Fourteen Minutes of Fame  
by Harold Duffield - Florissant, Missouri - USA

I think that most boat projects initially start with a fuzzy dream. Then, as the dream progresses and becomes more focused, we realize it can be a ton of work, money, and time, to get the damned thing completed. This is especially true if the boat is over 25 ft, and progresses exponentially as you go bigger. The work can sap both physical and mental energy, the time drags on, and the money is sucked up like a black hole is in the center. Sometimes the project takes on a life of it’s own, and drags you along from step to step. Each step doable, but at an ever increasing cost of time, energy, and money.

That’s the way the plan for my Schooner seemed to go, and not a single bit of steel was laid down for more than a year while it was in the planning stage. But I’m getting ahead of myself with this tale. The tale of my dream boat that I never built but sometime wish I had - A Big River Schooner - an ego Schooner for sure.

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This is the tale of a dream boat that I never built but sometimes wish I had - A Big River Schooner - an ego Schooner for sure.

I designed her in 1990 when I had the energy, the time, and money enough to get her started. I knew I could raise the needed funds to complete her once she was under construction. It’s not hard to get investors when you have a crazy enough plan, and a way to make it happen. The design chosen was a 62 ft steel scow schooner, with a day-sailing deck arrangement and 6 staterooms for live-aboard cruising. She would be a very impressive sight on the River in Saint Louis, with her red sails bent to the river winds. I chose 62 ft for two reasons-because it comes in just under the coast guard tonnage for licensing purposes, and that’s the longest boat I could design on my tri-scale. The scow schooner rig was chosen for its simplicity and its safety features. There is always a safety concern about passengers on board getting tangled in the rigging gear, or the sail handling sheets and halyards. With the simplicity of the scow rig, everything is high overhead, with all lines handled from the aft cockpit. Under way with guests aboard, the boat would be run as a motor sailor with both engine and sails. She was flat bottomed for shallow draft, with a rounded bow and stern. Although the design seems complicated, it really should not have been difficult to build with its wooden shoe lines and shape. There would need to be some rolled sections, but a competent fabrication shop could handle these sections easily. The side plates and decks were quarter inch, and the bottom was three eighths. The draft is four feet six inches with a large centerboard and a bow thruster for close in turning control. The engineering for stability in differing wind speeds and conditions was done by Jim Michalak.

I saw a similar boat design from the European trades that hauled commodities around the coastal islands. Somehow everything just seemed right about the lines and the simplicity of construction of that boat. It had a huge hull capacity for the 6 interior staterooms, and loads of deck space with 4 cockpits for on deck cruising comfort and sitting space for 24-30 persons.

Somehow everything just seemed right about the lines and the simplicity of construction of that boat.

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A promotional plan was created to promote the boat prior to construction. The plan was to introduce a number of individuals and companies to the project - to lay the groundwork for the project, and then come back to those same parties in the future to act either as investors or corporate clients. To show what the Schooner would become, we had an artist’s rendering done that gave a finished image of the ship under sail. We had several large photo images of the rendering produced that could be presented to heads of corporations for framing and hanging in their offices. We made a scale model that could be used for group or individual sales presentations. We asked for input from the people who could add to the promotion.

The company that makes Awlgrip Paints offered to provide all the interior and exterior paints and varnishes for the complete boat in exchange for using the Schooner as a test lab for their products. They also asked for permission to use the image of the Schooner in their advertising literature. We made “Great River Schooner” buttons that were presented to individuals for future boarding discounts. If added funds were needed, we would offer to weld their name into the deck plate of the schooner for a $100 donation to the project. Your welded name would be the non-skid forever imprinted on the Schooner.

The reception to the idea of the Great River Schooner was phenomenal. It was so easy to get these corporate leaders to buy into the promotion presented. They loved it! When would it be available? Every indication was a go for building the Schooner.

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We made a scale model that could be used for group or individual sales presentations.

Plan One

The first plan was to own her outright, and use her as a day charter boat on the 25 mile stretch between Alton and Grafton Illinois. This wide 25 mile area has the most scenic view anywhere on the river with its high white bluffs and wooded islands. The charter sales emphasis was to be on a corporate clientele. During the week, corporations could charter the Schooner for sales meetings, special promotions with selected groups of clients, for annual company picnics, or other periodic special events. If they had clients in town during the week, they could also charter the Schooner for overnight sleeping accommodations for these special guests. Very impressive!

Then on weekends, we could run the Schooner for the public with scheduled departures for tourists during the day, and evening and midnight cruises at night. Moonlight sailing with romantic music, and the breeze blowing in the rigging and in your face. Very, very impressive!

In the fall the Schooner could cruise north to watch the foliage change, or go on eagle watch day cruises for the public, and also for the local schools and universities, who could charter the boat for special events, for graduation parties or for study of the river environment. After the fall season, she could be chartered to four couples for a down river cruise to New Orleans for the winter, and chartered back in the spring for the summer season events. Because of its uniqueness, it could also be used as a stage for local or national advertising promotions. In a word, it should be able to pay its way for the anticipated operating expenses and needed insurance. As long as it generated enough revenue to pay the way, anything is possible for a business Schooner that hopefully would become a community icon.

Plan Two

This plan was to use the Schooner as a church. A church that is used for Sunday services. Then used as an income producer with a “Plan One” activities incorporated. The net income generated could be used for charitable expenditures. Because of its unique offerings, it should be able to attract a great following. It could also offer charters for other churches who want a special events platform. The church members could participate in the construction and painting of the schooner.

Part of the church offering could be weddings and wedding party events. What could be more exciting than getting married aboard a real sailing Schooner, or having a wedding party event on board before getting married the next day in a home church. If the Schooner was a church with the proper tax registry, contributions could be tax deductible! The Schooner would be owned and maintained by the church entity.

Finally, after over a year of planning the boat, and doing the construction drawings, the Great River Schooner was submitted to the Coast Guard for licensing. With a few modifications to the plans, the boat could be approved for 49 passengers and a 25-ton Captains’ licensing requirement. The changes required were minimal and could be done as the boat was constructed.

The building plan was to fabricate the boat in three parts- two twenty foot sections aft and center, and one twenty-two foot bow section. The sections were joined cross ship at joint mirror frames that were bolted in place, and then welded together onto the keel backbone. For fabrication, each of the three construction sections (stern, center, bow) would be lofted for framing that was split down the center, and then welded to the backbone center keel forming the completed boat. This sectional construction allowed the boat to be fabricated off site, and then come together for the final assembly of the six individual fabricated units. By using the sectional plan, you’d save tons of money for yard time and storage over an extended building program. It would also allows for the storage of the completed units offsite until the final coming together.

Each of the 6 finished sections was to be a maximum of 9 ft wide, 20 ft long, and 7 ft high, and could be easily stored and transported to the assembly site when needed. The fabrication of these sections could also be done indoors, thus allowing for inclement weather fabrication and welding. Indoor welding also provides the advantage of clean no-slag mig welding, instead of dirtier stick welding in windy and wet outdoor conditions. Your focus during construction is then only on one doable unit at a time. Sectional construction is not my idea or anything new. It’s the way they build large commercially constructed boats everywhere.

The building plan was to fabricate the boat in three parts- two twenty foot sections aft and center, and one twenty-two foot bow section.

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Once the sections are fabricated the assembly can begin. The starboard aft 20 ft section would be set in place and welded to the keel. The off center motor can then be installed easily at ground level instead of lifting the heavy 671 Detroit diesel over the top and then lowered down. Because only the starboard half of the aft section is in place, you could simply run the heavy diesel motor up to the keel with a fork lift, and set it onto the pre-fabricated mounts installed in the starboard aft section that has been welded in place. With the engine bolted and aligned in place with the fork lift, the port aft 20 ft section would then be welded in place. The aft 33% of the boat is now in place and attached to the keel. The interior bulkheads and accommodation construction of the stern and deck 20 ft sections could now be roughed in. Again, the work can be done at ground level. You are coming at the boat’s interior from ground level by walking into the forward open part of the aft section. The interior ground level assembly of the ship as it goes together can save a ton of lifting gear and the need to hoist components up over the rail and down into the vessel.

After the aft 20ft section deck and interior are roughed in, you proceed forward with the two center sections, working from the ground again. You can now do the interior and deck construction of the middle 33%. When the center sections are on and welded to the keel, put the first of the two bow sections in place and weld it in place. Again, do the needed interior and deck construction on that section before attaching the remaining bow section. To assure the exact alignment of the six sections, sister mirror frames are made for both port – starboard joints, on the cross frames between the sections and also center- joint mirror frames. In doing so, you really only have one set of lines for each of the 3 sections, and then make a mirror frame for the other side.

All of the plans for building the boat were in place prior to laying the composite I beam and ferro cement keel at the assembly marina. Arrangements for the location of both the sections assembly and the marina yard for final assembly and launch were made. A time schedule and material source to do each of the necessary beginning steps, and the funds to get under way were waiting for the initial kick off of the project. Every thing was a go.

Time to start was penciled in on my calendar. Major steps, minor steps, and individual construction tasks were computed and entered onto the construction calendar. Computations and arrangements were made for all the materials needed to do the first month’s activity.

Reality Creeps In

Most boat builders go through three mental stages in their building projects - at least I do. The first stage is rationalization when they choose what to build, and how to build it. . Put everything down on paper and it looks doable, and even affordable and simple. The next stage is falling in love. At his stage, after you have rationally decided what to build, it becomes more than a boat. Instead, it becomes a love object in your life, and maybe even the most important one. The third, and often most fatal stage is, you go nuts. At this last stage you can become very irrational and dangerous to your financial and personal physical well being. That’s the way it happened to me anyway.

However, at the last minute just before I began, I came to my senses and decided not to build the Schooner after all. I decided it was just too large a project for me to tackle at that time of my life. I knew then, and I know now, that it was possible to do, but I didn’t have the burn in my guts to make such a commitment of time, energy, and the money to do the deal. I also kept looking over my shoulder to see if my friend Sven was creeping up behind me to kick me back into reality.

I can’t say how it would have turned out if I had built it, and I often wonder if it would have been the culmination of a dream I had at the beginning. My fifteen minutes of fame was cancelled at the fourteenth minute. Did I fail to realize a doable and exciting dream, or did I escape from a disastrous nightmare just about to begin?

Every now and then I get the plans for the schooner down and flip through the pages that were drawn over fifteen yeas ago. When I do, I get a good feeling about the boat, but I’m not really sorry I took a pass at the last minute. If you want to take a stab at building her, I’ll gladly be your Project Manager for a substantially reduced rate. The construction plans are still available for a hearty soul who is searching for the ultimate boat-building project. I also have several high quality large photos of the rendering that you can purchase if you are interested in starting a new dream project yourself. I believe that going nuts over a Dream Schooner isn’t really a bad thing, especially if everyone thinks you are a little nuts even before the project is discovered. When you are suspected of being “nuts” you don’t have to explain anything to anybody. Pity for my “condition” is very comforting to me, but I do still love the idea and image of that Schooner. Maybe when I’m in the home I will build her in my mind. Step by step, I can rock in my chair with a smile in my face as I build her day after day. Harold

Lets talk- Harold

About Harold Duffield: - age 67 - grew up on the Mississippi River - was whats known as a "river rat". He has been messing about and building boats for over 50 yrs. Now he is offering plans and kits for fishing boats, shantys, house boats and even sailboats in aluminum as well as finished boats.

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