News Article

Come Sail Away With Me

Engineering Wins Big at USA's Largest Solar Boat Race

Putting their math, engineering, and physics skills to the test, Oaks Christian School students laid it all on the waterline at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District’s Annual Solar Cup race and sailed away with a boatload of awards:  1st Place Rookie Contestant, Best Rookie Public Service Message, Best Rookie Solar Endurance Performance, and Best Rookie Technical Report. Out of 750 high school students in 40 teams, Oaks Christian also placed 4th for Public Service Message, 2nd in Solar Endurance, and was 5th overall in final standings.

Solar Cup is the nation’s largest solar-powered boat competition in which students build, equip and race 16-foot, single-seat boats powered only by the sun and motors producing up to 320 watts. It is sponsored by the MWD and teams represent the five counties in the MWD’s 5,000-plus service area.

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Oaks Christian was sponsored by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. Sponsors help equip the crafts with solar panels, batteries, steering and related systems while the MWD gave each team identical kits of marine-grade plywood to build the hull. Engineering teachers Greg Gillis-Smith and Tyler Hernandez and physics teacher Amanda Turk led the students.

"I am excited about our performance because it validates the effort the students made by coming in after school, weekends, and holidays to do something they have never done before.  They asked the right questions and followed through with hard work to not only produce a boat, but also conducted tests and use the data to change how they ran the boat to win. I am super proud of them and excited that the majority of the team were freshmen so we will have a strong team next year, too," said Gillis-Smith.

The three-day competition took place at Lake Skinner in Riverside’s Temecula Valley. On the first day, teams had to qualify and comply with safety and seaworthiness rules. 

Day two required teams to attached solar-collection panels to the boats for two, 90-minute endurance races. The endurance winner is determined by the boat that circles the 1.6 kilometer course the most times in the 90 minutes.

On the last day, under rainy skies, the solar-collection panels were removed, and boats used the stored solar energy in the batteries to sprint race down a 200-meter stretch with some boats reaching speeds of up to 15 MPH.

OCS junior Caleb Behunin, spoke with the Associated Press at the event and said:

“I feel like we all learned a lot – about gears, circuitry, and putting it in a real-world application. We were really a great team. Whenever I needed help or anyone else on the team needed help, we were always there to help each other.”

In addition to building the boats, teams also submit two technical reports, and create a water conservation public service message.

“We are so proud of the students and faculty who were on this year’s Solar Cup team. They displayed amazing amounts of perseverance, curiosity, and innovation. As our engineering program continues to grow and develop, this group of individuals will always be that ‘first’ group to develop a fully functional boat solely powered by the sun,” said Associate Head of School for Academics Dr. Matt Northrop.