Cargo Ferry Prototype

June 2022
Finally got 5 kgs of epoxy. The hardener was faster than the stuff we used in the Marshalls and just as much a challenge, especially working inside the 800mm/32″ x 800mm/32″ hull. I managed to get the first bottom joined and the mast step stringers in using 200g /7 oz mixes, but it was a near thing. I used bundles of tow instead of fillets on the stringers to increase the join strength. Worked well.

The 2nd end was more challenging as it was twisted (my fault, shouldn’t install bulkheads on a gravel slope). A couple of judicious cuts and it all went together, but there was some unpleasant grinding to do inside once the hull was on it’s side.

I glassed the outside of the joins from waterline to waterline over the deck and wrapped the top mast rings in tow. Looks OK and seems strong.

I spent the first couple of weeks here trying to figure out how to insert the masts. I finally looked up and saw the great big tree next to the slip. A student slung a line over a branch, I rigged a block and tackle and after a few adjustments (“one two three, slide” and 20 students move the hull ) the 1st mast was in. The second one won’t be so easy, we may need to tip the boat on it’s side, which is tricky as it will need to be in the water to get the mast step under the tree.. I was discussing this with the head gardner (CATD is almost self sufficient, the students do the gardening under supervision) who came up with a typically out of the box soultion. Pics next update.

I bit the bullet on the beams that Rassy and I had spent so much time and effort building and trimmed off the loop on the end and replaced it with multiple dyneema wraps. Means the mast can be raised and the beams installed afterwards, which makes everything (including the build of the next one), much easier.

After a hot day’s work one of the students asks if I want a coconut drink. Sure, I say. He shinnys up the tree in no time flat and tosses down half a dozen nuts. One of the others holds a nut in his hand and hits it with 6 machete blows to de husk it and open the top. OHS’s worst nightmare, but these guys do it all the time. The juice is lovely, as refreshing as a cold beer.

Apart from spending time mixing teaspoons of epoxy, why isn’t work proceeding faster? It rained for the first 2 weeks. The shed is fine unless a strong breeze blows rain from the east, which it did. The boat is designed to be built with limited infrastructure, so this and intermittent electricity (4 all day power cuts in the last 2 weeks) are good learning experiences. It’s also hot. A good morning’s work followed by a siesta then back to work until dark is pleasant, but not very productive.

We have plenty of important visitors, wannabe partners and potential funders who get guided tours. There is a fair bit of other stuff on the agenda around MOU’s, grants, teaching and the future which all needs to be discussed. Fortunately, we are an hours drive from Suva, so only the keen visit, but there are still a lot of them.

The Fijian PM was going to visit CATD to open a conference and had asked for a briefing on and a look at the boat. Unfortunately, the Chinese foreign minister was visiting on the same day and he carries more clout than us, so the PM has postponed the visit.

Last weekend we were invited to Leleuvia to fix a busted outrigger. Took 30 minutes, spent the rest of the time relaxing. Met some influential people, all of whom were interested in the project. Half a dozen of them visited the boat on their way home. I’m busting to drop some names, but have been told not to. 😉

It looks like we are setting up a joint venture to replace the petrol part of outboard motors with electric. Some impressive Australian technology involved at a reasonable cost. Waterproof to 1m, droppable on concrete from waist high, all plug and play so any busted components can be replaced on the beach, motor and prop properly matched.

We got a request from the UNDP to attend a meeting to discuss a grant application. Seems they have money available, but no projects that tick the necessary boxes. The cargo proa does. We shall see in August when the money is allocated.

How serious are the Fijians about cargo proas and green shipping? I took someone down to the slip to see what could be done about cutting up and removing the sand barge. He glanced at it, said, “No problem”, turned around and said “What I want to talk about is the production factory.” There is ~100m x 75m of flat land (currently a flourishing taro patch and 2 cargo proa sheds) and he wanted to know what a cargo proa building factory, with class rooms to teach modern and traditional sailing, building and navigation, a full width slipway, offices, maritime museum and an innovation and testing space would look like. Fortunately, Steinar is good at this sort of stuff and came up with a preliminary sketch. Everybody is pretty excited. The sand barge is still there, but hopefully not for long.

The students continue to delight. Drum roll (hollowed out log and 2 sticks, beaten fast) at 5.30am. I get up, make a pot of coffee and watch the sun rise while they sing hymns: a lovely way to start the day. When I lend them my tools (I an pretty sure my little sledge hammer was instrumental in the demise of the pig we had for dinner last night), they are always returned, often in cleaner condition.

I have built a lot of boats in the garage of various houses I’ve lived in, often upsetting the neighbours in the process. Here, when I start work, my neighbors turn up to see what is going on and offer to help. Refreshing.

A couple of days after my birthday, I was asked to visit the carpentry workshop. The guys had built me a tool box, turned it into a great big birthday card. The art and sign writing is all free hand with a texta. The artist is going to go to work on the cargo proa if/when I stop grinding bits off it.

Next update (mid July) should be a PR ripper.

May 2022
I arrived in Fiji 2 weeks ago and  moved into a bure and office at the College of Appropriate Tech and Development (CATD) at Bau Landing, about 25 kms NE of Suva. The staff and students are lovely and very keen to help. They offered me use of their carpentry, plumbing and metal workshops and want input on how to include boatbuilding in the curriculum. We may build a mini cargo proa (foam, not ply) on weekends and evenings. They’re also keen on swapping petrol outboard motor motors for electric. 

Had dinner with the SSTI guys. They are enthusiastic and are making stuff happen. Several high up Govt people are interested and a World Bank report on how the Govt should  instigate their sustainable agriculture agenda stated: “Key informants flagged domestic inter-island shipping as an area in need of development.”  and  “There should be a push to work with the Sustainable Sea Transport Initiative, which is building a prototype of a sustainable inter-island vessel to provide services to more remote locations.”

The first day here, I had a visit from the chief whose family owns a large chunk of Fiji, including the CATD site and several islands, one of which is Leleuvia which has a green resort on it.  He is very keen on the cargo proa, asked me to spend the weekend at the resort and give a talk to 50 students from the International School who are there for a week.  Lelauvia is lovely. Had a fun talk with the kids, one of whom told me (nicely), I was wrong to advocate hydro power because of concrete dams, wiped out species etc. We decided small scale would be viable. The barman collared me to tell me the cargo proa was just what was required for his village, when could we start?

I went for a sail/paddle, not much wind in a plywood outrigger, 70 of which were built for an Amazon TV show. The guys who look after it are finishing their Env Eng degrees, offered to work on the Cargo proa over their holidays. 
The most common comment from pre teen students, hotel staff and taxi drivers all the way to high up in the public service and Government is that everyone is talking about green shipping, but only the cargo proa is doing anything. Gratifying for me, not so much for the planet.

TAUTOKU!!!  Fijian for marvelous. The first container arrived, an hour later it’s unloaded and the contents in the shed, 100m down a dirt track. Amusing comparing my efforts with the car, trailer and tractor with 30 enthusiastic strong Fijians.  Pick up the component, put it on their shoulders and take off down the track. Video here.  The long hull is being joined in a shed over an old slipway. Should be able to get the masts up and beams on to be sure everything fits, then remove them, launch it and reinsert them, then add the ww hull and the bits between the beams. Not quite  a travel lift on a concrete ramp, but probably easier than the Pinjarra Creek scenario. Plus there are 80 students available for lifting and carrying.  I am modifying the beam/mast attachment to enable the beams to be installed after the masts are up.  There is a sunk sand barge on the slip.  Removing it would make launching easier, but I am still trying to figure out how.

Yesterday was my birthday.  I walked into the food hall for breakfast and 80 students and several staff sang happy birthday Rob, with far more enthusiasm than it has ever been sung before.  The students are trades apprentices, but they sing wonderfully.  First thing in the mornings and pre dinner, they perform.  It’s a great way to be woken in the morning.
The students and I have cleaned the small shed and got my stuff stowed.  The middle section of the lee hull is on the slip, one end is ready to join, once I get some epoxy.   
CATD owns a couple of 6m/20′ pangas/banana boats/fibres which the students and I are going to repair and use for fishing.  Solid csm glass, about 400 kgs weight, these things are everywhere and are a brilliant bit of ‘situation suitable’ design.  Unfortunately, they require 40 hp outboards to get them planing and the fuel cost is prohibitive.  Electrifying them, including installing solar power,  is on the wish list.  
Just had a visit from a World Bank funded reef clean up project about shipping waste plastic (a big problem) from villages to the recycling place in Suva. They looked at the boat bits scattered around the place and wanted to know how many cargo proas we could supply and when! The COO is a Swede with a lot of ocean sailing miles.  Reckons the cargo proa is the ‘most functional sailboat’ he has seen.   At the end of the meeting they asked how long I would be here. I answered that it is a beautiful place, the people are exceptionally friendly, I get better care than in a hotel, up to 80 enthusiastic assistants at my beck and call and I spend all day playing with boat ideas.  I won’t be leaving anytime soon.  

April 2022
From Rassy:
After seemingly endless shipping postponements and torrential rain delays, the proa ferry project has finally been packed into shipping containers and is on its way to Fiji. With the weather cooling down and the help of some shade trees, the work inside the steel shipping containers was not too hot or difficult . Although spread over five days which included a weekend the actual loading job went smoothly and was completed in two days. As well as cleaning up the shed Rob had obviously put a lot of thought and preparation into the packing . A tractor mounted forklift was used to help lift and move the heavier components which were guided into place by hand. My contributions over three short days consisted of helping with the container loading and taking away two ute loads of materials that Rob no longer required. The final days at UQ were quite laid back and a little bit sad as the last page of an important chapter in the proa ferry story was turned. As I write this post Rob will already have started on the next stage of the adventure while I head off to begin my own Harry project. Some videos of the loading are here, here and here.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to film the hulls and tender being loaded as my help was required.
Rob Rassy

Thanks Rassy, not just for the pics and report but for your unfailing good humour, work, advice and ideas for the last 20 months. It would have been a hell of a lot harder without you. I look forward to following your progress on the C50 now that the materials have been delivered.
The trucks made dropping off/picking up the containers and turning around on the wet grass look easy, but one of the drop off guys apparently refused to do the pick up, so maybe it wasn’t as easy as it looked. The containers weigh 3,830 kgs each. The heaviest one contained the lee hull, toybox, rudders, beams, masts, tools, ‘glass, carbon, and ‘might come in handies’. It weighed 5.7 tonnes. The other weighed 5.2. Total load 3.04 tonnes/tons so maybe the boat ready to sail will weigh less than 4 tonnes. A bit scary, but plenty of scope for beefing up if necessary.
The ship leaves tomorrow, afaik the containers are on board. I have sold/given away/sent to the dump my car, house, 4 boats, a double garage and shed full of stuff which may come in handy sometime, 20 years of experiments and some fun memories. The ship and I arrive in Suva on the 1st May. Not 100% sure yet where the assembly will happen or where I will be living, which is also a bit scary, but if the preferred option works out, it will be as good a set up as we had with UQ, which was pretty close to perfect.
“How long it will take?” is an oft asked question, which I can’t answer as there are too many variables. 1-6 months to sailing successfully, plus 1 -3 months to get it ready to move cargo is about as close as I can get at the moment. Offers to help with the assembly and testing are coming in which should make it quicker and easier.