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Whatever Floats Your Boat

For the Clemson Student Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), concrete floats their boat.

Each year the group participates in the Concrete Canoe Competition. This year, the team has qualified for the National Concrete Canoe Competition for the seventh consecutive year. In the past six years, the team has finished in the top six on five separate occasions, and in 1998, they placed third nationally.

"We try to build on what we learn," said project manager, Brad Putman. "Our team has enjoyed significant success in the past, and we are determined to be the best in the nation."

The secret to creating such a craft lies not only in the canoe design, but also in the concrete mixture and reinforcement material.

The concrete is actually lighter than water and is comprised of glass bubbles and ceramic microspheres, which are both extremely lightweight materials. In other words, the concrete floats. The concrete is applied to a foam form in five thin layers and reinforced with polypropylene, a strong, non-degradable, lightweight mesh that is used in a variety of commercial applications.

The construction of a concrete canoe typically takes about 2,000 hours, and much of the time is spent sanding the concrete to create a smooth, glass-like finish. The finish is critical to the canoe's aesthetics and performance.

During the competition, teams are evaluated on several factors: design, aesthetics and display of the craft; written and oral presentations; and performance. Teams compete on the water in five races combining both speed and maneuverability. The canoe not only has to look good; it also has to perform well on the water.

"This is a 10-month project, and right now we are getting ready for this year's national competition, which will be held in Melbourne, Fla., in mid-June," Putman shared. The team placed first in the recent regional competition. "This is a real boost in getting ready for nationals. Team motivation is high and we are determined to bring the national title to Clemson for the first time."