By soldering in a Range Rover, on the floor of Room 3 and on top of a trash can, Country Day’s Solar Regatta team may not have won the Regatta Cup but they did get better at soldering — at least that’s what senior team co-captain Arijit Trivedi thinks.
The team competed in its first SMUD-sponsored Solar Regatta on May 13 at Rancho Seco Recreation Area, racing in the sprint, slalom and endurance races. The SCDS team was disqualified from a second sprint race due to technical malfunctions with its boat’s motors. Nevertheless, the Country Day Regatta team managed a fourth-place finish in the endurance race and two last-place finishes in the sprint and slalom.
However, like Trivedi, team adviser and math teacher Patricia Jacobsen sees the results of the competition differently.
“The event was great,” Jacobsen said. “So what, we didn’t win. It would’ve been almost too easy to win something in our first year. Just seeing the boat moving in water — to me, that was like ‘Oh my god, it’s happening.’”
Not only was the competition the team’s first time competing, it was the first time the boat was tested with power from the solar panels, said senior co-captain Nihal Gulati.
Gulati said the team was working on the boat’s systems up until the last wire before every race.
“After the first race, one of our motors stopped working, so we raced to identify and address the problem in the 10 minutes we had before the next race. We cut it close each time, but the team came together each time too,” Gulati said.
A malfunctioning motor wasn’t the team’s only problem. Only one of the two solar panels was providing power to the boat — most likely due to a faulty connection — and the throttle calibration had never been tested, which caused the team to make adjustments on the fly.
Trivedi said one of his favorite moments during the competition was trying to calibrate the throttle.
“Nihal and I were standing in the lake with a laptop in our hands, trying to find the maximum throttle we could give the motors before they caused the power source to cut out from too much current draw,” Trivedi said. “Simply put, it was a complicated problem that only got more complicated with the event manager yelling at us to get our boat moving on to the next race. I don’t think I’ve ever used so many scientific words combined with curse words before.”
Although the team got the boat up and running before each race, the pilots also had to deal with a few mishaps while out on the water.
Senior pilot Max Wu said the positioning of the kill switch, which was attached to his life vest, limited his mobility as he tried to address any problems that arose, such as weeds getting caught in the propeller.
However, he had nothing but praise for the team members who had engineered the boat’s systems.
“In terms of how the boat maneuvered, the team definitely did a really good job making it easier for me, especially with the addition of the bike handlebars for steering,” Wu said.
Similarly, both Gulati and senior co-captain Arjin Claire praised Wu’s adaptability and piloting skills.
“Max is honestly a really good driver,” Gulati said. “The left side steering wasn’t working as well, but Max pulled through. He kept the turns tight; he kept straight on the straightaways.”
Jacobsen said she learned a lot from the races that she can apply to the project next fall.
“One thing that I learned is that I can do a better job of advocating for the boat team and asking for and getting what we need, like a space to store the boat, work on the boat, and keep our tools,” she said.
To Trivedi, the team faced two major challenges in getting the boat competition ready: decentralized work locations and varying schedules that made it difficult for the team to meet often.
“Truthfully, we really only started putting stuff together just two and a half weeks ago,” he said. “We worked where we could: the trash cans near the senior area, Room 3, Room 8, my house, Arijit’s house and his car,” Gulati said.
“Next year, they should definitely start earlier.”
Despite the rushed assembly of the boat and the hiccups on competition day, Jacobsen said the project made her proud.
“I love my job,” she said. “I love teaching in my classroom, getting the kids through the math curriculum and stuff. That part of my job I really love, but there’s something completely different and more special about what these students did with the boating project. Watching them be so excited to see the boat moving in Nihal’s pool made me love this project even more.”
Gulati also admired the camaraderie of the team.
“Seeing everyone come in and put their effort towards working together on such a big project was so cool,” he said. “Like every once in a while I’d just look around and I’d be like, ‘Wow, we’re doing some really cool stuff!’”
—By Miles Morrow
—Slideshow by Samhita Kumar
Originally published in the May 24 edition of The Octagon.