Laurissa Schneider

A cardboard boat Noah would be proud to call his own

By Dale Cory

Back in the day, Noah built his ark — then spent 40 days and 40 nights waiting for land to reappear.

Fast forward to 2010 — a time when students at Ponoka’s St. Augustine School have replaced the ark with cardboard boats capable of racing the length of a 25-metre pool, and still keep afloat for at least 60 seconds.

“We thought this would be kind of cool — because, when someone says they’re going to make a boat out of cardboard, it kind of seems like it would be pretty impossible,” says boat builder Nicole Beier of St. Augustine. “We thought we would try and see how it would work out.

“The first year we sunk. After that, we’ve done better and better.”

All kidding aside, they take their cardboard boat building quite seriously at St. Augustine School.

So much so that 16 students spent Nov. 16 at the GH Dawe Centre in Red Deer participating in the Skills Canada Alberta Central Cardboard Boat Race.

That’s right — there is a special day set aside for building and racing cardboat boats.

But it’s not all fun and games.

To prepare for the event, St. Augustine held tryouts focused on speed and weight, and took its best boat builders up against 100 junior and senior high students from across Central Alberta.

So, what’s involved in building a cardboat boat capable of floating?

“The junior high kids get two sheets of 4×8-foot cardboard, and the senior high kids get four sheets of 4×4-foot cardboard. They get a small role of duct tape, some string, and a large roll of packing tape. With that — they have to build a boat,” explains St. Augustine teacher and cardboat boat aficionado Brad Normandeau. “After they’ve built their boat, it’s judged on the aesthetics of the design as well as how much they match the blueprint they have to make in advance. All teams get 90 minutes to build their boat. We try to encourage our teams to take the full 90 minutes. They’re taping their boat to seal it, so we want them to take their time do that — so it’s a nice, clean seam.”

Of the four teams St. Augustine assembled, three finished the entire competition — which means they completed the race, and survived the floating test. The one team that didn’t finish the float test did finish the race.

“I was very pleased with how our kids did today,” added Normandeau. “What I like about this is that it’s a different type of thing for them to do. It’s a unique problem they have to solve, and they take it from beginning to end. They have to start from the planning stage and then execute that. Since we’ve had kids do this for a number of years — we get them to reflect on how they do, reassess their designs, and what they could improve on if they’re going to do this another time.”

The students who have been involved in this project have certainly progressed with regard to their boat building skills.

“This is our fourth year doing this,” said Nicole Beier, one of the St. Augustine boat builders. “We made a plan each year, and changed it to make it better each time, so that we can do better each time.”

Well, the plan worked, as Beier and her boat-mates Lisa-Marie McLennan, Deanna Henderson and Sara Tomlinson came in second in the senior high division.

To start off with, the crew took sheets of paper and folded them into smaller versions of the cardboard boat they would eventually manufacture in the competition.

Beier, McLennan and Tomlinson have been part of the group all four years. Their experience has paid off with improved results.

“We’ve learned the boat has to be very sturdy, and your arms have to be able to reach the water when you paddle, so you can’t make your boat too big. When you’re floating in it, you have to stay really balanced, and not try and tip,” says first captain Beier. “The toughest part is the actual race. Speed has always been an issue for us — not being able to get across fast enough and get a good enough time.”

It was not an issue at the 2010 event, with McLennan having no problem paddling the length of the pool.

So, does Beier have ideas of becoming a professional cardboard boat builder when she graduates from high school in June?

“I wish this was a profession,” responded the Grade 12 student with a laugh.

St. Augustine School results

In the junior high competition, the team of Blake Shimp, Cole Nelson, Damien Adcock and Dallon Perry took first place.

In the senior high competition, Vicki Wyering, Karen Kirk, Laurissa Schneider and Kaitlyn Lomas took first place; Lisa-Marie McLennan, Deanna Henderson, Nicole Beier and Sara Tomlinson made up the St. Augustine team that took second place, and Dylan Hoar, Daniel Wyering, Max Hall and Kiri Stolz finished fourth.