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UMass Lowell Concrete Canoe Bests New England Competitors

Hydrohawk Team Takes Second Place in Charles River Race

Students Jimmy Palantzas, left, Stephen Lahti, middle, and Brian Allard of UMass Lowell's Hydrohawk 2010 team race to the finish on the Charles River.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

A canoe that’s made of concrete and can float in water? To many, the concept might seem far-fetched, but not to the dedicated teams of engineering students from across the Northeastern United States and Canada who took on the challenge of building such a canoe as part of an annual regional competition.

The UMass Lowell team and its self-designed and built concrete canoe, dubbed “The Hydrohawk,” finished second overall in the April 10 races, which were organized by the New England student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The event was hosted by Northeastern University on the Charles River in Boston. Laval University from Quebec City took home the top honors, while the University of Maine placed third.

Other teams that competed this year included UMass Amherst, UMass Dartmouth, Northeastern University, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Rhode Island, the Wentworth Institute of Technology, Roger Williams University and the University of New Haven. 

“We had 25 team members in the competition,” says Nathaniel Blake, a UMass Lowell civil engineering senior who is the Hydrohawk’s project manager. “Almost all of them are civil engineering majors, but we do have a mechanical and an electrical engineer involved. Laboratories Director Gary Howe and Prof. Don Leitch of civil engineering are our team adviser and ASCE adviser, respectively.”

The canoe, which was molded from a specially formulated lightweight concrete mix and reinforced with fiberglass mesh, measures 20 feet long, 31 inches wide and 16 inches deep, and weighs 255 pounds. To qualify for racing, it passed a test in which the canoe is filled with water and pushed below the surface; the canoe should resurface on its own.

“The Hydrohawk is 115 pounds lighter than last year’s canoe, ‘The Merrimack Maiden,’ and it is a magnificent work of technology and art,” says Prof. Clifford Bruell, chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. “This year’s second-place finish is an amazing accomplishment that is the result of a solid year of hard work by the team.”

“There were five different races -; men’s endurance, women’s endurance, men’s sprints, women’s sprints and coed sprints,” says Blake. “The ASCE judging includes not only the races, but also each team’s oral presentation and product display and the canoe engineering design paper it submitted.”

“Last year, our team was badly outperformed by Laval University, which won in every design category and every race at the regionals, and then went on to the nationals where it finished seventh nationally,” says College of Engineering Dean John Ting, who joined several faculty members in Boston to cheer on the team.

“The fact that our Hydrohawk team bested all U.S. universities in the region is a tremendous accomplishment,” says Ting. “The improvement and quality of our canoe was noted by all the other teams, including Laval and visiting faculty and students from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, which plans on entering a team next year.”

“Our team made a 100 percent improvement from last year,” says Howe. “Our students realized the competition is stiff and they all pulled together, rising to the challenge and overcoming all odds.”
 Ting says the lone canoe “fatality” this year was the University of New Hampshire’s entry, which developed a non-repairable “lesion.”

“When this canoe was gently lifted to the parking lot,” he says, “the Laval University bagpiper -- yes, they had bagpipes -- played a perfect rendition of ‘Amazing Grace,’ followed by applause by all.”

The Hydrohawk was on display on Friday, April 23, in front of Cumnock Hall on the North Campus from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To see more photos as well as videos of the races, visit the UMass Lowell Photo Gallery and YouTube page.

Nathaniel Blake