Invention, Innovation, Rationalization, and the Neo-Paleo Revolution
1) We felt the Polynesian-inspired design was a good fit for the culture of our community and market. Montauk is a surf-town, and people come to Montauk because of it’s reputation for being relaxed and unbound by convention. “Character boats” i.e boats that look like museum pieces do better in the daysailing business because they are easier to market (“I wanna go on the pirate ship, Daddy!”), and between the quasi-Polynesian lines of her hulls and her yankee-style schooner rig, the Tiki has character in spades.
2) The lashed akas (those are the crossbeams between the hulls) gave us more choices for where we could build the boat. Finished, Mon Tiki will be just over 20 feet wide, too big even to assemble in our shop, let alone get it out the door. If we had chosen a more conventional design, it would have narrowed our range of build space options, and that would have (probably) increased our costs.
3) The lashed akas, and other aspects of Wharram’s design philosophy make the boat less costly than conventional boats with similar passenger carrying ratings. Like my hero Phil Bolger, James Wharam and his partner Haneke Boone have put a lot of thought into how to design boats for people who can’t or don’t want to spend $350K on a production boat. They design in common, easy-to-work materials like plywood, and factor build-space, man-power, and rigging complexity into the ultimate cost.
If you accept that I have properly assessed benefits the above three features, it begs the question: Why aren’t all daysailing charter catamarans James Wharram designs, or designs that employ similar gambits?
The answer is regulation.
As previously expounded upon in Making a Living in the Wake of the Pelican Disaster, there is a bright-line regulatory boundary between boats that carry up to 6 passengers (six-pack)and boats that carry 7 or more (T-boats).
Six-pack vessels are regulated as if they are private vessels that occasionally carry passengers to defray cost, and that’s what most of them are. Think of your retired uncle who takes small groups of people fishing in his old lobster boat, or your naire-do-well brother-in-law who lives on a boat in St. Croix and takes people sailing, or your boss who runs his sportfisher as a “business” and writes it off. There are no standards or regulatory oversight for the design, construction, or maintenance of a 6-pack vessel.
By contrast T-boats have to be designed and built to ABS or Lloyds of London standards, and the plans have to be reviewed by the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Center to make sure ever thing is by the book.
My first contact with the Coast Guard was more than a year ago, when I called the safety inspector for Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound.
I explained to him that I wanted to build a T-boat that was tied together with string, and gave a list of reason why it made sense (listed above), what advantages it could offer to his inspection obligations (any faults or distress is in plain site where problems can be detected early, and structural elements can be easily replenished rather than cut out and remanufactured.)
To my slight surprise, he was receptive. “What you want to do might be better than what we’re doing,” he said, and he encouraged me to move forward with the project, detailing the ins and outs of taking a new design through T-boat certification with MSC.
Yesterday we reached an important milestone in that process. MON TIKI, Hull No. 1 of the Montauk Catamaran Company received its structural certification letter from the USCG Marine Safety Center Small Vessel Branch.
There’s still a lot of work to do. Our rigging and sailplan has to be reviewed and approved. The boat’s stability has to be accessed, both theoretically and then empirically to determine our legal passenger count. And of course the boat has to be build and outfitted in accordance with T-boat regulations.
But the biggest hurdle is crossed. We’ve proven that plywood is a safe, strong hull plating material. We’ve successfully made our case for a boat held together with string. The concepts that make our boat a business have be reviewed and absorbed into the normal course of commerce.
In Self-Publishing is Over I wrote:
I am saying that it takes a very particular sort of person to do it, and that person has to be comfortable with the idea that they’re going to spend upwards of 75% of their time and effort doing things they (probably) regard as secondary to the creative act, and that there’s no (longer) special reward for undertaking the effort. The chances of your work being embraced by the market are not higher than going the tradition route; the return on your investment of time and effort (and in the case of movies, money) is not higher than going the traditional route. (Emphasis added.)
The clock starts ticking now. I figure we have about five years.
(Above image: High times on a Hawaiian outrigger canoe!)