Those of you who have followed the long sad saga that just concluded may remember that it began for me years ago with a phone call. Someone called to say that he knew someone (I canít remember if it was a friend or not) in Addison who was setting out to build a sailing vessel to take handicapped people sailing. He wanted to donate the naval architecture and engineering to the project and was calling to ask if that was the kind of thing I did. I told him that it certainly was and he said he would talk to the owner and get back to me.
The man called back about a week later and said that he had spoken the owner. God would provide the necessary inspiration for the project and therefore no naval architecture would be required. Iím not sure if this was his interpretation or the builderís but it was the last I heard about the project until stories began to appear in the media.
Now that the venture has come to its natural conclusion, I find myself wondering what kind of advice I would have given at the time or how I would approach such a project today. Assuming that the proposed routes would be coastal, which seems most practical and interesting to me for many reasons, I would be very tempted to propose a scow schooner. There is a long forgotten tradition and history of these craft and recovering it would let the project also contribute to rediscovering part of our marine heritage.
The simplicity of a scow schooner would have been very much in keeping with the low budget nature of the effort that God failed to provide sufficient guidance for. One of the nicest things to do on a large sailing vessel is go right up into the bows where power and energy of a sailing vessel are most apparent and the square bow would provide great wheelchair access. These craft were surprisingly fast and were wide by nature which would make for great deck space in a given length. The Coast Guard passenger rules for coastal vessels are highly biased towards wide, shallow craft so certification would be feasible.
Given a free hand with such a design, I would build the bottom and centerboard trunk of heavy steel construction so that the difficult to access portions of the vessel would be strong and long lasting. Ballast would be needed in the bottom and no shaping would be required so only cost and welding considerations would restrict the steel thickness. This is also one structure where ferro-cement might be appropriate.
From about the waterline up, construction would be timber, very much as it would have been done in the 1800ís. Scow schooners often had large deckhouses since they were not craft built with much consideration for grace although many had clipper bow stem heads. Such a deckhouse would make roll in ADA compliant heads easy to include. Add a classic two masted schooner rig with the right paint and detailing and you would have a wonderful evocation of a forgotten part of New England maritime history that surprise some of the other schooners as it sailed past them.