In 10 years of helping his Bettendorf High School students learn how to design and build a cardboard boat, Dan Drexler has learned what works and what doesn't.
Challenged this year to build his own boat for the annual cardboard boat regatta at Middle Park Lagoon, Drexler also learned a valuable lesson about how much work his students put in on the project.
This year's event featured 44 boats built by 99 students from eight high schools — Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley, Moline, Durant, United Township, Ellicott Home School, Quad-City Christian and Geneseo. And three boats designed, built and raced by teachers — Drexler, Pleasant Valley's Matt Stutenberg and United Township's Dale Lacina.
While Drexler's boat posted a scorching time of 2 minutes, 24 seconds, to go from the lagoon dock, around the island and back — about 20 seconds behind the all-time record — Stutenberg and Lacina had less success.
Stutenberg capsized at the dock, but eventually made it around the island and back after ditching his cardboard paddle.
Lacina, who goes canoeing frequently, never left the dock, sinking twice into the lagoon.
As part of the project, students are required to research boat designs and perform calculations to determine the width, length and depth of their boats. Judges from the Quad-City Engineering and Science Council serve as judges and ask the students questions about their design and construction process.
Stutenburg said his boat was too narrow and sat too high in the water, making it too easy to capsize. He said the experience also gave him an appreciation for the effort his students put into the project.
"You don't realize how much you expect of them until you go through the process yourself," he said.
Drexler said the process of designing and building his boat took longer than he thought. He credited his success to the design of his paddle, a part of the project he said students too often overlook.
Lacina said this was the first year United Township students participated in the event. He said the students had a good time with the project, and they learned they need to start earlier next year in gathering materials because quality cardboard was hard to find.
Durant High School students Monica Ahrens and Casee Meincke designed their boat with triangle-shaped pontoons. They almost made it to the island before the boat started taking on water in the back and capsized.
Monica, a junior, said she and Casee had trouble balancing the boat because it sat high in the water.
"We didn't have as much displacement as we thought we would," she said.
Casee said the project was a good experience.
"Even though we sank, it was still a good time," she said.
Pleasant Valley High School junior Evan Foley and senior Logan Hampton had better luck, making it around the island and back while staying relatively dry. Although a paddle broke early in their trip, a second paddle was enough to get them to the finish line.
Evan said they performed several calculations in designing their boat, choosing to make it 12 feet long to strike the balance between having a boat that was long enough to stay in a straight line and short enough to be maneuverable.
"Just some math and some common sense, I guess," he said.
Bill Sweeney, one of the volunteer judges at the regatta, said many of the students seemed to have done their homework on researching designs and materials for their boats.
"They're having fun and their learning, also," he said.