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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Book of Broken Dreams

On a recent visit to a small boat yard the other day I got to talking to the owner. He's a hands on guy who started out repairing, rebuilding, selling and installing marine engines. That used to be his sole operation but he has since expanded to other forms of marine construction, including retrofitting, boat repair, fiberglassing, etc. He had a couple of boats in the shed, one was a small Duffy that was getting a new deck, the other was a 45' MDI someone local had purchased in Long Island, N.Y. The MDI was being converted from a longliner to a lobster boat.

If I had unlimited funds and could afford a new boat, it just might be that MDI 45. It's a nice, big boat, with pretty lines. It's the kind of boat I might have designed had I the time, money, and motivation.

What happens to guys up here is this: After years of working in a boat business, either as a fisherman, party boat operator, professional captain, whatever, you reach a point where you figure you can do it better than the next guy. Problem is, designing and building a hull is a real experiment in faith. Unless you have a few million dollars to invest in preliminary testing, CAD-CAM, tank tests, etc., you really don't know how your finished product will perform.

There's a well known industry classified paper called Boats and Harbors. It comes out three times a week and it's chock full of broken dreams: Boats that were purchased with the hope of finishing them off; Project boats; Strange hull designs. Don't get me wrong, the paper has all kinds of perfectly good boats for sale. It also has a lot of garbage. A lot of perfectly good boat blunders.

Probably the most famous of all boat dream blunders is the Swedish Flagship, Vasa. On August 10, 1628, with a light breeze blowing from the southwest, she left her berth for her maiden voyage, fired off a farewell salute from her gun deck, maneuvered about a half mile from the quay, raised her sails, and promptly capsized. She had been designed and modeled by the venerable Swedish king, and no one, not even the royal engineer, had challenged his planning. At the time, she stood as the most ornate ship ever built.

The Vasa has since been excavated and preserved. She now sits in her grand archeological glory in a Scandinavian museum as a testament to the folly of intelligent people who should know better than to play with fire, or, I should say, water.


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