Physics Boat Race a Tyrone Tradition

Now entering its second decade, Mr. Gruber’s Physics Boat Race is an end of the school year tradition

Tyrone physics teacher Bryan Gruber has hosted a regatta at the Tyrone High School swimming pool every May for the past 21 years.

But this race doesn’t involve kayaks, canoes or any other type of commercially produced vessels.  All the boats in this race are hand made of cardboard, duct tape, and determination.

Gruber’s project was inspired by a race that he saw many years ago at the Three Rivers Regatta in Pittsburgh, in which contestants floated DIY boats built boats out of anything they could find down the Allegheny River. Gruber originally started the race to increase the number of kids who sign up for physics.

I appreciate all the hard work the kids do to prepare themselves and their boats for the race. It’s hard to do the project. It takes time and effort to get the cardboard and actually work on it”

— Bryan Gruber

“I appreciate all the hard work the kids do to prepare themselves and their boats for the race,” says Gruber, “it’s hard to do the project. It takes time and effort to get the cardboard and actually work on it.”

The objective of the Physics Boat Race is to build a boat of cardboard that can carry one or two people the length of a pool and back in the shortest amount of time possible.

The project puts what the students learn in class about buoyancy and Archimedes’s Principle into practice.

Students are allowed to use single or double corrugated cardboard and tape of the engineer’s choosing to build their vessels. The tape cannot not exceed two inches past a seam or cover the bottom of the boat. The thickness of the boat’s hull cannot be constructed of more than two layers of cardboard.  Boats also cannot exceed eight feet in length.

Juniors Emily Detwiler and Elise Brooks won the race in their boat named Gruber’s Revenge.

“It was really fun participating in the race this year,” said Brooks, “I didn’t think our boat would go as far as it did. The last race was pretty intense because we couldn’t turn very well.”

After the preliminary rounds, Gaige Fink, Liz Ake and Logan McKernan, Tyler Beckwith and Dan Parker, and Elise Brooks and Emily Detwiler made it to the finals.

Fink’s boat had a strong start but unfortunately sank when he reached the deep end of the pool.

McKernan and Ake were then in the lead until they toppled out of their boat after turning around.

It was then down to a brawl with Beckwith and Parker versus Brooks and Detwiler, but the boys’ ship sunk and the girls team was able to cruise to victory.

“It was the year for the girls to dominate. In terms of quality of the boats, the girls killed it,” said Gruber, “the guys mostly broke their boats while getting in.”

While some boats didn’t last to see their second races, everyone involved enjoyed the project.

Michael Stoner and Kolby Cowher flipped their boat in the first race, and sunk immediately after they boarded their ship during their second heat.

Carter Maceno and Tyler Gunsallus also sunk, however they made it halfway through their first race before their boat completely went underwater. Tyler Steele and Skyler McCaulley also sunk upon beginning.

“We should’ve won, but I cannon balled onto the boat,” said senior Kolby Cowher, “Gruber kicked us out of the pool because our boat was making a mess.”

Single boats such as Reagan Wood, Alicia Endress and Mason Harris didn’t sink, but were eliminated because they weren’t fast enough. Gaige Fink however earned the title of having the fastest race this year, and did so as a single boat.