June 23, 2008

It's a Certain Kind of Bittersweet

Even though the competition ended yesterday, our team's journey has only truly ended today (the result of a double digit hour van ride back). Throughout this competition, our team has seen it's ups and downs, and tonight we tell the final chapter in the story of CMSS 2008.

This is where I would typically say something inspiring like "competitions are fleeting, but memories last forever!" However, I'm saving all the introspective stuff for the end instead.

You're just going to have to wait.

Day 5 - Sunday, June 22nd

I allegorically relate our performance over the course of the competition to that of a Phoenix.
Over the first few days we flew gracefully through the Qualifiers and Slalom course. Then, in our first Sprint qualifier we burned, literally (through a battery terminal) and figuratively. The next day during endurance, we continued to burn (this time our sun-burnt drivers) and people began to lose hope.
Then, like a Phoenix, we rose from what many presumed to be ashes, and showed everyone that while we might have been down, we were certainly not out.

It all started out with our favorite Armenian deciding that he would not become burned himself
That Greg Surabian sure does know how to take care of himself.

Next, after disassembling the boat from endurance the team readied the boat for Sprint, while I spent some quality time picking the brains of other teams.
Secret Agent Man - 9:00 am

Riddhi and I stopped by the College of New Jersey and talked extensively with them. They were great guys and were more than happy to explain the choices they made. I managed to get a picture of their motor system, which later on was awarded "Best Drive Train Design" for their minimalistic and efficient design.

I also got some pictures of the University of Northern Iowa's Solar Panel, which ultimately won the "Best Solar System Design" award. Their manufacturing technique was similar to the methods we were trying which was reassuring. They also shared our disdain for Silicon Solar, who also sent them broken cells and gave them terrible customer service. Turns out it wasn't just us after all.

In addition to Northern Iowa, the University of New Orleans also had some great panels, which they had mounted to the top cover of their boat for structural reasons. They also had a great way of tilting their panels during charging using this combination dolly/mount.

On the polar opposite end of the complexity spectrum, I managed to get a picture of ETS's motor controller (we think) which was completely student made. This thing just about defines complexity and meticulousness.

Which brings me to our first event of the day, our Sprint Race against ETS. Now, before I go any further I should explain that the Sprint Events are not really head to head races. Rather, the team's top two Sprint times are used to determine their final place. Now, I could explain how we did during our first Sprint heat, but I'd rather you just see for yourself:
Vindication is a Dish Best Served Fast - 12:30 pm

That race broke our top speed record, with 40.54 seconds! Our average speed was around 16.88 mph from start to finish, placing our top speed somewhere in the mid to upper 20s.
It's amazing what Nessie can do when battery terminals aren't melting. Needless to say, I finally felt vindicated.

After the race, Nessie took a well deserved rest, as we starting charging our batteries, both electrical and personal.

It wasn't long though before we were back in the water for another heat, this time a three way race between University of Northern Iowa, Middle Tennessee University, and us. Up against some stiff competition, we tried our best and closed out our performance with a respectable 50 seconds.
I switched over to still camera for this one, so enjoy some hi-res shots of everyone's favorite Wedler taking Nessie for a ride.
Packing it up - 1:00 pm

With the races all set and over, we took Nessie out of the water one last time and got her a well deserved wash down.
While we waited for the championship race and awards ceremony we started our final move out towards the van.

The Race of Champions and the Spear Fisherman's Revenge - 2:30 pm

The final three teams to make it to the Championship round were Istanbul, Cederville, and the University of Arkansas.
At first, Arkansas was off to a lightening fast start.
However, towards the end Istanbul closed the gap, and it was down to the wire.

Istanbul's driver and team were ecstatic as they raced down in celebration. The judges would later determine the Arkansas had technically won the Sprint Event, although if you ask me I'd say it was Istanbul that truly deserved it.

As we walked back to the dock, we saw Istanbul's team curiously perched around the dock. We thought they were all going to jump in together as a team.
Instead, they did something far more impressive.
It turns out that their team leader is actually an accomplished spear fisherman, and what we thought was group camaraderie, was actually a tracking session. A few moments later, he dove into the water and came out holding a fish.
Yes....this man just dove into the water and caught a large fish with his bare hands. Bare hands!
It's moments like these that make me feel inadequate as a member of my species.
Either way, it deserves mention. The guys for Istanbul are a great bunch of people, and they make one fine boat, at that.

Awards - 3:30 pm

While I won't go into too many specifics here, I will mention the awards that we received:
- 10th Place Overall
- 3rd Place Solar Slalom
- Sportsmanship Award

University of Arkansas came in 3rd place:

Istanbul came in 2nd place:

Cederville came in 1st place:

All of the teams competed very well, and it was some tough competition, to be sure. I look forward immensely to competing with these fine teams again next year.

A Final Word

It's always hard to let go of something when you have worked on it for so long and so hard. Even harder, I think, is to not get caught up in the moment and forget what truely matters in this competition.

For me, Solar Splash is not about winning. It's not about building a boat. It's not even really about solar energy.

For me, Solar Splash is about people.

Nessie does not represent a boat to me, but rather a collection of memories I have with the people who have helped define her. When I watch Nessie race, it's not about winning. It's about honoring those people, both present and past, who have poured their hearts and souls into making Nessie what she is today. We all shared a common vision, and it is my privilege to be able to help bring it to life on behalf of those who cannot be with us.

We get so worried about making sure that everything is working correctly, that sometime we fail to realize that a loss at the competition is nothing compared to the people that we lose once everything is done.

Today we lost three great members of our team: Andrew Choate, Will Wedler, and Greg Surabian.

Their strength, ingenuity, and willingness to give every last ounce of themselves to this project will never be completely replaced. I am eternally grateful for all they have done for this project, and intend to honor their vision for this project by trying to live up to high standards they have set for the leadership of this organization.

Regardless of how we do at any competition, I've come to realize that it's the heart of this team that really makes the difference......

.......and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

A special thank you goes out to all our patient readers who follow our progress, and we wish our recent graduates the best of luck in their new lives.

Until next time,

- Mark Fuge


Anonymous said...

Sprint 07
39.97 38.14
Sprint 08
40.54 50.58

Ryan said...

Great job guys! I've been keeping track via the blog, and I wish I could have been there for the competition.