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1996 - "Spirit of America"


Overall length of boat:
     21 ft 2 in.

Net weight of canoe: 
     78 lb


     Two Layers of Steel Mesh Separated by a Plastic Grid

     1st at Nationals

Regional Conference:
    U. of TN - Knoxville
    Knoxville, TN

National Competition:
     U. of Wisconsin
     Madison, WI

     P: Kirk Biszick
          Kirk Smith
     VP: David Tidwell
     S: Freddy Golos 
     T: Mike Gooding

Faculty Advisor:
     Dr. John Gilbert

Contact Members:
     Dr. Michelle Crull
     Mr. Tim Barnett

     Mr. Jeff Lindner

Synopsis:  Our objective was to demonstrate that traditional materials could be used to produce a winning entry.  A new design concept showed that concrete compliance was as important as strength.  We won nationals with a 21'2" long boat that weighed 78 lbs.  Our low modulus concrete (35 lb/ft3; 510 psi) was placed over two layers of steel mesh separated by a plastic grid.

Details:  To show that traditional materials could be used to win nationals, we built the "Spirit of America."

We significantly improved hydrodynamic performance, and built the boat by separating two layers of steel mesh by a relatively coarse and weak plastic grid.

A new design approach was introduced.  We concentrated on concrete compliance and produced an extremely efficient, under-reinforced composite section.  We captured our third national title, proving that it was our ingenuity, not materials or sponsors, that made us winners.

Alumni Notes:  As a result of last year's fiasco, the Southeast was a blood bath.  The major contenders went to Tuscaloosa with guns drawn and were continuously at one another's throats for three days during all ten events.  There was very little applause for anyone during the banquet, and utter silence as we claimed what we thought was our seventh overall Regional title.

When Dr. Gilbert received a copy of the final report for the Regional, he noticed that the host school had inadvertently made a scoring error in computing the point total that determined the overall winner.  The Regional title really belonged to our arch rival, the University of Florida!  Dr. Gilbert notified the Regional host of the unfortunate situation and arrangements were made to exchange the first and second place trophies.  Florida was understandably upset but, for the first time in a long time, tensions began to ease.  It marked a turning point when all schools in the region began giving the Southeast contingent the respect that they deserved.  

The 1996 National was one of the most fierce ASCE competitions in history, with Michigan and Berkeley determined to win.  It wasn’t until Chapter president, Kirk Smith, and teammate/coach, Jeff Lindner, clinched our victory by winning the men's sprint race that we breathed a sigh of relief.  In winning their event, Kirk and Jeff set a new national sprint record making the "Spirit of America," the fastest, lightest and longest concrete canoe built up to that time.

The efforts of construction foreman, Joe Fenwick, were key to bringing our design to practice.  We introduced a multi-layered construction technique that Dr. Gilbert reported in Civil Engineering magazine.  The technique has been adopted by most of the national contenders.

Dr. Gilbert and Greg Laue won the only faculty slalom race ever held at the national level.  Their time was nearly equal to that established by the fastest teams in the sprint races.  That was to be the last faculty race ever held at the national level.  Since the faculty event was rained out the year before, we still have to listen when Dr. Gilbert tells us that he was never beaten at nationals and holds all records including the sprint and slalom.  We think it may be time to reinstate the faculty race. 

At the banquet, president Kirk Smith nudged president-elect Greg Laue forward to claim the trophy.  Greg filled it with champagne and passed the cup around the room to celebrate our victory.  As far as national wins were concerned, it was Berkeley four, UAH three.

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