It didn't work. Students clustered around their solar-powered boat, pulling its innards outwards.

After seven months of hard work, a test run on May 11 had proved to the Nogales High School students that their new design simply did not work.

"We designed it with two motors this year and it barely got up to 12 miles per hour," fussed physics teacher Ezekiel Chavez.

Now the Solar Cup team had to hastily redesign their boat for a race less than a week away. Everything had to be ripped out and replaced.

To make matters even worse, one of the electric motors had burned out during the test run. The La Puente crew didn't even have a spare in case their last motor locked up.

Earth science teacher Robert Schlarmenn was inside the storeroom trouble-shooting the damaged motor.

"Look at these brushes, this motor is ruined," Schlarmenn concluded.

The team didn't want to compete without a backup motor so the Nobles ordered another one. The new engine cost $1,000 out of the $2,500 they had been given for solar panels, batteries and related items.

Deval Panchal and Ibrahim Homsi were busy installing the large solar panels they hoped would power their sleek watercraft to victory over 41 other high schools.

The 17-year-old students didn't seem panicked about the upcoming contest. Panchal will major in business at the UC San Diego this fall, while Homsi wants to study mechanical engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.

When

last seen, students like Alma Castro and Erika Ceballos were running around connecting leads in their damage watercraft.

The redesigned boat would be tested in the crucible of the hot California sun over the weekend of May 17 and 18.

And it worked! It really, really worked, winning the nation's largest solar boat competition.

The Nogales lads and lasses beat 850 other students to win the towering Solar Cup trophy. Their boat, No. 16, scored 928 points out of a possible 1,000.

Nogales received perfect scores for its technical reports and visual display, as well as in the endurance competition.

On May 17, the La Puente team took its little 16-foot wooden boat onto the 2-kilometer course on Lake Skinner near Temecula. It recorded the most laps during the 90-minute heat in 110-degree heat.

To make the contest fair, the Metropolitan Water District had given the high schools identical, single-seat hulls made of marine-grade plywood.

It was then up to the teen teams to design their power panels and propulsion.

"It's a lot of work, but it's worth it," said 18-year-old Castro, who wants to become an attorney.

The Nogales team drew volunteers from the school's physics

Team Nogales shows off the Solar Cup they won in the weekend competition against 41 other schools from throughout Southern California. (Photo provided to the Highlanders)
classes. The teens began work on their solar boat in November.

Along the way, the teams prepared reports on their solar arrays, electrical systems and drive trains.

"These reports required an abstract, descriptions and diagrams," said Chavez, "Of course, an analysis and conclusions were also required."

Team Nogales also prepared a 30-second video on the need to conserve water in Southern California.

"The water supply gains we made early this year were wiped out by the extremely dry conditions since March. Some people have the mistaken impression that our water worries are over this year. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we're pleased the Solar Cup teams are helping get the word out," said Metropolitan Board Chairman Timothy Brick.

Panchal said Nogales tried a multicultural approach in their public service announcement.

"We taped water conservation tips in five languages — English, French, Spanish, German and Vietnamese," the senior explained.

On the last day of competition, teams stripped the heavy solar arrays off their boats and let them fly down a 200-meter course.

Powered by the solar energy stored in their batteries, the boats zipped down the lake, reaching speeds of 16 miles per hour.

Team Nogales didn't win these drag races, but by then it had built up a large point lead.

When all the final points were tallied, Nogales had beaten Anaheim's Canyon High School, which had won the first three Solar Cups.

Nogales also beat out rival Diamond Bar High School, which had won the last two competitions. This year, Diamond Bar came in sixth.

Another local school, Charter Oak in Covina, came in third. The Bart Bezyack Memorial Spirit of Solar Cup Trophy went to student Christina Egbert for her hard work on the Covina team.

Team San Dimas won the Hottest-Looking Boat award, coming in 11th overall.

In the end, the La Puente underdogs had learned from their mistakes. Instead of giving up, they got up and got down to work.

That works.

richard.irwin@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801