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East London’s Port Rex Technical High School came to Gqeberha to defend their solar boat race title and returned home with not one but two prizes.


East London’s Port Rex Technical High School came to Gqeberha to defend their solar boat race title and returned home with not one but two prizes.

The Border crew took first and second place – and R10,000 and R5,000 respectively – in the second Nelson Mandela University merSETA solar boat race on North End Lake.

Originally due to be held on Saturday, the race was postponed to Sunday, 10 December due to wet weather. Using only sun power, 14 teams from schools and technical colleges from the Eastern and Western Cape vied to complete the most laps in three hours.

Organised by the Advanced Mechatronic Technology Centre in the University’s Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment and Technology, the event exposed youngsters to solar technologies, electrical power trains, boat design and fabrication, and the necessary hand skills needed to complete the project.

Port Rex civil technology educator Mark Hammond and automotive technology educator Alton Beckmann could not have been more proud of their pupils.

“The kids really worked hard, they put a lot of effort into it,” said Hammond. “I learnt a lot too!”

Port Rex Technical High School pupil Daniel Krull cruises in to change pilots in the Nelson Mandela University merSETA solar boat race on North End Lake on Sunday 10 December

The Port Rex contingent used science to keep their title, using a physics simulator to shape the boats, and designing an efficient reclining “couch”, made out of slats of wood.

It worked as, when Jendamark training manager Allan Bellairs waved the checkered flag to signal the end of the race, one of the two Port Rex teams was two clear laps ahead.

Radio presenter Gareth Burley announced score updates as the boats skimmed across the lake under a cloudy sky.

With a four-way tie for second place, Port Rex’s second boat won on a penalty count-out, and Gqebera’s Otto du Plessis had to settle for third place and R2 500.

Otto Du Plessis Gr 11 pupil Monrico van Wyk, 17, was part of his school’s five-member team.

“We were given the materials and then we had to build and shape it ourselves,” said Monrico. “It was such a fun experiment.”

Collaboration and innovative thinking are key to the ground-breaking work of the Renewable Energy Research Group (RERG) and Mandela Autonomous Operations (MAO) group, which are both research entities of the AMTC.

"I am proud to reflect on the success of the race, a unique initiative made possible through our collaboration with merSETA, Jendamark Automation, BUCO and RS Components,” said MAO Group RPAS consultant Damian Mooney.

“This event, which brought together school children and technical college students, challenged them to build their own solar-powered boats from materials we provided.

“We were able to offer these young learners a platform to showcase their engineering talents in an exciting three-hour race.

“Collaborations like this are invaluable in promoting hands-on skills and encouraging innovative thinking in engineering, paving the way for the development of future leaders in renewable energy and sustainable practices.

“Witnessing their creativity and problem-solving skills in action was truly inspiring. At Nelson Mandela University, we are deeply committed to nurturing such skills.”

East London’s Port Rex Technical High School scooped first and second prizes in the Nelson Mandela University merSETA solar boat race on North End Lake on Sunday 10 December.

The race also highlighted other potential careers in engineering and technology, such as drone operations. Nelson Mandela University is the first university in South Africa to legally operate drones, and it used sophisticated drones to capture bird’s-eye footage.

The University’s engagement institute and innovation hub, eNtsa, also lent its in-house designed and manufactured boat as a safety craft.

And, whereas at the first race in March distances were tracked manually, this time electrical engineering and mechatronics students designed GPS transponders to track the distance with pinpoint accuracy, sending their data live to viewers through a moving map web page.

DF Malherbe physical science teacher Magnus Viljoen said even though it was the Walmer school’s first time in the race, the event “really exceeded our expectations”. It also was a great opportunity to put classroom theory into real-life action, and show the power of working together, he said: “They had a problem and they solved it as a team – and all the work was done by them”.

“Today was pure joy,” said DF Malherbe Gr 10 pupil Dane Volker, 17, of the experience.

He was particularly impressed by the Port Rex boats. “They not only looked stylish they also performed very well,” he said, while promising that the Gqeberha school would be back in 2024 to give them stiffer competition.

Kariega’s McCarthy Comprehensive School was another newcomer. Gr 10 pupil Delyn Buys, 17, said it was “very lekker” to be out on the water even though her team notched up penalties for crashing into other boats.

“You do have to focus, and work as a team. We learnt how solar power can be used, and how even though it was cloudy the sun’s rays still came through,” she said.

Fun prizes such as tubes of superglue, screwdrivers, duct tape and spark plugs for teams needing the most assistance, or who had the most “spark”, added to the festive atmosphere.

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057