Michigan Tech's Concrete Canoe Paddles the Competition Again

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Michigan Tech's canoe, Mesektet, pulls ahead of the competition during regional Concrete Canoe races in Sutton's Bay. Sarah Reed photo
Michigan Tech's canoe, Mesektet, pulls ahead of the competition during regional Concrete Canoe races in Sutton's Bay. Sarah Reed photo

For the 13th time in 15 years, Michigan Tech’s team has nabbed the regional title in the ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition.

“We have a super group of students on the team,” said Bill Baxandall, the team’s faculty advisor. “They work really hard and put a lot of extra effort into the product.”

Sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the competition challenges students’ knowledge, creativity and stamina, while showcasing the versatility and durability of concrete as a building material.

Michigan Tech hosted teams from nine schools in this year’s North Central competition, held April 6-8. The design, paper, aesthetics, product and oral presentation portions of the event were held at the University. However, with the Keweenaw Waterway frozen over, organizers were forced to relocate for the racing portion of the competition. After determining that Saginaw, Petoskey and Traverse City were in the same boat as icy Houghton, officials finally pinpointed Sutton’s Bay.

Thus, the teams hauled their canoes nearly 400 miles to the southeast to find open water. Sutton’s Bay turned out to be a great choice. “Nobody got swamped or tipped over, and we had all kinds of press coverage,” Baxandall said. “Teachers brought their classes, so we got to show high school students what you can do with concrete. We were able to spark some students’ interest in engineering.”

The Tech team won all five racing events in its Egyptian-themed canoe, Mesektet. In addition, it placed first in oral presentation and product and second in the paper portions of the event, earning 97.5 points out of a possible 100.

All canoes in the competition must be lighter than water, a feat accomplished by adding hollow glass and ceramic spheres to the concrete mixture used to form the hull. The Tech canoe weighted 52.7 pounds per cubic foot. “Water weighs 62.7 pounds, and that means that our concrete floats,” said Baxandall.

He attributed some of the team’s success to a new design feature: a groove that runs the length of the keel. “One of the team members is an avid skier and said that skis work like a boat going through water,” he said. “That informed the design.”

Baxandall was especially proud of his team this year because of the quality of the competitors. “Tech has traditionally been a ways ahead of everyone else in the region, but this year there were some pretty good products from the other schools,” he said. “The competition is getting stiffer every year, so that makes Tech’s win all the more impressive.”

The Michigan Tech team will be taking their canoe to the national competition, which will be held June 20-22 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.