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Posted by on Apr 13, 2009 in UK, US | 4 comments

Boat Design Day at Paul Cuffee School

Every 10-year-old should be building boats like these.

This team's monohull showed a good understanding of buoyancy and the use of internal ballast for trim.

This team's monohull showed a good understanding of buoyancy and the use of internal ballast for trim.

What’s even more fun than talking about boats? In my experience, what’s even better is listening to students at the Paul Cuffee School, in Providence, Rhode Island, talk about the sailboats they’ve designed and built out of dowels, recycled cardboard, tape, sailcloth, and clay. I drove up to the school about a week ago and served as judge for their 6th annual Design Day and left not only with a smile on my face but the sense that every public school could benefit from such a program.

Paul Cuffee is a different kind of public school, of course. It’s a charter school for elementary and middle school students, and it aims to “Integrate the marine sciences and environmental studies with an enriched, literacy-based curriculum for Providence youth.” I’m sure that sounds good to anyone who thinks boating has a lot to offer, but Paul Cuffee has been doing a good job of it, too. The school was selected as one of the top 53 charter schools in America a couple years back.

The boat design program, which I’d judged a few years ago as well, is for fifth graders. They learn the names of the parts of the boat and are required to use the terms knowledgeably in their presentations. They also learn about principles such as buoyancy, stability, and speed. One of my favorite moments is listening, in reference to hull shape, to the term symmetry roll off the tongue of a 10 year old.

This team designed its monohull with a wide beam for good form stability.

This team designed its monohull with a wide beam for good form stability.

This year, I was teamed with Martha Parker as a judge. She’s a top racing sailor and owner of Team One Newport, a top-flight retailer of sailing clothing and equipment. Our first group, of Anneschka, Andrei, and Valeri, took turns presenting their monohull design in well-rehearsed form. Their boat had a nice deep-vee hull, which no doubt helped it track well when run downwind in the school’s test facility (a 3-foot-long wooden trough filled with water and powered by a fan).  They’d had a bit of a challenge getting their mast positioned dead center in the boat and had also spent some time tweaking the position of their ballast within the hull so the boat trimmed correctly.

We moved on to hear from Devante and Cheylianne about their monohull, which had a dramatically different hull form. They’d chosen a simpler shape, a flat-bottomed, unballasted hull, and had made up for any lack of ballast by giving the boat a much wider beam. Two of the fastest boats in the sailing test performed later had a similar shape, and I suspect this team’s boat wasn’t far behind. They had had a little difficulty creating a symmetrical bow shape and could possibly have enlarged their sail slightly.

This team's presentation was impressive (background) and its trimaran was one of the more sophisticated at Paul Cuffee School.

This team's presentation was impressive (background), and its trimaran was one of the more sophisticated at Paul Cuffee School.

The last team we judged was a four-person crew with a presentation that I heard later earned them a “first place” score (any team scoring between 90-100 points). Bryan, Natasha, Amalia, and Gabby had designed and built a trimaran for extra stability and fine hulls for speed. They presented the testing and calculating they’d done very well and demonstrated the stability of a multihull by showing how easy it was to “tip” Natasha with her feet close together compared to when she had them spread wide apart.

Below are photos of the three fastest boats in the school’s subsequent sailing test. Now just imagine if every 10-year-old student had the chance to learn the physics of a sailboat! For more info: pcs@paulcuffee.org

—John Burnham

Ms. Berrios' class: Tropical Cruise - 1.66 ft/sec

Ms. Berrios' class: Tropical Cruise - 1.66 ft/sec

Ms. Guzman's class: Chimera - 1.36 ft/sec

Ms. Guzman's class: Chimera - 1.36 ft/sec

Ms. Conley's class: Chsara - 1.15 ft/sec

Ms. Conley's class: Chsara - 1.15 ft/sec

4 Comments

  1. Must be balance issues as it doesn’t look like large sail area or slick hull design made much difference

  2. John
    Fantastic program and great to hear about it and see some young naval architect efforts. Seems like there are a lot of stories like this out there that usually get missed. Thanks for doing the digging and bringing it back to us.

  3. O wow this is amazing, as a parent of an 8 year old and an avid boater, I have taken it upon myself to teach my son about boating among other things and I think he would benefit more if it was offered as subject at his school. I applaud the Paul Cuffee School for offering this course believe I will be chatting with my son’s principal….lol.

  4. Thanks for helping make the PCS curriculum even more exciting and meaningful for the kids. I’ve been a PCS Fan since before the school opened, thanks to long-standing acquaintances with one of the founders and have followed its progress and achievements with interest. I’m a sailor, too, so am glad the school is getting youth interested in the sport.