Sunday, February 24, 2013

Schooner Arabella. 160'

The Arabella Saga.
- Arabella has been sold, and let me tell you a story. But first, let me backtrack a bit.

- Centurion is her original name, a 90' two masthead schooner designed by Frank McLear of McLear and Harris. She was of massive proportion for the time, and massively built-in aluminum by Palmer-Johnson The problem was the lack of stability inherently built within her, from top to bottom with heavy scantlings far beyond the norms. She sailed a few years before a remedy had to be found out in the way of an elongated wing keel. The modification was designed in England, I have no report if the change made any difference in stiffness. Except for the rest of the story.

- What happened is that the boat is in Fort Lauderdale next to an aluminum 86' Powerboat which caught fire. Burning in the inferno, consuming the boat right to her waterline. Next Centurion tried to get out of her slip but the wings on the keel prevented her to move, getting stuck to the bottom. Soon, herself was in flame, the whole port side starting to meltdown along with the masts, rigging, and pilothouse.  Firemen arriving on the scene broke portholes and soon she was flooded and listing alarmingly. Only the keel anchored like a plow prevented her from capsizing. So, this is the situation. And this is the rest of the story.

-I learned about the boat, listed as a wreck in the publication Boats and Harbors without thinking too much about it. Then the phone rung; Don Glassie at the other end of the line. A good friend, a great person, and an entrepreneur of the first caliber. The conversation went something like this: " Yves-Marie, I might have a project...but you are going to say; you are not interested...Me. Why would you say such a thing if you do not tell me what this is all about? DG. Well, this is about a boat. Me. Ok. so much I already figured it out. DG. But, you may not want to do it! You had to know Don to follow this kind of dialogue. You can tell that by then, I am very intrigued. S0.oo! it came about the schooner Centurion or rather the sad state of an affair she was in.

-Intermezzo. It just happened that I had the blueprints plans for the boat. Having received them from the original owner of Centurion for whom I designed the successor, an 83' brigantine. They came handy as we are going to see.

- The next thing, Don, J.T, his right-hand man and myself are flying down to Florida to inspect the wreck. And a wreck she is. In the survey of the vessel, what I remember the most is going down the engine room with water over the Caterpillar, the collapse of anything above the waterline, especially on one side and the thrown down pieces of mast and rigging. It did not take long to realize that at best, the boat had to be re-plated, rebuilt, re-rigged, re sailed, and the rest. That is not where it stopped. Don announced that in reality, from where we were, what he wants is to enlarge the boat to an unknown dimension. Gulp!

- Big meeting. the same evening at the Avalon Hotel in South Beach Miami (Don owns the place), we had an outside table of about twelve people and I was struggling in my mind about everything. I had the responsibility of making the decision to the viability of the project, the object of trying to resurrect a total write off of a boat, in consideration of the money, the time, the cost, the "modification", the unknown, but it was to no avail. It is going to be a "blast"  Don said. And so be it. Except for the next thing coming from Don's mouth. "I think we can do it in six months' time". Of course I remained silent, there was just nothing more to say about this crazy day and even crazier scheme.

- The next morning we drove to Fort Lauderdale to conclude the transaction. Came a woman lawyer, representing the insurance company, and Don with a very flat envelop to exchange hands. I do not know to this day if the closing was made over US$1.00; 50K or 500.000.00 or what? But the Ninety feet Brigantine Schooner Centurion was his.

- Back at the office in Newport, looking over the original drawings it became clear that the over-built of the vessel was going to pay in the surgery extension. We could do it without modification to the basic scantling. No changes in the size of the main members, plating, frames, beams intercostals, etc. It was essential to pass the A.B.S approval for plans, including to whatever length we would be able to reach within the limitation of a "T" boat of less than a 100T. under the commercial rules.

- Meantime, back in Florida, Centurion was righted up, refloated; plywood covered the melted openings, the engine started and she was on her way to New England. Her destination was Fairhaven to undertake the massive work involved in an almost total resurrection- construction-conversion.

- A couple things on the boat helped to make the transformation possible and a little easier. I mentioned the scantling did not need to be modified, also the location of the main bulkhead ahead of the engine room made a perfect place to cut the vessel. Now, the question is what is the new length to add in between the two pieces to make it work?

- Back on the drawing board, the first try was to go for a 35' extension. After calculating all the volume admissible up to the 100 Tonnes limit, then came Dan Blachly. A Naval Architect specializing in commercial tonnage showed a few tricks to compartment the boat with tanks in such a way that we were able to stretch the boat to another 10'. All in all, the insertion of this "container" in the middle is 45'-5 1/2" long.

- The point of the whole exercise is of course to maximize the possibility of transforming the burnt up hulk into a small passenger vessel with as many cabins as possible within the new length. To this effect, the interior design, along with superstructure and crew quarters had to be drawn with the constrain of structure, bulkheads, passenger's comfort and entertainment. I came up with 19 double cabins, each with a separate head and shower. In typical Don's way of doing things, by the end of the project which took many years, he managed to find another cabin to fit.

- Hard to believe but, the transformation from a 2 masted to 3 masted schooner came relatively easy. Without changing the masts and rigging of Centurion, the location of the third mast fell smack in between the two. So here we are with a greatly enlarged small passenger vessel, flying the US flag because built by Palmer Jonhson in Wisconsin and offering cruises up and down the East Coast, adding winter in St. Thomas and summers in Newport. All of the above due to the vision of an extraordinary man, Don Glassie.