Home Page

1995 - "Enterprise II"


Overall length of boat:
     19 ft 6 in.

Net weight of canoe: 
     68 lb


     Graphite Pre-Impregnated Tape

     2nd at Regional

Regional Conference:
     U. of Florida
     Gainsville, FL

National Competition:
   George Washington
   Washington, D.C.

   P: Leslie Roberts
   VP: Joey Skinner
   S: Chloe Roberson
       Lori Goolesby 
   T: Elizabeth Brown

Faculty Advisor:
     Dr. John Gilbert

Contact Members:
     Dr. Michelle Crull
     Mr. Tim Barnett

     Mr. Jeff Lindner

Synopsis:  Our third attempt to win nationals was blocked at the regional level when we were penalized for allegedly violating a rule involving flexural stiffness.  Although we won all of the regional races and filed an 80 page protest, we were not allowed to compete nationally.  The 19'6" boat weighed only 68 lbs. Our 61 lb/ft3 concrete had a strength of 2,400 psi.

Details:  Our first attempt to win nationals for a third time relied on the "Enterprise II."

We designed special tools for producing graphite strips and wrapped the strips around plastic cords.  The high-strength members enabled us to produce a 7 pound frame.  Leslie Roberts (Livingston), shown below holding up the frame, never dreamed how much weight she would later carry in supporting the Chapter through its darkest hour.

Concrete was placed around the frame using rolling pins.  With a canoe weighing only 68 lbs, and a very strong paddling team, we fully envisioned winning our third national title.  But that was not to be.

Alumni Notes:  By now, our domination of the Southeast had become unnerving for our competitors in the region.  We had won the overall Southeast Regional title, given for competing in ten events, five times; and, had locked our sister schools out of the national concrete canoe competition for six out of seven years running.  They had had enough, and we were forced to contend with protests from seven schools on the first day of the three-day competition.  Little did they know that we had already been accused, by the concrete canoe judges, of allegedly violating a rule.  We were in real trouble and facing disqualification from the event.

While constructing our canoe, we had used a graphite tape that was pre-impregnated with epoxy.  The tape was wrapped around polypropylene cords and the cords were used to construct a unibody frame.  We cured the epoxy and the frame in a large over at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

The rule in question stated, "Use of polymer materials that add out of plane strength or stiffness to the reinforcement is not allowed.  This specifically applies to the use of pre-impregnated and cured tapes and fiber mats.  It is the intent of the competition that the concrete be a primary component in the strength composite.  Use of graphite tapes and fiber mats are allowed providing that the bonding or managing agent does not provide out of plane stiffness or strength to the unimpregnated or uncured material."

What the judges meant to say was that pre-impregnated tapes were not allowed but they made the rule so wordy that we interpreted it differently.  Our contention was that the antecedent of the third sentence was the second sentence.  Thus, we interpreted this portion of the rule to mean, "when pre-impregnated and cured tapes are used to reinforce the canoe, the concrete must lend significant strength to the composite section."  When the sentences are read sequentially, the rule did not say that pre-impregnated graphite tapes were illegal.  In fact, the fourth sentence states that "graphite tapes were allowed..."  

All we knew was that our material was referred to by the manufacturer and by us as graphite tape.  To our knowledge, there did not exist a product called graphite tape that was not impregnated with a resin.  Therefore, the graphite tape referred to in the rule had to apply to the material utilized in our 1995 concrete canoe.

As such, Rule II-B.4 stated that graphite tape was allowed providing that it met certain criteria.  We argued that we met the criteria and in an 80 page protest filed following the Regional competition showed that:

The change in material properties which occurs in the polymeric managing agent during the heating cycle, coupled with the dimensional changes produced by vacuum bagging the reinforcement, significantly decrease both the out of plane stiffness and the strength of the reinforcement.

The concrete plays a significant role in resisting the compressive stresses produced when bending the graphite reinforced concrete composite section. Thus, the concrete is a primary component in the strength composite.

The addition of the managing agent decreases both the out of plane stiffness and the strength of the graphite material.

Since these were the only conditions imposed by the rule in question, we insisted that the rule had not been violated.

Consideration of our protest dragged on and on.  Finally, Dr. Gilbert sent an affidavit to ASCE National Headquarters regarding the position paper submitted by the UAH ASCE Student Chapter on May 8, 1995.  In this communication, Dr. Gilbert verified the test procedure used by the Chapter, concurred with the section analysis performed by us, and verified the information submitted regarding the addition of resin to the graphite fibers.  By then, other composite experts were supporting our view and things were getting messy.

The response to Dr. Gilbert's communication was immediate.  ASCE Headquarters asked him to equate the judges' ruling made during the Regional competition to that of an umpire's decision made during a major sporting event.  Right or wrong, the decision would stand.

Dr. Gilbert was then asked to curtail our protest but he explained that it was not his decision as our faculty advisor to do.  He agreed to discuss the issue with the membership, and when he presented the viewpoint to the Chapter, they voted to end the controversy.

Official notice was later received that we would not be invited to compete at nationals.  To their credit, Dr. Gilbert and our chapter president, Leslie Roberts (Livingston), raised the money to take the team to observe the competition in Washington, D.C.  The University of Florida did an excellent job in representing the Southeast that year, and when the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology received their first place trophy, the worst era in our Chapter's history finally ended.

On the bright side, we had won our sixth overall Regional title.  In a letter written to Dr. Frank Franz, president of UAH, Dr. Gilbert noted that,

"Even though this ordeal was tedious, it was the most practical and enlightening experience ever provided to any student group working under my direction.  During the Regional competition, the students were required to defend a position which on the outset seemed clear.  They struggled to defend their position on the spot and worked diligently to convince a skeptical panel of judges that their efforts were technologically sound.  The subsequent point deduction resulted in a deficit that the students knew could not be overcome.  Instead of simply giving up, their response was to work together as a team to win all of the races.  They acted professionally during their deliberations with the judges and presented their case in a clear and concise manner.

Our students reluctantly accepted the judges' decision but applauded Florida as they accepted their trophy at the awards banquet held following the Regional competition.  In making their appeal to ASCE headquarters, the Chapter prepared a well-written and comprehensive document in defense of their position.  Although disappointed with the final outcome, the students knew that they had done their best and would remain champions in their own right.

As a result of this painstaking process, the students learned about some of the risks associated with the development and implementation of new technology; that individuals may rely on intuitive reasoning when they lack the detailed information required to understand relatively new and complex phenomenon; that managers of large organizations may face difficult decisions when asked to overturn critical decisions made at lower levels; and, that life is not always fair.  In short, the twenty eight people involved in this year's effort matured from naive students to experienced individuals with improved oral and written communication skills and a better understanding of life in general."

As a result of the controversy, Ms. Christelle Lindner retired from Team UAH to work diligently behind the scenes to improve the rules for the ASCE/MBT National Concrete Canoe Competition.  In 1998, she intensified her interaction and became co-organizer of the Committee on National Concrete Canoe Competitions (CNCCC).  Our hats go off to you, Christelle!

Back to Competition History