Cardboard boating: Boyd-Buchanan class teaches fun side of physics

Cardboard boating: Boyd-Buchanan class teaches fun side of physics

May 9th, 2013 by Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

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Racers take off from the banks of Lake Buccaneer in homemade boats.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

While the saltiest of sea captains might not choose cardboard and duct tape as the ideal building materials for his ship, they certainly fit the bill for Jason Owens' physics students.

And so, on a narrow strip of land extending soggily into "Lake Buccaneer," 28 Boyd-Buchanan students launched their boats into murky water Wednesday for the 17th annual Physics Boat Day.

Spectators lined the shore as mosquitoes swarmed in the muggy air. The tinkling music of a nearby shaved ice truck floated over the pond as the students readied for the race.

"On your marks. Get set. Go!" Owens shouted, and the students started paddling furiously.

Owens, chairman of the school's physics department, said the boats are the fourth and final project his students face during the school year.

Others were building a trebuchet to launch softballs, creating Rube Goldberg machines and pointing out physics flaws in popular movies. But boat day is by far the most popular.

"It's kind of a rite of passage," Owens said.

Students have nine weeks to design and build their boats. They are allowed to use only cardboard, duct tape and maybe a little caulk if the holes are big. They're also allowed to paint the boats.

"This isn't usually just paint and we're done with it," Owens said. "There'll be themes with everything."

Allie McCoskey and her team, all seniors, built a giant pirate ship and named it the SS Archimedes.

"It's been an experience," she said. "We've worked really hard. We decided we wanted a canoe style. In the words of my friend, 'This thing is a tank.'"

McCoskey and her teammates were dressed to the nines, wearing bandannas and eyepatches and wielding wooden swords. Megan Neuenschwander had tied her hair under her chin to form a beard.


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She said she was a little nervous about getting in once the craft was in the water.

"We've never sailed it before," she said.

Other themes included "Team USA," captained by a cardboard cutout of George Washington; "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Lilo and Stitch."

Right from the start the Carnival Cruise pulled in front of the cardboard fleet, reaching the finish line in a clear win. Hooting and hollering, the victors paddled back to shore.

"It is absolutely incredible," said senior Matt Rogers. "We had no idea we would win."

Rogers said the team named the boat after the recent cruise line disasters such as the Carnival Triumph, stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Costa Concordia, which tipped over off the coast of Italy.

"If we sank, we could just say it was part of the theme," he said.

Luckily for the Pokemon-themed boat, the project grade doesn't necessarily depend on the vessel's seaworthiness.

"If it sinks, that's only a certain percentage," Owens said. "A lot of it has to do [with whether] I can look at it and say, OK, they put significant work in on it.'"

But Owens said he was pleased by the students' work.

"They all did fantastic," he said. "Probably one of the better years."

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at 423-757-6592 or