Feasibility, Normalization, Carbon Footprint, and Buyer Beware

Our project engineer has completed the initial feasibility study of the Mon Tiki design and it’s mostly very good news!

The scantlings (that’s boat talk for the size of the lumber used) look good, the distance between the bulkheads looks good, everything about the structure of the boat looks good.

The carrying capacity looks excellent. We had drawn up our business plan around the hope the boat would certify for 20 passengers (with a typical trip of about half that number.) But based on his initial stablity calculations, our engineer thinks that our number is going to be more like 30. (I don’t know what the exact formula is, but I do know that the USCG has recently increased the Average Weight Per Passenger from 160lbs to 180lbs. All across the country boats are having to redo their Stability Letters, and many are having their legal passenger count reduced.)

But it’s not enough for a vessel to have the stability to carry a given number of passengers, it also has to have the space to carry them comfortably and safely. This number is arrived at by counting rail-space (36″ per passenger”) or by counting a combination of seating space (18″ per passenger) and deck space (10 feet square per passenger.) So we got out the architect’s rule and started measuring; and I’m pleased report that there’s enough passenger room for 30.

Now 30 people is a bit of a crowd, and not how we plan to operate the boat day-to-day. But from a strictly commercial standpoint, the passenger count determines the value of the vessel. The more people she can legally carry, the more money she can make; and the more money she can make, the greater her resale value. So going from a hoped-for 20 to a likely 30 is very good news! (And of course it means if you want to book a trip with *all* of your friends and family, we can say “Yes, let’s go!”)

On the slightly disappointing side, by Coast Guard reckoning, at 575 square feet, the Tiki 38 design is slightly over-canvased, and it’s going to need a haircut. Mostly likely we’ll take a slab off the bottom of the foresail and the main, which will reduce the over all sail area while moving the center of effort of the sailplan down, and together that should bring her into compliance.

The Coast Guard is (frustrating, for a sailor) conservative about this calculation. Normally a sailboat adds or reduces sails in accordance with the wind conditions, which means putting up vast, often very colorful light-air sails when the wind is light. It’s about one of my favorite things to do, and I really enjoyed our light air days on INTEMPERANCE last Summer.

But if you take a moment to think about it from a regulatory point of view, you can understand the Coast Guard’s caution.

S/V INTEMPERANCE operated under the Coast Guard’s OUPV (Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel) designation, known in the industry as a 6-Pack.

6-pack vessels are very lightly regulated. The skipper is required only to have the most basic licenses, the boats are simply required the same safety equipment as recreational vessels, and the Coast Guard does not do any inspection of these vessels for safety or seaworthiness. It’s up to the operator to make sure his vessel is fit for duty.It also means that the skipper of a sailboat operating under the OUPV designation can fly as much or as little canvas as his judgement deems appropriate for the vessel and the conditions; and that meant when the winds were gentle, on INTEMPERANCE we’d fly every stitch!

Inspected Vessels are a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish.

As outlined above, there’s a battery of engineering calculations to determine an inspected vessel’s safe passenger load. This is followed up by on-site inspection of the build, and an empirical recalculation after the boat is afloat and her actual displacement can be determined.

Similarly, there’s a mathematically determined maximum sailplan, and that sailplan is not calculated against the sort of 5kts light-air days that had us putting up those big bright sails on INTEMPERANCE; the sailplan calculation is made to make sure the boat stays on her feet when she’s hit by the unexpected gust, or when (mis)handled by a skipper unfamiliar with her sailing characteristics.

Or put another way, the Coast Guard is saying: Six pack is kind of a wild-west, seat of the pants designation. It puts most of the burden on the skipper to maintain his vessel and operate it properly, and on his paying customers to exercise their judgement about whether or not they should even step onboard in the first place. And whatever happens, people are only going to get killed six at a time.

By contrast, an Inspected Vessel is more like a Greyhound bus. When you get on a Greyhound bus, you don’t think “Gee, I hope the tires are properly inflated. I wonder if the brake system has been properly maintained? I wonder if the chassis is rusting out? I wonder if the driver knows how to drive this model of bus?” No, you expect that someone is looking after these things, and you expect that there’s some sort of regulatory regime making sure they are. The transportation system simply couldn’t work if you had to do your own”due diligence” every time you hopped on a bus, jumped in a cab, or climbed aboard an airplane.

So yes, I’m a little bummed about the sail area thing. I’m a conservative skipper, and doubly so when I’ve got guests aboard. I know that I can fly big sails in a way that’s safe, comfortable (and delightful) for my guests. I’m bummed there are going to be some days when instead of putting up big colorful sails, we’re going to have to turn on the motor.

But I also know you can’t design a functional regulatory regime around what I can do; that any regime is going to be formed around the norm; that on a day when I’m sick and have a full boat, my guests can know that as long as my relief skipper has a USCG Masters License with a Sailing Endorsement, they’ll be in good hands, and can relax and enjoy the ride.


Two slightly related thoughts:

First, in the 70s my friend Ken (who helped me bring INTEMPERANCE home from Georgia in April ’08 and down to St. Maarten in Nov. ’09) moved his family from the suburbs of Long Island to a 200 acre farm in Tennessee. Amongst the farm’s various assets was a herd of 20 cows, which Ken and his family milked by hand.

Because Ken’s family was not carrying any debt for milking equipment and because the (illegal) raw milk sold at a premium, Ken was able to clear as much on his herd of 20 hand-milked cows as many of his neighbors were able to clear on herds of 100 or more; cows that were milked by machine with the milk was sold into the normal milk supply. Of course Ken couldn’t advertise the fact that he was selling raw milk, but he didn’t have to either.

As Ken related to me somewhere between Bermuda and St. Marteen, “The word would get out that you had the good stuff, and people would come to you.”

Secondly, as I was hashing out my disappointment about the reduced sailplan with my wife, I said, “When oil goes to $500/barrel, they’ll change the regulations.”

My wife, more of a big picture thinker than I am, said, “When oil goes to $500/barrel, I don’t think we’ll be worrying about the regulations.”

I’m going into Brooklyn today to film the debut of new music that was commission expecially for my sister’s vocal essemble TRYST, Wednesday night at the Douglas Street Music Collective and Saturday night performing the show that they toured in Europe at The Cell Theater in Chelsea.

I’m also going to look at some spaces to build Mon Tiki. If any of you are New Yorkers, I’d love to have the chance to meet you!