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Local man races concrete canoe in competition

Posted: Wednesday, Apr 9th, 2014

By Jack Holt

Gazette Associate Editor

FORT COLLINS, Colo — Nathan Fox is a local man who studies at Utah State University, He studies civil engineering with the intention of working with big buildings and skyscrapers. When he’s not in class or studying for an exam during the school year, he’s working with a team of 22 to build a canoe — made out of concrete.

The canoe made out of concrete actually floats. According to Fox it has everything to do with what’s in the concrete.

“Normal concrete has sand and gravel in it which makes it heavy,” he said. “Our canoe is made of concrete that has glass bubbles and recycled glass particles in it.”

The canoe is 19.5 feet long and 2 feet wide and weighs only 195 pounds. According to Fox it only takes anywhere from two to four people to carry the canoe.

“We spent about four to five hours every Saturday working on the canoe, sanding and smoothing it,” Fox told the Gazette.

Fox and the team wrapped the canoe in plastic and added wet sheets to keep the canoe from cracking while it cured. This allowed the concrete to reach the strength needed while keeping cracking to a minimum.

The team went with a Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point theme for the canoe and the amount of detailing that went into the canoe was the only real challenge the team had.

To avoid other pitfalls in building it, a practice canoe was made out of wood with the same design that the team wanted to use for the concrete version. The prototype didn’t turn out the way the team wanted so the design had to be modified.

The walls of the canoe are three-eighths of an inch thick and the whole thing uses only about one-fifth of a cubic foot of concrete. It took three thousand hours to build.

The concrete canoe was built to compete in a regional competition at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. The competition was held on Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5 ,where teams had not only to race the canoe, but also had to give technical presentations and write technical papers on the project.

There were five events for the race portion of the competition including a four-person race, a two-man or two-woman race, a short distance race, a 600-meter endurance course and a swamp test.

The swamp test is where the team has to sink the boat and it has to float back to the surface.

Each team spent 75-100 hours practicing for each of the races in the prototype canoe and spent time in the concrete canoe for the first time at the competition.

Fox and his team faced competition from 11 different teams from schools in Colorado, South Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Fox has been with the team for two years and the team has won the competition three years in a row. After the regional competition the team went on to the national competition where they won fifth place last year.

Fox and his team fared well at the competition with a first place win in the design paper, oral presentation, final product, men’s endurance race, women’s endurance race, and the women’s sprint race. They also took first place overall over New Mexico State University, which placed second and University of Wyoming who had a third place finish.

The USU Concrete Canoe team will head to Pennsylvania in June for the national competition.

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