"
The Front Line?" - 2014

By JOHN A. GILBERT
Professor Emeritus and ASCE Student Chapter Faculty Advisor
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA-HUNTSVILLE

This year marks the 27th anniversary of the National Concrete Canoe Competition and I'm excited about trying to pick the top five for the fifteenth year in a row. But, before I begin commenting and handicapping, I thought that I'd tell you how my forty year involvement in concrete canoeing has helped me both professionally and personally. The bottom line is: You never know where things will lead in life. The moral of the story: Pursue your passion and you'll never go wrong.

In prior years, I've shared how I hob-knobbed with some of rock and roll's greatest while playing guitar in New York City and exposed my dark side by revealing that I'm a World Series of Poker champion. I'm sure that this stuff wasn't of interest to everyone but, if you're part of a highly competitive concrete canoe team, this story may be for you. In fact, for those of you just getting involved with concrete canoeing, it may convince you that there may be more benefit to that than you first thought.

In 1974, I was working on my doctoral degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the area of experimental stress analysis under the supervision of Dr. Cesar Sciammarella. I was an avid adventurer, fisherman, and boat builder; and, much to Cesar's chagrin, frequently left Chicago to explore the more remote portions of upper Wisconsin and Canada. My friends, family, and I would often spend a week or more paddling on isolated lakes, such as Lake Havoc, situated about 250 miles north of Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada.

During the semester immediately prior to graduation, I saw an add for a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and decided that I'd interview for it. Since UWM really needed someone to flush out their ranks in engineering mechanics, the faculty in what was then the Mechanics Department talked me into teaching part time there as a lecturer. Shortly after hiring me the following semester as a tenure-track, assistant professor, the Mechanics Department broke up into two different units: Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering.  Although I had no formal training in Civil Engineering (my degrees were in aerospace and mechanics), I joined that department, since our engineering mechanics contingent decided to position themselves there.

The Department's ASCE Student Chapter was one of the more active student organizations on campus and it wasn't long after the bifurcation that students got wind that I built boats and could paddle pretty well. I remember a group of them coming to my office to invite me to one of their Chapter meetings. While doing so, they mentioned that they'd be discussing their concrete canoe project and stressed that one of the advantages of attending their meeting was that they always had a keg of beer there and usually socialized until it was empty. Boats, beer, and good conversation... Hey, it sounded good to me, so I went.

I paddled my first concrete canoe as a faculty member in 1976. After working with the UWM Chapter for nine years, I accepted a position at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) where I joined the Mechanical Engineering Department. My primary interest in coming to Huntsville was to work with Dr. John Caulfield in the area of applied optics. He was the director of a new Optics Center on campus and I thought that the opportunities of working in the area of non-destructive testing looked promising.

Shortly after arriving at UAH in late 1985, I learned that Civil Engineering was a program offered as a stem by our department. After noticing that the program was not ABET accredited, I expressed my concern to the chair, Dr. Allen Cogley (who later served as the engineering dean and special assistant to the provost for new research initiatives at West Virginia University). Allen asked, "Can you fix that?"  After saying that I could, we met with the dean who, after promising me that he'd give me the resources that I needed to get the job done, duly appointed me as the Director of Civil Engineering.

At that time, Dr. William Kane (currently president and CEO of Kane GeoTech, Inc.), was the only other faculty member affiliated with the Civil Engineering program. After finding out that the program would finally be getting some attention, Bill told me in confidence that he had already accepted an academic position elsewhere. That left me with an unacredited program having eight students and no faculty. What was I thinking?

Moreover, I learned that there was a Title VI Civil Rights suit brewing and that Alabama A&M, a historically black, land grant university located right down the road in Huntsville, was interested in spear heading Civil Engineering in north Alabama; not to mention that there were several other well established Civil Engineering departments with fully ABET accredited programs elsewhere in the State, for example, at our main campus in Tuscaloosa and at Auburn. 

Against all odds, Allen and I developed a game plan to recruit new faculty. After meeting with representatives from A&M, I narrowed the scope of our Civil Engineering program to structural and environmental engineering and, to make it different from other Civil Engineering programs in the State, billed ours as high-tech and space-based. I knew that the key to success was student recruitment and retention, and used what I knew most about Civil Engineering to make that happen... working with an ASCE student organization and racing concrete canoes.

Since our Civil Engineering program lacked the resources to be accredited by ABET, we chartered our ASCE group as a Club (as opposed to a Chapter). In 1985, all eight of the students in the program joined the Club; percentage participation was never that good again. I subsequently challenged them to build a concrete canoe for a race scheduled to take place at the Southeast Regional Conference hosted by the University of Tennessee - Knoxville. After the students agreed to build the boat, I contacted the organizers of the Conference to see if we could race there as a courtesy, by invitation of the Chapters associated with our sister schools in the region. The Chapters took a vote on my request and unanimously agreed that we could come.

We built our first boat by placing 140 lb/ft3 concrete over a layer of chicken wire stapled to a crude plywood mold and christened it "Humongous" because the boat was 12' long and weighed nearly 450 lbs. At the time, I didn't realize that there were other competitions being held as part of the Regional, so we just went to the races on Saturday morning. I think that the other schools were surprised to see us there, since we didn't show up on the two day prior when the other events, including the canoe presentations, were being held. 

When we finally arrived and unveiled our 450 lb giant, we had to admit that we had used stone age technology to build the boat which gave our competitors a good laugh. I remember folks feeling sorry for us, since the competition rules dictated that all canoes be carried to the water for the swamp test by a maximum of 4 persons. I wasn't aware of that rule either but certainly felt its impact after my students asked me to help them carry our entry to the lake.  That was only the beginning of an unforgettable day.

  
In 1985, we used stone age technology to build Humongous. That's me to the right in both photos.

We hadn't had a chance to paddle the boat prior to packing it up for Knoxville and, during the faculty race, the staples that we used to hold the reinforcement in place took their toll on Bill's and my knees. But, due to our paddling prowess, we placed second in the faculty sprint.  The students had a blast and the members of our women's team, who were both very good paddlers, placed second in the women's sprint race.

As our team was packing up to leave for Huntsville, Dr. Robert Stammer, a member of the faculty team from Vanderbilt who beat Bill and me, came over to congratulate us for doing so well. After learning that we were packing up for home, Bob told me that we needed to come to the banquet and pick up our trophies. I remember saying, "What trophies?" and " There's a banquet?" Without hesitation, Bob said, "How many folks do you have with you."  After explaining to him that we had a total of six including Bill and me (two of our students had scheduling conflicts and couldn't come to Knoxville, and two of them had already left for Huntsville), Bob handed me six banquet tickets and said, "Here you go, compliments of Vanderbilt."

I really don't know what the other schools thought when we arrived at the formal banquet that evening, since most of us were still wearing the shorts that we had on at the lake. But the organizers had reserved what amounted to be front row seats for us. We were astonished at the number of schools and students there and were awestruck by the front table with what seemed to be an endless row of trophies.  After collecting the two that belonged to us, my students were so excited that they formulated a plan to enter every event the next year. Historically, the trophies that we won that evening were the first ever secured by any engineering student organization at UAH.

Two years later, we reached an agreement regarding Civil Engineering in the Title VI suit, my faculty and I secured ABET accreditation with the help of the other academic institutions in the State, our students won the overall Southeast Regional title for the first time, and we qualified for the first National Concrete Canoe Competition where we placed fifth overall. Shortly after that, I petitioned the Alabama Commission on Higher Education for departmental status which subsequently resulted in the formation of what is now our Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. As a result of our accreditation, ASCE upgraded our Club to Chapter status.

Having fulfilled the promises that I made to our students, faculty, and upper administration, I returned to my original faculty position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering. I focused on research and took a position as Director of the Consortium for Holography, Applied Mechanics, and Photonics (CHAMP). However, I decided to remain as a faculty advisor to our ASCE Student Chapter, simply because I loved working with students and kept learning more and more about Civil Engineering by helping them prepare for the other competitions held as part of the Southeast Regional. As far as the concrete canoe competition was concerned, by 2001, our Chapter managed to win five national titles and became the only school in history to sweep the nationals in 1994. That year, I won the only faculty sprint race ever to be held for points at the national level. The faculty sprint race, scheduled in 1995, was cancelled due to inclement weather. In 1996, I managed to win the only faculty slalom race ever held.  No other races faculty races have been held since then.


By 2001, Team UAH had won five national titles.

In 1994, while serving as the Director of CHAMP, I formed a company which produced panoramic imaging systems. This was pretty tricky, since I was still on the staff at UAH, and had to work closely with UAH to avoid conflict of interest. About ten years later, as a direct consequence of research done in conjunction with the concrete canoe competition, I refocused my corporate interests on cementitious composites, strategically tuned absolutely resilient structures, and structural enhancement using polyurea coatings. At the same time, I was able to offer some very unique courses which I taught from the perspective of a corporate president and CEO. During my career, I was blessed with recognition and awards for work that I considered to be both interesting and fun.

Portions of my corporate work involving cementitious composites, performed under Small Business Innovation Research contracts secured from organizations such as the U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of Commerce, made me debt free and gave me an opportunity to sub-contract some of my university colleagues. Together, we were able to support students, publish papers, secure patents, etc., thereby resulting in a win-win situation for all concerned. An offshoot for the concrete canoeing community was that I was able to support Team UAH financially helping them to launch and maintain concretecanoe.org. I've served as webmaster there since the beginning and thoroughly enjoy doing that to this day.

The bottom line is  that I've become progressively more and more involved in concrete canoeing over a forty year period. I'm pleased to say that, nearly twenty years ago, I stuck my neck out and wrote about the potential impact that this sport could have on the Civil Engineering community (A Race to Innovate). I like to think that my observation helped others take the participants and this competition seriously. I can't even begin to recognize and thank the folks that worked behind the scenes to make this competition the Olympics of Civil Engineering... but they know who they are. 

After recognizing the need for increased documentation, I tried to help close that gap by keeping statistics on the national competitions (For the Record). The only thing that I haven't found to date is the spreadsheet from 1990. To me, this is the Holy Grail of concrete canoeing so, if you happen to have a copy, please send it to me.

What I couldn't envision when it all began way back in 1974 was how much of an impact my involvement with ASCE and the concrete canoe competition would have on me:

  • Academically, concrete canoeing put Civil Engineering on the map at UAH giving me creditability as an administrator.

  • Personally, the competitions forced me to cope with human dynamics and improve my communication skills giving me the confidence needed to direct a consortium, and launch and lead a corporation.

  • Industrially, my involvement with new materials and structural designs drove my research in new directions leading to unique business opportunities, publications, and patents.

  • Professionally, this helped bridge the gap between academia and industry giving me recognition and the wherewithal to offer unique courses taught from a different perspective.

  • Financially, these efforts took me out of debt enabling me to secure a comfortable retirement.

  • Health wise the competition kept me young both physically and mentally, often giving me the strength and wherewithal to cope with life's everyday problems and difficult, life changing challenges.

  • And perhaps more importantly, I can say to my colleagues, friends, and relatives that I was a national concrete canoe champion.

The question remains: Who will be able to make that claim this year?

The 2014 U.S. contenders...

The first place overall winner in each of 18 Conferences was invited to compete in the 2014 National Concrete Canoe Competition. In addition, if the first place Conference winner finished in the top five overall in the 2013 National Competition, the second place team was also invited to compete. According to ASCE, this "top five" rule allowed Tongji University (from Shanghai, China), the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, Cal-Poly Pomona, and New Mexico State University to attend. The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown qualified as the national host school bringing the number of contestants to 23.

2014 Statistics (see "For the Record")...

Referring to the chart below, this year's national qualifiers include 5 U.S. champions, as well as 1 Canadian national champion.  As of May 11, 2014, these schools hold a combined total of thirteen U.S. and eleven Canadian national titles. In addition to the Canadian entry, there is one from Shanghai, China and another from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, making this truly an international event.

Altogether the qualifiers have made 183 prior appearances at the U.S. nationals. Clemson will set a new record in 2014 for the most national appearances at twenty one. The average placement for the field is 10.66, thereby making this one of the strongest fields in NCCC history. Reno holds the record for the highest average placement at 3.50. The Wisconsin Badgers are in a unique position to break the all-time record for the most number of national wins (5), currently held by them, the Berkeley Bears, and Alabama-Huntsville's Team UAH.

Hit rate...

Please keep in mind that I do this for fun in an effort to support the concrete canoeing community. However, I take the process pretty seriously. For the record, I have a hit rate of  87% for selecting the top five over a fourteen year span (see chart below); and, my hit rate has never been less than 80% in a given year.

In my 2004 Coverage, I established a precedent of writing down every question posed by the judges to the teams during the oral presentations. Simply click on the links to the schools listed in the order of placement. I continued this practice in my 2005 Coverage, 2006 Coverage, 2007 Coverage, 2008 Coverage, 2009 Coverage, 2010 Coverage, and 2011 Coverage. For the past two years (2012 Coverage and 2013 Coverage), I couldn't make it to Nationals due to family obligations.  But teams that were fortunate enough to qualify in 2014 may just want to review this information from earlier competitions before venturing into their question and answer session in Johnstown.

My top picks for 2014...

Traditionally, I make five selections for top five and choose three alternates; for a total of eight picks. My top picks for 2014 are the University of Nevada-Reno (Wolf Pack), the University of Florida (Gators), Cal State (SLO), the Universite Laval (Laval) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Badgers). In addition, Utah State (USU), Michigan Tech (MTU), and the Unversity of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM) are strong top five contenders and one of them may possibly end up winning this competition. 

From what I see, Reno has a slight advantage and they are my top pick overall. Florida, SLO, Laval, and Wisconsin should place second through fifth, but not necessarily in that order. Chances are good that one of my three alternate picks will displace one of these schools in the top five. Significantly, there may be one other school, Cal Poly Pomona (Pomona), that I'm underestimating for top five placement. I made that mistake last year when I failed to pick USU who placed fifth overall.

Both UPRM and Pomona qualified this year under the "Top Five" rule and if either one of them manages to win this competition, it will mark the second time in NCCC history that a second place qualifier won the national title. The last time that this happened was in 1997 when Florida Tech placed second behind Team UAH and ended up winning in Cleveland.

Here's my rationale behind my top picks... .with hyperlinks pointing to statistics, and logos pointing to web sites:

National commentary...

Let's begin with my favorite.

I believe that the University of Nevada, Reno poses the greatest threat to the field. After making their debut at nationals in 2006 and placing sixth overall, the Pack quickly improved their delivery and won the national title in 2008. Reno has seven top five wins to their credit and their average placement record of 3.50 is the highest in the game.

True to the team's name, the members of the "Wolf Pack" work well together while in the hunt and under pressure. They have battle scars that come from wounds suffered as a result of taking risks and making mistakes during the heat of battle. However, Reno has turned these mishaps into valuable lessons learned. Significantly, the team is backed by sound faculty support.

Candid comments, coupled with blatant honesty, lay testament to this team's character... making them one of the most highly skilled and fearsome competitors in the game. The Pack has won every category in the modern scoring system at least once. More importantly, they have placed first in the design paper category five times in the past seven years. My prediction is that they will go into Johnstown with a 2.5 point advantage over the field after winning this category for the sixth time.

The Pack has established the tradition of displaying their boat upside down and what makes them extremely competitive this year is their choice of theme.  In my opinion, "Alluvium" is excellent and the graphic on the bottom of Reno's boat is breathtaking. These attributes position them well for a top finish in the product category. They were also the second fastest team in the endurance races last year.


The University or Nevada - Reno (Wolf Pack) will field "Alluvium

 In light of this team's prowess, past accomplishments, and current potential...

Top five... no question.  2014 NCCC Champion... My top pick for the winner's circle in Johnstown.

Bottom line: The Wolf Pack will be shooting for their second national title. With some luck and a good showing in the oral presentation category, they'll hit their mark.

.

The University of Florida is a fierce national competitor. The Gators will be making their tenth national appearance and have a 5.22 average placement record.  The latter is extremely high considering that Florida does not yet have a national title to their credit. In fact, the Gators have only won one category (the oral presentation) once in their competition history. But don't let this fool you because Florida has never finished lower than eighth in their nine national appearances, making them one of the most consistent players in the game. Last year, for example, they were one of two schools to finish in the top five in the three technical categories (design paper, oral presentation, and final product). They also ended up ninth in race points.

The Gators are highly motivated and will have a very large on-site contingent cheering them on. in Johnstown. Like Reno, Florida has established a tradition. In Florida's case, they include the string "gator" in the name of their entry. The name selected for this year's boat ("Accelegator") fits their "Indy" theme to the tee while the checkered flags you'll see surrounding the Gator's canoe and on their tabletop make no secret of where this team plans to finish in Johnstown.

Florida had a very strong showing in the Southeast. They were consistent and cool under pressure, and dominated their competition in the water. Last year, they placed ninth in the endurance races at nationals but I can practically guarantee that they will do better than that this year.

In my opinion, Florida has what it takes to win in Johnstown and, if they execute anywhere near like they did in Tampa, the Gators will finish well.


Florida will field "Accelegator."

Personally, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Florida, since a top five finish will ease the pressure on the Southeast Conference next year in Chattanooga.  As far as final placement is concerned, my feeling as a "damn" Yankee (i.e., a Northerner that came South who refuses to move back North) is:

Top five... definitely.  2014 NCCC Champion... Ya'll may be fixen to get "Gatorized."

Bottom Line: Seriously, this team has their act together and, more than likely, will end up chanting: "It's great to be a Florida Gator."

 

Cal State - San Luis Obispo is one of the best players in the game. SLO has finished top five in their last seven national appearances and they have three national titles to their credit.  They will be making their fifteenth national appearance and have an impressive average placement record of 6.00.

SLO has won the best product category a total of six times, and for the past five years in a row. It's no wonder that they have established the tradition of using a consistent color scheme and school name graphic on the side walls of their entries. This makes it a simple matter of changing the graphics on the upper and lower surfaces of the hull's bottom to be consistent with their theme. Hey, it's worked well for Cal Poly, so why mess with a winning formula?

During the history of the competition, Cal Poly has also won the the presentation category twice and the races three times.  Historically, the design paper was SLO's Achilles' heel but they've managed to come from behind three times to secure their national wins. As predicted last year, they did an excellent job of correcting this weakness by finishing second in that category but faced stiff competition in the oral presentation, forcing them to relinquish their national title to ETS. To SLO's credit, they finished first in the endurance races.


Cal Poly - SLO will field "Ambrosia" in 2014.

  
SLO entries in 2012 (left) and 2013 (right). Compare them to 2014. Do you see the trend?

This year, the competition will be more intense coming from every direction in all categories, so....

Top five... no doubt.  2014 NCCC Champion... They'll have to work hard to win this one.

Bottom line: SLO will be a major contender in Johnstown. Winning the product category and scoring high in the presentation are essential for an SLO victory.

 

Universite Laval will be making their twelfth U.S. national appearance. Although they have not yet won the U.S. title, Laval has finished second four times, most recently in 2012. Along with their third place finish in 2011, the team raised their average placement record to an impressive 6.45.

Laval won their eleventh Canadian national title at the 2014 CNCCC that took place on May 9-11th in Sherbrooke, Quebec. In this competition, they finished first in the design paper and oral presentation, placed second in the final product, and won all of the races.

The fact that Laval qualified by winning the New England Conference bears witness to the prowess of our neighbor to the north. The experience gained by Laval at the CSCE CNCCC is invaluable and places them at a significant advantage as far as competitive experience is concerned; albeit, there are risks and disadvantages associated with multiple appearances.  The wear and tear placed on their boat, for example, may take its toll in the final product category... and serious top-five competitors simply cannot afford to give up delta points there.

After somewhat of a slump in 2009 and 2010 (I hesitated calling two seventh placements a slump... but they are, relative to Laval's recent overall performances), Laval regained their competitive edge in the U.S. competition by demonstrating that they can be competitive in every category. Laval has an excellent hull design and, in 2011, their team dominated the races while their men's team set an all time sprint record during the qualifying round by finishing the course in less than one minute!  In 2012, Cal Poly - SLO managed to squeeze Laval out of the top spot and beat them on the pond... but not by much. Overall, Laval is a strong and enthusiastic competitor with teams who are passionate about promoting and winning this competition.

  
Laval will field "Maximus." Team photo by Photo Voltaic.

Even though Laval will be very fast on the water, they will need to finish well in the technical categories in Johnstown to secure victory.

Top five... no problem.  2014 NCCC Champion... This could be Laval's first U.S. win.

Bottom line: Laval will finish top five provided that they remain consistent in all categories and may end up taking the U.S. national title back home to Canada.

The University of Wisconsin - Madison Badgers are one of five teams (SLO, Team UAH, the Berkeley Bears, and Clemson's 3CT are the other four) that have won this competition more than once.  All five schools have won back-to-back titles; Berkeley is the only one to have accomplished this feat twice. Berkeley, UAH, and Wisconsin all have five national wins but the Badgers have won five consecutive titles. This year, Madison will try to set the all time record for the most national wins by making it six.

Long time host of the design report page for ConcreteCanoe.org, the Badgers are a veteran team that will be making their eighteenth appearance at the national level.  They hold the record, along with Clemson (Carolinas), for the most consecutive appearances set after representing the Great Lakes Conference for fourteen years straight!  Wisconsin's has an impressive average placement record of 6.53.  Unbelievably, the only category that the Badgers have failed to win at the national level is the final product... and the ability to be highly competitive in this category is the key to their victory in 2014.


The University of Wisconsin - Madison will field "Laurentide."

The Badgers have had some awesome paddlers in the past and have established the tradition of wearing red bandanas during the races.  They are typically very strong in the technical categories, especially in the design report and presentation. The only weakness is that the team did not participate at the national level last year. Assuming that Madison will challenge for best product...

Top five... no doubt.  2014 NCCC Champion... They'll be giving it their best to win that elusive, record breaking, sixth national title.

Bottom line: Madison won't place lower than fifth unless they make a mistake or get a bad break.

Utah State University registered a staggering performance last year by finishing fifth overall. To be honest, I didn't see that coming and really didn't know what to make of it... until I reviewed the score sheet. That's when I realized just how powerful USU really was from a technical standpoint. Together with Florida, they were the only team that finished top five in the three technical categories. On the other hand, the team placed last in the water. 

Currently, USU's average placement record is 13.00 but something tells me it's not going to stay that low for long. Judging by their team photo, it appears that Utah State has their act together again this year.


Utah State University will field "Promontory."  

Some folks say that a picture is worth a thousand words. The first things that I noticed in the one above were the "T" shirts. They made it crystal clear that State's goal was to be No. 1... and they were in the Rocky Mountains in every event save the men's sprint. The next things that caught my eye were the caps. It must have been pretty cold in Colorado but, is this a new trend rivaling the red bandanas of Wisconsin? Judging from what I see in the photo to the right, it may be... but we'll just have to wait and see in Johnstown.

Then, it was the graphic and the canoe name. After doing a little research, I discovered that Promontory is located in Box Elder County, Utah. True to form, it  is an area of high ground 32 miles west of Brigham City and 66 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. Rising to an elevation of 4,902 feet above sea level, it lies to the north of the Promontory Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. More importantly, it is notable as the location of Promontory Summit where the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was officially completed on May 10, 1869. I think that you're probably beginning to get the picture... and something tells me that the judges will too.

Technically, a promontory is typically a prominent mass of land that overlooks lower-lying land or a body of water. Most promontories either are formed from a hard ridge of rock that has resisted the erosive forces that have removed the softer rock to the sides of it, or are the high ground that remains between two river valleys where they form a confluence.

Quite frankly, I can envision USU standing firm as a promontory on stage, overlooking their audience in Johnstown, as they receive a top five trophy. Can you?

Top five... very likely.  2014 NCCC Champion... I wouldn't be surprised, especially if they score a few points on the pond.

Bottom Line: Similar to Reno's, this USU team is hot... and just may end up as a promontory in this competition.

  

Michigan Tech  is a veteran team that will be making their fifteenth national appearance. The school has an average placement record of 9.07.  

Their teams have placed top five four times and they have placed in the top ten in their past ten appearances. They are very consistent in their delivery but have not yet demonstrated that they can win one of the major categories at the national level.

Tech's strengths are that they have veteran leadership and their team is diverse and filled with hardworking individuals who are actively involved in all aspects of the competition.  They have a very large contingent, sporting a roster of well over 30 students enrolled in several different majors.  These attributes make them a very dangerous competitor.


Michigan Tech will field "Katsuo Maru."

MTU is a consistent player and my feeling is:

Top five... good chance.  2014 NCCC Champion... Perhaps.

Bottom Line: A consistent player and seasoned veteran. Definitely a threat for top five placement.

The University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez will be making their second consecutive national appearance. Although the team has an average placement record of only 12.00, they have what it takes to become a national champion. UPRM has excellent faculty support and are one of the most spirited teams in the game.

It was a pleasure to compete with this group in Tampa and they worked very hard to prepare for the competition. UPRM's  theme revolved around an amusement ride and their stands enable their entry to rock. The caricatures on the inner graphic of their hull are pretty neat and the team seemed competent on the pond. UPRM's strengths lie in their composure, confidence, humility, and extremely strong team dynamics. 

In Tampa, Puerto Rico significantly improved their delivery compared to last year. They were consistent and posed a formidable threat to the Southeast contingent. A high placement in Johnstown is not out of the question and, with some luck, this team could take top five honors there.


UPRM will field "Galeon."

UPRM has become a skillful competitor and my feeling is:

Top five... good chance.  2014 NCCC Champion... Perhaps.

Bottom Line: A spirited team and talented newcomer.  Definitely a threat for top five placement.

Making their debut...

Tongji University will be making their debut at nationals and they bring the number of schools who have participated at the national level to 115. For the record, this team did well in the Mid-Pac and is the first school from China (Shanghai) to officially qualify for the national competition. They just may be the long shot that could take a top five spot.


Tongji University will field "Operace."

Other veterans...

I may be underestimating the prowess of the rest of the pack. In particular, Cal Poly - Pomona has proven that they can score a top five win.  They have won the oral presentation category and have done quite well in the final product category. Pomona also has a good average placement record of 8.86.

It's only a matter of time before Clemson, a three time national champion, recovers from their slump. As mentioned previously 3CT has appeared a record twenty one times at the national level and they have finished top five twelve times prior to 2006.

The University of Akron and the University of Washington have also finished top five in prior competitions.

The City College of New York, Drexel University, University of Kansas, New Mexico State University, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Texas A&M University, University of Wisconsin - Platteville have placed top ten before.

Other veteran schools that could rise to the top include Cornell University, Fairmont State University, and Louisiana Tech University.

Good luck and may the best team win...

Team UAH and I wish all of the national qualifiers the very best of luck at this year's competition. We worked very hard to revise the structure and expand the content of ConcreteCanoe.org and hope you enjoy our worldwide competition coverage. If you want to help support the effort, please let me know.  We'll put your school to work and give you the exposure that you deserve.

By adding a link on your site to ConcreteCanoe.org, you and your school can help promote the competition to a continuously expanding  worldwide audience.  So please see our graphics for doing so.

As always, I'll be following up on my predictions below shortly after the competition is over.

Follow-Up...

Let me begin by saying that this was one of the best run competitions that I've ever attended and my hat goes off to Brian Houston and his staff and students at Johnstown for doing such a wonderful job as host. As always, the ASCE contingent worked diligently during the stint. The judges were outstanding and I was pleased that my picks and commentary fell right in line with their thinking.

The competition got off to a good start on Thursday, despite rainy conditions, as each team went through a weigh-in and float test before the judges scored their final product (canoe plus display including a cutaway section and tabletop). When the presentations took place on Friday, I compiled descriptions of what the teams did and transcribed all of the questions fielded by the judges. There were at least four very strong deliveries; and, some teams took risks in an effort to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. Races began on Saturday under rainy and cloudy conditions but things progressively improved allowing all events to be completed. In the end, I believe that the best teams won. Perhaps more importantly, I learned something different from each one of them.  

As predicted, the University of Nevada, Reno edged out their competition to take down their second national title. Although the Wolf Pack didn't win the design paper category as predicted, they managed to place second behind Drexel. Reno was equally strong in the oral presentation where they also placed second. They scored the most points in the water and gained the edge that they needed by placing eighth in the final product. Reno introduced me to Alluvium and taught me something about paleontology by telling me about Ichthyosaur, Nevada's state fossil.

Cal Poly - SLO was also one of my top picks and they ended up in second place overall. SLO placed sixth in the design paper category and won the oral presentation. They finished second in the final product and sixth in total race points. Cal Poly introduced me to Ambrosia which, in ancient Greek mythology, is sometimes the food of the Greek gods. I was surprised to learn about the abundance of agriculture in the San Luis Obispo area and enjoyed seeing the fruit of this team's labor. 

The Universite Laval, who finished third overall, was also one of my top picks. They placed fifth in the design paper category, seventh in the oral presentation, third in the product, and second in the water. Their fielding of Maximum rekindled my recollection of going to the circus as a child and vividly demonstrated what it must be like to experience the thrills, risks, and rewards associated with circus life. While watching their team forge ahead of the pack only to miss the second turn buoy in the co-ed final, I saw first hand what it was like to experience the thrill of victory and agony of defeat.

I took a risk in pegging Utah State as a strong contender for a top five spot and they didn't disappoint me. Along with Cal Poly - SLO, USU had the strongest technical delivery of  the national contingent. They placed third in the design paper category, fifth in the oral presentation, and first in the final product. The team managed to improve their prowess in the water after finishing twelfth there... and they did wear their caps.


Utah State established the tradition of wearing wool caps that one of their team members designed and made.

I believe that USU knows what they need to do to improve their hull design and now consider them to be a major national contender. They introduced me to Promontory where, on May 10, 1869, the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails and forged the destiny of a nation. USU's effort prompted me to research stories of the people and settings that defined the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad and gave me an appreciation of the history and value of an oil painting that my mother picked up at a yard sale which may have been painted on-site to capture the event.

Another one of my top picks, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, rounded out the top five. The Badgers finished twelfth in the design paper, third in the oral presentation, sixth in the product, and third in the races. They taught me that Laurentide was a massive sheet of ice that covered hundreds of thousands of square miles, including a large portion of the northern United States. Did you know that its southern margin included the modern sites of New York City and Chicago? 

I thought that the other schools did a remarkable job promoting their efforts and was impressed by the risks that some of them took to gain advantage over the pack. New Mexico State University, for example, based their theme on Greek mythology and gave their presentation in prose. It was a good try but the team ended up placing tenth in that category. Michigan Tech took a radical departure in hull design by producing a canoe having a very different shape. It looked good on their display stands but proved somewhat unstable in the water.

  
Michigan Tech designed a unique hull (left; photo by John Rucosky) that ended up underwater during the petite co-ed final (right).

On the other hand, some schools reaped big rewards. As mentioned previously, Utah State based their theme on the Transcontinental Railroad and went all in while detailing this theme on their entry. They won the final product by demonstrating the versatility of concrete despite the fact that their boat was not the most hydrodynamically and structurally efficient in the competition.

The flat bottom and sharp chines increased the prismatic coefficient and parasitic drag but gave the team the space they required to embed the ties and track needed for an observer to envision crossing the great divide. USU's hull was constructed with a single layer of reinforcement positioned at the geometric center of the cross section, thereby reducing the moment of inertia as compared to a hull constructed using multiple layers positioned away from the neutral axis. This made the side walls fairly flimsy when bent but, after realizing this, the team solved the boat's structural problems by adding two railroad trestles to strengthen and stiffen the hull. Additional tracks running the length of the gunwale and over the trestles hid the fact that the side walls and bulkheads needed to be relatively thick to support the service load. The longitudinal sections of track along the gunwale caught my line of sight masking the sharp geometrical transitions of the side walls which triggered the boundary layer, thereby leading to an increase in wave drag. The larger gage, inner sections of track made the boat look longer than it was giving me the impression that the boat would have a higher hull speed than it did. 

In the end, USU's boat was the only one that I looked at a second time while at the lake. After revealing that to their team and asking them more about how they came up with the concept, I realized that I was looking at a masterpiece [a creation that had been given much critical praise (by me), especially one that was considered to be a work of outstanding creativity, skill, or workmanship (by the participants and judges)] which drove the team's point home and brought them to victory.

Whether by luck, skill, or necessity, Utah State fielded a game changer, demonstrating that simple stain and graphics were not enough to win the best product category in this, and perhaps, future competitions. One of the comments made in response to a photo that I posted on ConcreteCanoe.org of USU cleaning up their boat (shown below) was, "This team should see about having their entry placed in a museum to commemorate two ground breaking events - crossing the great divide and showing folks what can can be done with concrete." It doesn't get much better than that... unless your predictions for top five are 100% on the money.


Utah State won the final product category with "
Promontory" and ended up on stage as one after placing fourth overall.

In closing, congratulations to all of the national competitors for qualifying and thanks again to everyone who made this unique event happen!

Next year's competition will take place in Clemson, South Carolina and I know that Brad Putman and his crew will also put on a big show there. Brad is intimately familiar with this competition and comes from a lineage that is part of the concrete canoe bloodline. He was a member of Clemson's paddling team who later served on the CNCCC  

Brad  had some big shoes to fill when he took over the helm as faculty advisor at Clemson from Serji Amirkhamian. Serji led 3CT to three national titles and helped his teams set the all-time record for consecutive appearances at fourteen. The Badgers later tied this record; Fairmont State currently has eleven.

To his credit, Brad has managed to keep Clemson in the hunt, thereby allowing 3CT to hold the record for the most national appearances at twenty one. When I had a chance to speak to Brad in Johnstown, I told him that I was very pleased to see Clemson get back on track. 3CT finished seventh at this year's competition and I look forward to seeing them do even better on home turf in Death Valley


Clemson (statistics) will host the 2015 NCCC. They know what it takes to field "The Game Day Experience."

I hope to see you there. Meanwhile, keep up the pace and try to stay ahead of the "Pack"... because I'm pretty sure that they will return to the hunt next year to defend their national title.