Teamwork floats their boats

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Capt. Dante Walters learned a valuable lesson on sailing this week: cannonballs and cardboard don’t mix.

The Grade 8 student was skipper of the S.S. Maple Syrup, an experimental barge hand-made from tape and cardboard. It was one of 55 cardboard creations crafted by some 200 students from across Alberta Wednesday at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology as part of the Skills Canada Alberta Edmonton Cardboard Boat Race.

While the raft-like vehicle seemed seaworthy as Walters’ teammates placed it in the pool, Walters accidentally torpedoed it when he chose to leap into the pilot’s seat.

“I kind of tore open the one wall and the water started flooding in,” he said, moments after he was fished from Davey Jones’ locker.

As the hull folded up around him and the waves closed in, Walters raised a defiant thumbs-up into the air before the chlorinated depths claimed him.

The lesson?

“Don’t jump onto wet cardboard,” Walters said.

“It will tear open.”

The Cardboard Boat Race is meant to get junior and senior high students interested in the trades-centric Skills competitions, said Victoria Anderson, spokesperson for Skills Canada Alberta. Competitors have to show teamwork and creativity to build boats from cardboard and tape that can race across a pool and float with three people aboard for one minute.

Winners get medals and gift certificates. Losers get wet, although particularly epic shipwrecks can qualify for the Titanic Award.

Sailing with science

W.D. Cuts Junior High had two squads in this year’s race, both coached by teacher Deborah Rivet.

“It’s a hands-on kind of approach to solving a problem,” Rivet said of the event, one that requires teamwork and creativity.

The Cuts kids applied their Grade 8 lessons on buoyancy and density to design their crafts in advance, Rivet said. They had to find the right balance; narrow ships are fast, but wide ones hold more weight. The S.S. Maple Syrup (which placed 37th overall) probably would have finished the weight challenge had it not sunk in the race, she noted.

“I told (Walters), don’t jump off the end! All your weight goes to one little area!” Rivet said, laughing.

Students cheered as teams raced their boats across the pool two or three at a time, most using their bare hands. Some make it, others flounder at the start, while a few submerge just metres from the finish.

Hauling the sodden wrecks out of the pool was Gord King, provincial competition co-ordinator with Skills Canada Alberta and Paul Kane alumnus. He’s seen 15 of these races, and each one is different.

“Some days the majority of kids will sink, some days they’ll swim,” he said. This year’s shipwrights were particularly skilled, as many teams completed the race.

Each year’s race features a different secret item teams must incorporate into their design, King said. Sometimes it’s a brick or beach ball – this year, it was a traffic cone. Actual designs range from flat boxes to sailing ships and pontoons.

“Sometimes they just get too creative. It’s always the simple ones that tend to do better.”

Cuts student Cody Grace said he and teammates Bronson Wicks and James Sollosy built their craft out of a single sheet of cardboard, folding it into shape so they wouldn’t have any leaks due to cut-lines. The craft, dubbed the S.S. Beaver, proved so sturdy that Sollosy had barely a drop of water on him after the race.

The weight challenge was an intense affair where students cautiously lowered themselves into their boats and held perfectly still so as to not tip into the drink. Most ships sank, too soggy or unstable to support the weight. Those that lasted the full minute were often capsized by mischievous teammates.

While the S.S. Beaver was still intact enough to participate in the weight event, it suffered a catastrophic structural collapse roughly 0.5 seconds after its crew boarded and sank with all hands aboard, finishing in 36th place.

The now-drenched crew agreed that this contest was a good experience.

“Very cold, though,” added Sollosy.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.