Engineering students to race handmade sailboats during 25th annual regatta

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It will be a race to the finish on the high seas in the Fred M. Keller Engineering Labs during Grand Valley State University’s 25th annual Wooden Shoe Regatta July 29.

Each summer junior-level mechanical engineering students design and build small sailboats as a lesson in fluid mechanics. Students are awarded wooden shoes as trophies for style and speed for their 1/12 scale model sailboats, each carved from a 2-inch by 4-inch by 10-inch block of basswood.

This year, a record-breaking 66 students will participate in the speed competition, starting at 11:30 a.m. in room 102 of the Keller Engineering Labs on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The event is open to the public.

The students will use a 12-foot towing tank and a wind tunnel to predict the performance of the hull and sails on their individual boats. Based on the results, they are able to predict how a full-scale boat would perform.

To celebrate the event’s silver anniversary, commanding officers of two U.S. Coast Guard Cutters – the Alder and Buckthorn – will be in attendance, as well as Grand Valley alumni. The commanders are also attending the U.S. Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, July 24-August 2.

Engineering professor Shirley Fleischmann started the regatta at Grand Valley in 1989 to provide students a hands-on learning experience in the field of fluid mechanics. A style competition took place July 27.

For more information, contact Fleischmann at or (616) 331-6761.