Students construct boat for solar-powered regatta

By Daniel Hernandez, Advocate Staff

A group of students will show off their skills in science and engineering representing Contra Costa College at the 8th annual California Solar Regatta with their own solar-powered boat on Saturday.

The event is hosted by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, where high school and college students from up and down the state will compete at the Rancho Seco Recreational Lake in Herald, California.

Teams work together to incorporate creative, innovative and sustainable materials that will be tested in three races and scored in a presentation.

The CCC team is led by mechanical engineering major Nyalah Payne, who is competing in her second year. She has worked with this team since June, coming up with concepts and gathering materials to assemble a boat and race in the regatta.

Mechanical engineering major Nathalie Zaldivar said, “At the beginning we started out with sketches.” This is her first time on the team.

They call themselves the Stardust Crusaders, named after the third installment of the Japanese manga “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.” Their logo features a dolphin wearing the cap of the character

Jotaro Kujo, a marine biologist in the series.

Their boat, Milkyway, is an original creation composed of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes, polyethene foam pads and a plywood board, which will be powered by two large solar panels and a trolling motor.

Assembly of their prototype started in February. They used duct tape to join the pipes and rope to hold the foam together.

“The first one we cut and put together; we didn’t glue it because we didn’t want to finalize it,” Zaldivar said.

They tested the prototype at the college Pool only to discover that the middle area was leaking. In that initial experiment they had two extra team members sit on the boat to substitute for the weight of the yet-to-be installed solar panels. More than half of the boat was submerged because there were not enough foam pads to support the weight.

So the team went back to tweak the design for better stability and calculated the buoyant force of how much weight 12 pads could support. Then they added four pads to the final version.

“It looks like an upside down boat,” Zaldivar said. “We made it that way because as you move forward you don’t want there to be water resistance.”

They’re incorporating triangular figures into the boat’s structure to aid in dynamics, described as being able to “cut through water like a blade.”

For some time the team constructed its prototype in the Art Building, but now that they are assembling the actual boat, they’ve moved to PS-19.

On Friday, they gathered at the laboratory to start putting together their final product. Physics professor Mark Wong was one of the professors there. He is helping to oversee the entire project, giving advice and support to the students, along with science laboratory coordinator Jeffrey Kamalian and assistant professor Chao Liu.

“I’ve been trying to make sure everybody is on task,” Payne said.

She said all the team members met to discuss what will happen on Saturday, reviewing the schedule and explaining how they would get the boat to the event.

Soon after, Wong and Kamalian brought out parts of the boat and the team began putting the final touches on Milkyway’s construction. They completed it on Saturday.

Wong said, “I am very impressed by the commitment they’ve demonstrated and some of the problem-solving skills they’ve demonstrated. It’s really rewarding to get to see what they put into practice (from) what they’ve learned in their courses.”

He said he will be out at the California Solar Regatta on Saturday to support the team.

Payne said, “It’s been a really good experience for me. It has been stressful at times, I’m going to admit that. But I think everybody’s enjoying it.”