Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fidley Watch – Messing About in Boats

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Saturday, May 12th was a beautiful day to be on the Seattle waterfront observing the 11th annual Pacific Maritime Magazine Quick and Dirty Boatbuilding Competition during the annual Seattle Maritime Festival. The day started with clear blue skies and a slight breeze, and by the afternoon the weather was warm and sunny.

The boatbuilding started at 9:00 am and continued throughout the day. Historically, Philips Publishing Group fields a team, whose stated goal is to finish in time to have a beer (or two) and a hamburger before the races. Philips didn’t field a team this year, and the work ethic of the 10 teams that were competing was of a much higher caliber, so that all ten teams finished fairly close to the 3:00 pm deadline.

There was a great diversity in designs this year. While there were no paddlewheels as in previous years, there was a twin-hulled screw-type propulsion system from Elliott Bay Design Group, which apparently worked very well on paper, although in practice the last-minute improvised paddles were the main means of propulsion for that vessel.

Another design of note came from Vigor/US Fab, whose three-man design was a modified tunnel barge with three inclined chest rests, putting the three paddlers close to the water and keeping the center of gravity low. Each team member was fitted with two “water claws” consisting of a painstakingly crafted cedar paddle attached to a white plastic tube that covered each forearm. While stable, the craft was also heavy, and the white plastic tubes raised walnut-sized blood blisters on the forearms of the competitors, who gamely raced in three heats before succumbing at the end of the day to a lack of freeboard. The water claws were very effective, and with each pass the bow would lift and the stern would lower. In the final race of the day, the Vigor/US Fab team was almost up on plane when the stern dipped under, letting a big, cold slug of water into the craft. Undeterred (or blinded by the pain in their forearms) the team pulled again, and the boat shipped another slug of seawater. The third stroke swamped the boat, although the team didn’t let that stop them from completing the last 50 feet to the dock. Bravo.

Seattle Maritime Academy won in the “dirtiest boat” category. The boat was a modified pram which looked pretty good in the first heat but leaked so badly at the seams during its second race that it had to make for shore halfway through to prevent disaster. Scratch.

Mercer Island High School, whose teams compete regularly and are always worthy competitors, built a craft no one thought would float and ended up proving the naysayers wrong, competing bravely and remaining afloat and dry. The US Coast Guard built a big heavy box with a point at one end, which proved to be large and stable enough to make them worthy competitors as well, although unprovoked aggression from Art Anderson Associates cracked the Coastie’s hull which subsequently let in quite a bit of water, adding to the weight of the craft, but not slowing the team’s progress by any appreciable amount.

The team of Accounting and Technical Services, made up of “civilians” who had run into the USCG team at a hardware store in Seattle’s Ballard district and thought the competition sounded fun, built a sturdy vessel in the allotted time, with appropriate materials including salvaged paneling from a 1970’s era basement, but the craft was too narrow and flipped at the dock with its team of three who, to their credit, fished themselves out of the drink and tried again with similar results. Lessons were learned.

The vessel entered by Salish Sea Expeditions was roughly boat-shaped and made of OSB and scrap lumber and sealed with roofing tar. The team had an iPod playing in their booth as they built, and the sound of early Led Zeppelin coupled with the smell of roofing tar reminded this editor of his days framing houses. The Salish boat performed about as well as a two-bedroom rambler, and dropped out of the race after the first heat, although all three participants finished the day dry.

The naval architects of The Glosten Associates, Jensen Maritime Consultants and Art Anderson Associates made similar canoe-shaped craft. The Glosten Associates’ team lost a team member between the first and subsequent heats to a previous commitment, and was penalized by having to carry a replacement team member who couldn’t contribute to the paddling. This may have cost them the fastest boat trophy, but gained them respect in the eyes of their colleagues as their “penalty” passenger was Peggy Noethlich, the firm’s vice president. When the boss is in the boat, it had better not sink. It didn’t.

Jensen Maritime Consultants won the Marty Johnson Memorial fastest boat trophy, and the day ended with Jensen sailing in for the win while the Coast Guard and Art Anderson Associates "swapped paint" NASCAR style to the delight of the crowd.

(Photo) Vigor/US Fab 'rounds the buoy in the background while Art Anderson Associates, left, rams the defenseless USCG team. Jensen Maritime Consultants, not pictured, won the fastest boat trophy. Photo by Don Wilson. Courtesy of the Port of Seattle.