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Trials of an Ocean Ark Model

Many readers expressed interest in the "Ocean Ark" concept put for ward by New Alchemist John Todd in the last CQ (The Oceans Issue,Fall 1979) — especially in the radically different square-rigged ship design of Phil Bolger's.  With airfoil masts, two centerboards, water ballast, flat-bottom hull, etc. she was an automatic controversy.  Instead of chatting for years, as most of the current sail-cargo schemes do. Ocean Arks Ltd. proceeded immediately to model testing of the design innovations.  Our Soft Tech editor J. Baldwin was in the thick of it.    —SB

Dear Stewart,

When John decided to build a 50-foot test model of the Margaret Mead in one day, the already hot controversy surrounding the project increased to a sizzle. Everyone I talked to had a very logical reason why the thing was going to fail. Nonetheless, last Saturday (Sept. 22) nearly 100 people appeared at the remote boatyard of Edey & Duff, at 7:30 a.m., in a discouraging drizzle, to help build the boat they so enthusiastically denigrated.  We were greeted by Peter Duff and a pile of plywood, caulk and big staples, all of whom were in an open-front chilly boatbuilding shed.  A long puddle snaked across the dirt floor as a very tough orange pussycat held off several visiting hounds.  Not a particularly cheerful scene.

Peter Duff is noted for building good, unusual boats.  He isn't very dramatic physically, but when he quietly explained what we were to do, things really began to fly.  He gets things done by commanding respect; no shouting needed. We quickly laid plywood end to end and volunteers buttered connecting battens with 3M 5200 Marine Adhesive (gawky, toxic and strong).  Peter's men fired up monster air-driven staple guns and proceeded to FUP! the plywood together into 50-foot long strips. These strips were then lifted by long lines of volunteers who wrestled the floppy things into place on a pair of forms (called "molds") made from scrap lumber in the contour of the midship hull section. When both strips were in place, the ends were forced together and we then were able to admire what was obviously the world's largest upside-down dory with no bottom. . . .

When the bottom was on, Peter assembled the crowd and informed us that we were now going to pick up the completed 50-foot hull and "flip it over." Well sir, it wasn't exactly a flip, but it did go over and didn't break apart and no small children were crushed beneath the hull. Time 5;30 p.m. ...

Well, we launched her! . . .

Peter called "at your convenience" and we began to roll her out of the boat shed.  She was much too big for the trailer, so we had to use people instead of a truck to tow and push it.  As we approached the launching ramp, Peter called a halt and we hitched a line from the trailer to a 4-wheel drive in order to prevent a runaway premature launch.  The plan was to pause again right at the water's edge while Becket Todd, John's oldest daughter, did the champagne but she suddenly whacked it without ceremony at all and Nancy Jack slid into the water easily with nary a splash, drawing all of four inches.  Applause, Cheshire Cats, and only a few very minor leaks.
After tying her up, we decided to eat and the crew followed Peter home for a potluck.  His house, still a-building, is noticeably boatlike in its detailing and strongly bespeaks his style and craftsmanship.  Phil Bolger {Nancy Jack's designer) discussed what homework would be necessary to begin detailing the Margaret Mead assuming that Nancy Jack was a success.  Hearing him talk made me realize how much he designs a ship as a complete system, thinking out all the little interactions that make the difference between being merely acceptable and really excellent.  I agree with John that he is certainly the man for the job.

Afternoon saw the installation of the wing like masts, the tiller, and a host of small details.  The commentary seemed a lot less doom-filled as the reality of a happily floating craft began to fire people's imaginations. About the only thing that didn't look too good was the, uh, springy bottom.  It was definitely reminiscent of a trampoline. Phi! assured us that Nancy Jack would "eventually break up, but if she doesn't sail I'll have to hide in a cave." Many hands installed the yards and square-rigged sails, but the wind was even stronger and sailing was out of the question so we went home half satisfied. That night on channel 6 TV Peter finished an interview by answering the question, "And what is the purpose of that bow rudder?" Peter said absolutely deadpan, "How the hell should I know?"

Sailed her today!  This time the problem was that there wasn't any wind. Well, there was a wee little bit, just enough to fill the sails. The sails are beautiful'. Wow . . . the foretopsail has a huge blue and green fish sewed onto it, and the mizzen displays a sunburst; gifts from the sailmakers. Nancy Jack with sails is no longer quite so simple.  She is, in fact, a true snake-rape of lines for every contingency, since nobody has ever sailed a boat like this before and thus nobody knows exactly what will be needed.  The water ballast tank is full and we are ready to go. With a crew of ten stalwarts and a big pile of lifejackets, we take a tow from a fat Bolger-designed launch until we're free of the narrow passage connecting the dock and the bay. With everybody on board and the ballast tanks full, we drew maybe 9 inches with the daggerboards up.  Maybe three feet with 'em down.  She looked good.  I don't know if the photographs will show it, but there is (to my eye anyway) a rightness about the way she sits.  A square-rigger for sure, but not exactly the Cutty-Sark either. We began to move on a mere breath of air and soon the platty-platty so typical of a sharpie design was heard under the bow.  Peter was steering but not having to work at it much.  We tried a tack.  She sailed backwards, but we soon found out how to maneuver the sails and rudder.  And, Stewart, it sails to windward!!! With no fore-and-aft sails, it goes to windward even in very light air. This is truly new! Nobody has ever made a square rig go to windward like this before! Phil is right!  We sailed around for a few hours, beat a 16-foot Herreshoff Doughdish running, . . .

Sheesh!  We just got home from a wild day of sailboat testing.  This time we had wind, to say the least. An all-star crew too.  Phil Bolger, Peter Duff, Steve the sailmaker, "AD" a boatbuilder-artist who has been helping the cause, us, John Todd and his son Jonathan.  We rowed out to the anchorage and discovered that the Nancy Jack was a foot deep water inside, the result of small leaks and a very hard week of rain.  Much pumping and bailing ensued before we were ready to set sail. By then the wind was hustling right along . . . estimated 20 - 30 or so. We backed Nancy Jack down off her mooring and majestically set forth into Buzzard's Bay.

But things were not going at all well. For one thing, Peter and Phil had not had an agreement as to who was captain.  Both are modest men, and so we didn't have a captain. This became dramatically apparent when Steve lost control of the mizzen brace lines.  The wind flat overpowered our physical ability to control the .sails!  Desperate measures (spurred by sometimes conflicting orders) were taken with us using the thwarts as snubbing cleats as we attempted to control the by now very out-of-control Nancy/acfe. We tried to tack but instead of going into irons and stopping, she jammed her rig across the masts, broke a batten with a loud (and heart-stopping) bang, and heeled over far enough to be entirely scary.  Then she took off before the wrind, backwards, fast, heading right for the rocks maybe 500 yards away.  Peter said rather laconically considering the situation, "set the anchor" and I did the honors without incident until John Todd informed me that he couldn't hold the line.  I grabbed the line to help him, but it zizzed viciously through our fortunately gloved hands.  At the last minute we took a few wraps around a thwart not made for such outrage and snubbed it.  Egad!  To add to the chaos, the damned yard lifts jammed under the strain, and so instead of reefing, we just dumped the whole fouled mess to the deck.  Nobody hurt.  Only minor damage.  Everybody puffing and rubbing their chafed hands.  Peter took the dory we had in tow and laboriously commenced rowing upwind to the harbor to fetch a tug.  He was gone a couple of hours while we disconsolately stood in the middle of the channel gloomily observing the fact that the anchor was dragging and we were getting too close to a lee shore.  But all came out OK.  Peter returned with the tug and easily towed us back to the mooring.  We rowed back to a most welcome shore and repaired to a yummy restaurant to lick our wounds and hold a post-mortem. A plan of action was decided upon and it was agreed who was captain.

Next time out will see a considerably improved rig with more leverage, and me wearing a wet suit.  Some people present were a bit discouraged, but this sort of thing is what "experimental" means.  The hair-raising aspects of it are one reason more people don't experiment, but such things don't bother me at all. Quite the reverse.  Today beat hell out of sitting in front of the TV watching the Series, and we'll all be back for more. . . .

Disciplined as hell, we got under way real snappy today.  Everything went well with John's Dad along, and AD and Peter tending the sails.  We hustled right along down the harbor and out into the bay, propelled by a modest breeze.  We messed with the rig, first trimming one sail and then the other, raising and lowering the two daggerboards, and (me) steering in concert.  Things were looking good. We slowly made our way to windward in a not-particularly-impressive manner and were just getting ready to try a new idea for tacking when a sudden gust laid us right over.  So far, in fact, that the gunwale touched the water.  We used the side of the boat as the deck! You never saw so many lifejackets installed so fast.  We didn't discuss it then, but later all agreed that we had expected a svsrira in about another minute.  We couldn't get the sails to drop because of the extreme pressure from the gust. I tried to steer away from it, but the rudder apparently was nearly out of the water at that angle, and we had found that Nancy Jack responded rather slowly to rudder input anyway.  (In fact, a too-quick rudder motion was likely to slow the boat by "tripping" it.) We stayed over at that dramatic angle long enough for many thoughts to pass through the mind.  I was thinking of John's Dad who was still recuperating from heart surgery, and how a swim in the cold bay would affect him. Peter didn't give any orders and neither did AD. Nobody said anything. Nobody looked scared, just interested, but afterwards we all admitted to being shaken.  Even super-cool-man Jonathan said he thought we'd had it. Anyway, Nancy Jack slowly, slowly came up vertical again. We breathed the traditional sigh of relief and headed home.  Both Peter and I had seen something that disturbed us; the force of the gust had caused a visible distortion of the structure in the area of the mast partners. Peter later said that he expected the mast to punch out the bottom of the boat at any minute. My money was bet on gunwale failure.  There were horrifying cracking noises, and I saw a distinct sine-wave in the plywood topsides. Nothing actually broke, but it was agreed that things had been pushed to the prudent limit, if not beyond it. At lunch we held a council and decided to pull her out for the season, make certain strengthening modifications in the hull, and add a stern rudder as well as a centerboard.  The proposed modifications have the effect of continuing Nancy Jack's role as an experimental craft in which we can try many more ideas including a fore-and-aft rig (making her a "hermaphrodite" as they say).

This has been a most interesting series of tests. You make a guess and try it. The guess is based on theory and experience.  Where the real professionals are at an advantage is in the interpretation of the results of the tests. We've learned a lot from Nancy Jack and we’ll learn more in the spring.  I'm glad John has had the courage to make these trials, for by them we have taken the first steps to actually accomplishing the Margaret Mead.  Why don't you plan to be here for the spring trials?  We can promise some real fine sailing. (Bring a life jacket.)
-- J