display) is only worth 25% of the total. The rest of the points are split evenly between a technical proposal detailing a team’s design methods and construction process, an oral presentation and the races.
“Every year since then, we’ve gotten a better score, until in 2018 we got second place and then just last year, in 2019 we also got second place,” Lassy said.
Lassy also said that it’s the same school—Université Laval, a public university in Quebec—that has won over UConn in the regional competition the past two years. He and the other club members hope to finally triumph over their rival when the competition comes this spring.
The key to doing that, Lassy said, is innovation.
“If you do the same thing every year, it may be really good, but there are other teams that are also really good, and they’re gonna do really well and then do something crazy that you didn’t even think of, so you always want to do something to show that you’re really trying to improve,” Lassy said.
No matter whether they win or lose, Lassy said that it’s interesting to see the other teams’ designs and the spirit of friendly collaboration the club fosters among its members.
Students can contact the UConn Concrete Canoe Association at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit them on Instagram @uconnconcretecanoe.
Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.