Students at the Regatta holding their boats

Engineering Regatta

is both tradition and design thinking challenge

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Hunter Vizzini puts his boat in the tank

Yet Vizzini projected his boat would finish that way, because of previous tests. “I made it so it decreased the drag and made the sails loose so they would grab the wind,” he said. “I wish it would have made it across the tank, but it was still fun.”

Vizzini was one of 63 engineering students to participate in the annual Wooden Shoe Regatta, which in August celebrated its 30th anniversary. 

Shirley Fleischmann, professor of engineering, brought the idea of a sailboat regatta to Grand Valley after leading similar events when she taught at the U.S. Naval Academy. Fleischmann said it’s the perfect culmination to a course in fluid mechanics. 

“It provides a meaningful context for many of the concepts taught in the course and does so in a way that students grow to care deeply about the event. They learn by doing,” Fleischmann said.

Students were given 2-inch by 4-inch by 10-inch blocks of basswood in late June to create 1/12th scale single-hull sailboats. Fleischmann said students use special scaling laws to predict the behavior of a full-scale hull; wind tunnel tests are also performed on model sails.

“All of this testing and reasoning behind the special design features are the technical heart of this project,” she said.

Regardless of how a student’s boat performs at the regatta, Fleischmann is more interested in their overall lab report, which is why Vizzini and others did not worry that their boats failed to finish the course.

“When I tested my boat, it ran the same route; this race was about what I expected,” Vizzini said.

Prizes are presented for fastest and most stylish boats. Trophies resemble a wooden shoe, a tradition that began with Fleischmann’s mother, who shipped wooden shoes from Holland to Annapolis, Maryland, so Fleischmann could present them to winning Naval Academy students.

Fleischmann said the regatta demonstrates how engineers can devise multiple solutions to one problem.

“They use design thinking techniques and really learn about themselves as engineers during this project,” she said. “It’s a very competitive event but there are lots of students who give each other advice, so there is lots of teamwork. Ultimately, they are doing a practical application of what we learned in the classroom.”

Professor Shirley Fleischmann stands in the regatta tank and opens a bottle of champagne

“They use design thinking techniques and really learn about themselves as engineers during this project.”

Shirley Fleischmann, professor of engineering
overhead view of the regatta

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