Making Concrete Float

 

Written by Teddy Burch in the May 2008 Issue

In college, most of us probably did some weird things, but did you ever race a canoe made of concrete? Jeremy Van Oostrum, student at Oklahoma State University has. He shares his passion for the unusual sport, made up of civil engineer students. Universities from all across the country meet each year to determine who’s concrete floats the fastest.

Q: How do you get a concrete canoe to float?
A: The concrete used is a special blend that we come up with. We look for a mix with the right density. We usually try to get this under the density of water by reducing the strength of the concrete. If you think of the concrete as a batch of cookies, the cookie can be changed by changing the ingredients. Concrete is just the mixture of cement, water, and aggregates. The concrete is kind of like flour in a cookie mix, aggregates are like the chocolate chips and water would be like the water. The blend that we use has a special type of aggregate that makes the batch really light and can hold much of its strength, although you will not be seeing this mix in any sidewalks.

Q: How many people and how much weight can be held in a working canoe?
A: During the races, the most people that are in the canoe are in the coed race with two men and two women. With calculations, including self-weight, the canoe holds up to around 900 pounds, depending on the shape and the strength of the canoe.

Q: Does the canoe team carry the boat above their heads? If not, how is it transported?
A: Transportation is done by getting a lot of people around the canoe to spread out the pressure of the weight. We keep it about arm length for stability reasons. We have a trailer with a special box that pads the canoe so there is less resistance in transportation. We also have to be real careful when getting into the canoe to race so as not to crack the side. We will lift up the person and gently place them in the canoe so there is not a sudden force, and also to keep pressure off of the sides.

Q: What are the canoe competitions like?
A: The competition is broken up into four different parts. The first part is the presentation of the canoe. This would consist of a power point of how the decisions were made. We also show how we managed each part of the construction of the canoe. The second part is a paper over the canoe with all the specifications and qualities of the canoe. The third part is the actual canoe display with judges deciding on the best-made canoe. The final part is the race. There are five different races: men’s and women’s endurance, men’s and women’s sprint race, and coed sprint race. The competition is based on a point system with each part an equal amount.

Q: What do you do when you’re not racing concrete canoes?
A: I am majoring in civil engineering along with most of the team. I am studying in the structural side of civil engineering. I cannot say that I do that much after the canoe and school, they tend to use up my time. I am just an average student that likes to watch movies or play golf.

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