Cargo Ferry Prototype

March 2022
After 18 months of almost zero inconvenience from Covid, it has hit the cargo proa with a bang. Neither Rassy nor I have had it, but it is playing havoc with containers and shipping availability and prices.  Since Xmas, we have been booked on 4 ships, missed two as the site was closed  (Xmas holiday and flooding a couple of weeks ago) for the week-long window to load the containers, another because they overbooked (there used to be 2 ships per month, now there is only one. Same freight, no containers to put it in, apparently) and threw us off.

Next load window is 30th March.  Hopefully we are on it.  I got worried that the trucks would not be willing or able to access the shed, so moved the components up to the easy part of the access road.  A lot of fun using my car and Rassy’s little box trailer.  The ww hull and tender were too much of a challenge, so I got a tractor to move these.  A few exciting moments, but the big bits are all there. 

I have also been building fibreglass sheets which will become wing sail leading edges. After a stick up with wax paper, I switched to aluminium foil as a mould release. Works well and looks cool.  May or may not stay stuck, may or may not reflect radar.  

Also put some hatches in the tender and vent/bilge pump holes in the lee hull ends.  Could  have bought plastic ones, but went with composite.    They need cleaning up, but should do the job.  Once they are all in, the lee hull ends can be moved and the big shed clean up begins.  The containers leave on the 5th April, arrive on the 18th.  I leave on the 7th, which will give me time to get things organised in Suva.    Looks like we have a new/better build site and interest from various Govt departments, education institutes and NGO’s is building.

December#1 2021
From Rob Rassy: Lots of rain and lots of days off during the last couple weeks! Rob’s been painting, working on the canoe and doing tidy up jobs, while I have done some additions to the rudder cases and finished off what can be done on the steering system. After Monday there will be no more work till early next month, when the proa will be packed into containers and the shed cleared and cleaned, bringing an end to the “UQ chapter” of the cargo ferry story.

Thanks to the following for their support with the prototype:

GiZ: Seed money via the Mini Cargo Proa project with Waan Aelõñ in Majel (WAM).
Professor Martin Veidt, Composites Engineering Department, The University of Queensland:  Encouragement, expertise, student volunteers, shed and overheads.
Rob Rassy: Boat building, ideas and keeping me grounded.
EPropulsion: Electric outboards and batteries.
Clay Engineering: Solar panels.
Anchor Right Australia: Super Sarca Anchors.
Uto Ni Yalo Trust: Workshop and launch facility in Suva.

Why assemble and launch the cargo proa in Fiji? Launching here would cost a lot. A 24m/80’ter is an expensive beast to truck, store and launch in this part of the world. Worse is that it needs to be registered which requires a survey, for which engineering data and design studies are required. The cost of this, in time and dollars is crazy. The alternative is heavily subsidized shipping to Fiji, free storage, workshop, launch ramp and mooring on the shores of Laucala Bay, the potential for a lot more publicity than I can generate here and officialdom who want to help rather than follow rules for steel ships. The wait is a nuisance and I am sure there will be drawbacks to Fiji, but at the moment it is a no brainer.
I’ve had a few emails from people wanting to help and/or sail on the boat.  All are welcome, but the priority will be to get the boat launched, tested and operating. Beyond that, I will do whatever I can to facilitate volunteer workers, test sailors and visitors generally. Fiji is a great place to visit, is desperate for tourists and will make you welcome.  Please get in touch if you are interested.   

From Rob Rassy: “Another wet week passes, as work continues inside the shed and WW hull.  I managed to finish sanding the 2nd side of the rudders and spent some time on the push rod steering system. Rob as usual has been industriously knocking off a heap of jobs and doing some experimenting with ideas he’s been thinking about as well as working on the fishing canoe. Not too bad at all, considering we are now only working 4 day weeks till the shipping is organized and the containers arrive.”

We borrowed a set of accurate crane scales and weighed the bits. Lee hull ends incl rudders (2 x 125) and middle (310), ww hull (350), beams (2 x 82), masts (2 x 122), wings (2 x 10 x 4.5kgs) and rudder blades (2 x 32).  The toybox and 8m/28′ tender were not weighed, but bathroom scales say 150 and 250 kgs.  Total is 1,880 kgs/4,200 lbs.  Strings, blocks, winches, o/board, safety and nav gear to come, but looks like <3,000 kgs/6,600 lbs ready to sail.  Materials cost $AUS50,000/$US33,000.

The fishing canoe weighs 11 kgs, with another couple to add.  Should be able to be carried down the beach solo with a shoulder strap.   With 5mm foam instead of 3-20mm, and 200 gsm glass in non impact areas, we may get the next one down to single figures.    Will find out how it paddles next weekend, maybe do some stability/rerighting testing if the weather is warmed. It has acquired the nick name FLiT.  Funny Little Thing.

The to do list has taken a hammering.  Another couple of weeks and it will be ready to ship, although due to shipping constraints, it probably won’t leave until mid January.

Rassy has finished and installed the rudder hardware,  installed the steering push rod mounts and built the push rods and kick up levers using tow in conduit.  Looks like it will work.

The ww hull and the ends of the lee hull are glassed below the water and mostly copper/epoxied.    Turning the hull so the painted surface was horizontal was fun.  I dropped it a few inches/cm onto the corner of a 2 x 4 (50 x 100mm) piece of steel.  The hull flexed a lot, left a mark, but no damage.  Hopefully a similar result if it sits on a rock or coral.   Putting copper and epoxy on horizontal surfaces is a dream, verticals, a nightmare. 25C of sunlight and it heats up to 75C, which makes it hot work.  
All the ribs are made for the wings. Boring, but pretty quick once I got the wet out machine and moulding worked out.    I ended up making the leading edge ribs separately to the trailing edges.  Took longer and will require gluing them together, but the results are better and gluing on the glass leading edge will be easier.  Made a few more leading edge sheets, ‘only’ 14 to go.
Ordered the sail cloth for the wings. $Aus560/$US420  to cover 2 x 50 sqm/5550 sq’ wings fulfills the ‘must be low cost’ requirement.  The f’glass leading edges are 20 sheets of 1.2 x 2.4 sqm x 1.5 layers of 400 db glass.  36 kgs/80 lbs of glass at $AUS150 and the same weight of resin $Aus450. There is about 28,540m/10.6 kgs of tow ($Aus 300) and similar of resin $Aus130, total composite materials near enough $Aus1,000, plus the sail cloth = $1,600.  A few bits still to make, plus some string, about $Aus2,000/$US1,500 all up and about 50 kgs/110 lbs each. Not bad, if they work and don’t break.
The telescoping for the masts is pretty much done.  The 300mm/12″ dia 3rd section fitting into the 400mm/16″ bottom section looks ordinary, but should work ok. There will be issues with the wing attachments going over the join, but not too hard to fix.   The big problem was making the bearings so the top mast could be inserted in the top of the bottom mast, and telescoped.  The bearing areas need to be accurate (ie turned on a lathe) for there to be a reasonable fit.  I ended up with a pretty messy fix, but it solved the problem without a lathe. The other mast  is the second section (350mm/14″ diameter) into the bottom, which is a better fit and easier, except the bearing/bury is 1.2m/4′ down the inside of the mast so only one shot at installation.  Both will be done differently next time.

I have had a couple of emails asking what is different about the cargo proa build.

Low cost:
About $Aus50,000 materials to sailing stage.
Light weight:  Not sure how light, but we have used a tonne of resin, which implies about 3 tonnes all up, which is an order of magnitude less than any other 24m/80’ter.  This works out about $Aus17 per kg/$US6/lb, including consumables and a fair bit of carbon.  2 winches, blocks (we are making most of them) ropes, safety and nav gear etc are not included yet.

Quick build:
16 months of 2 old age pensioners working 8 hour days 5 days a week and occasional student help.  Another 2-3 months to paint and assemble.  Includes hulls, rudders, 8m tender, toybox, telescoping masts and wing sails, a heap of testing and several abandoned rabbit holes. 
Unstayed non rotating telescoping masts built with pultruded carbon strip.  
Cambered telescoping wing sails.
Beams attached to the masts to reduce loads and lee hull height
3 piece lee hull, due initially to shed length, but it made mast installation easier and transport via container possible.
Canted, raisable leeward hung rudders supported by the chine for light weight, minimal drag and some lift. 
A simple kick up release mechanism which is independant of the rudder load. 
Push rod steering operated by a whipstaff which can be used anywhere on the boat.  
The front rudder is used to luff the boat, the rear one to bear away.   In tight maneuvers at low speeds, the rudders can be set vertically and both steer in both directions.
Solid glass hulls with thin skins. Tougher, heavier and cheaper than foam cored, but flexible. We have overcome most of this with furniture, stringers, frames and small panels.
Infused flat panels with integral male/female joins for almost all the components.

Simple, cheap, near idiot proof (ie, works even if the sheet is cleated, tangled or being stood on) pitch or heel operated sheet release.
There is lots to go wrong or not work the way we thought it would, but the build is easy enough that fixing problems will be a relatively simple task.

October #1
No Rassy this week, so not a lot achieved.
Attached are some pics outside the workshop showing all the pieces, some wing pics and the (broad) to do list before it is packed up for Suva.  Maybe November for the boat and December for me to travel.   
The ww hull is upside down so I could fair the bottom and chines, some of which had some bridging in the infusion.  My aversion to torture boarding is less than my need to have a smooth, fair hull below the water.

The wing pics are Friday arvo wip’s,  rushed so I could get home before I fell asleep (torture boarding induced exhaustion 😉 ).  The material is not tensioned height wise, the camber inducer will be less ornate (and automatic), the cloth will be sewn, not glued and it won’t wrap around the leading edge. The wing structure is low cost carbon rods (~$AUS4/m, $1,600 per 50 sqm/540 sq’ rig) which we can easily make bigger or smaller and mass produce anywhere.    The latest wet out machine makes them easy. Each section weighs 4.5 kgs/10 lbs, 45 kgs total per rig: I think this is significantly lower than the equivalent sail, battens, track, cars, boom, traveller and fittings for a 50 sqm mainsail? There is plenty of development still required but it looks, to my ever optimistic eye, to be on the right track. Next step is to put it on a mast section and see what we can learn, then start on all the little, tricky jobs. Like raising/lowering it and the telescopic mast, sheeting it and getting it to stack neatly.

September #3
We put the deck, toybox and tender in place this week.  Solved several problems, discovered a couple of minor new ones.  

Rassy got the rudders mounted and successfully tested as much as we could given the constraints of the blades not being in place and the hull sitting on the gravel.   The breakthrough was the trip working on a low loaded line rather than a highly loaded one, which makes it far more usable.  The test procedure involves ramming it as hard as I can with a 3m/10′ piece of 200 x 50mm/8″ x 2″ hardwood.   The first test, the lines were too tight and did not release so the full load was taken by the hull and case structure.  No damage.  

Hull lifting #2 was a limited success.  We lifted the bow of the ww hull about 150mm/6″ which showed as 4 kgs/9 lbs of pull on the winch handle, meaning 480 kgs/half a ton on the top of the mast. I could lift the other end of the ww hull (maybe 30 kgs/66 lbs) when the pulling rope (1,100 kgs breaking strain, reduced by ~50% due to the knot) broke.  

There was no cracking or creaking, the loaded beam barely deflected length wise and the sides did not buckle, the lee hull barely twisted, nothing buckled or bent on the ww hull, the loaded mast bent maybe 100mms at the top.  There was no damage from the hull dropping onto a piece of 100 x 50 timber.     Successful enough to go sailing, given that the loads applied should never be seen in reality, although the toybox, tender, crew and fitout were not included so it was not a particularly complete test.   Might try it again when everything is installed and I have some stronger string.
We redesigned and built a new wet out machine to allow single person operation, more control over resin content and easier cleaning.  Result is we are using tow for a lot more applications.

After several false starts, I have built the components for the first wing section built (2 x moulded carbon ribs, fibreglass leading edge, temporary mnast and the covering which is peel ply with glued batten pockets.  This looks pretty good, but took longer than sewing.    We will put it together this week and see where it leads.
Why a wing?
1) Cheaper and longer lasting than a sail, particularly the high tech sail the boat requires to perform to it’s potential.
2) Able to be built with the same knowledge and tools as the rest of the boat, which is important for remote building.
3) Easier to set up and reef.  A halyard pulls it up, the 1:1 mainsheet  induces the camber and controls the angle of incidence. Gravity lowers it and it is self stowing.  There is no need for a traveller, cunningham, outhaul, reefing lines, lazy jacks or multipart mainsheet and winch.
4) Theoretically more efficient.  Probably not against a high tech sail trimmed by an expert, but certainly better on a set and forget basis.
5) No need for the crew to access the lee hull in normal sailing, which is probably wishful thinking, but a good target to aim at. 
6) Potential for self trimming with an added tail.  This is not on the agenda, except to see what is possible down the track. 

Wing problems to solve:
Dimpling on the leading edge.  We are using solid glass for this, which works if the wing telescopes.  
Reefing.  In theory, the wing can be left up and will auto align with the wind.  This is too scary to contemplate leaving it up overnight, much scarier in a gale when the waves are  throwing the boat and sail around.  The solution is to make it telescope into 1.5m/5′ high sections.  
Assymetry.  Symmetric wings work, but lack grunt.  Two symmetric wings acting independently (America’s Cup etc) is too complex.  Our solution is to warp a symmetric wing.  This is not hard to do, but making it also telescope, light and reliable is.  Doing this with a non rotating mast (rotating masts are more expensive and harder to build) is a challenge we have yet to fully meet, but there are plenty of ideas still to choose from.  We shall see.  
Weight.  Not such a problem if it telescopes, but definitely something to consider.  
Complexity: The inside of most wing rigs resembles a spaghetti factory, with most lines needing continual adjusting.  We are trying to avoid this.

September #2
You can’t beat putting the big bits together to look like progress! It’s
certainly a rewarding feeling seeing  the deck and toy box attachments coming along, but what is more satisfying is when design aspects that were left “for later” become finalized. The toy box and bridge deck attachments were in the “for later” list and are now becoming a reality. The rudder release attachment is also making progress as each new prototype redesign brings the concept closer to realization. Today we’re having a day off as some of the test equipment in the shed is being utilized, but Tuesday will be a big toy box tow layup day.
Rob Rassy   

September #1
Load testing. Video here.

August 2021 #2
The push is on to get the hull beam connections to a stage where we can test the strength by lifting the WW hull with ropes attached to the mast tops. Carbon tow is being added to high load points, parts already built are being cut off or discarded, and design changes are coming fast and furious. Both beam end attachments have changed, the masts have changed significantly, rudder mounts and wing sails are still prototypes and constantly evolving. While the construction continues Rob has been making progress with marketing and sponsorship which will also change our launch plans. Although it all seems a bit chaotic the end result seems to be a shortening of the time left to go on this stage of the build. I’m avoiding details in this update because things are changing so fast, and I’m not sure what Rob is ready or able to comment on. I’m sure he will answer any questions in due course, keeping in mind he is pretty busy right now 🙂 Rob Rassy   

August 2021 #1
Now that the main components (except the wings for the masts) are built, it is loose end time.  Lots of little jobs finishing everything off.  Best described by 95% finished, 95% to go.   
I decided to simplify things and save some money (the carbon pultrusions have almost doubled in price since we bought the first ones) and start off with a 2 section telescoping mast rather than 3.  Means beefing up the top section we have built so it will function as a second section, which I did most of this week.  
There is a pretty good chance that we will be getting Wisamo inflatable sails.  A few more hoops to jump through, and the usual financial issues, but looking good.  Should know in September.  Meanwhile, we will keep playing with the wing rig because it is interesting.  We are also looking at making it tail controlled.  This may also work on the inflatable sail.

Other loose ends tied up:
We bonded in the lower mast supports, an unpleasant job grinding in an enclosed space, then glassed in the ring frame and wrapped the deck bearing in carbon tow.  These could have been (and will be next time) included in the infusion.  Fortunately they weren’t as the mast design changed significantly between then and now.   The reinforcing is preparation for a hull lifting test to check the mast and beam strength, the hulls’ torsional stiffness and the connections.  We tried a reverse lift (caught aback) and decided to change from lashing to 40mm dia carbon pins, which also hold the beam struts in place.    
Built a mould and section of the rubbing strake for the tender, still looking for a suitable material to make it into a fender.
Laid up the chocks for the mast/beam interface which was one of the ‘worry about it later’ jobs.  It looks like they will work.  
Rob R has been playing with wing prototypes and the best way to build them, I have been working on the telescoping and weighing up wing mast/sail, 2 piece and 10 piece solid wings with and without a tail and a flat sail lashed to the mast with Chinese style sheeting.  A lot of variables, hopefully the decision will be made by Michelin/Wisamo.   
Rob R also made a test assembly for my ultra simple rudder kick up system I have been ‘perfecting’ for the last few months.  Took one look at it and simplified it!  A lot.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.  Looking forward to testing it next week.  
The new hinges for the toybox work well.  
We made a glass and bog hatch garage which is pretty basic, but should be thief proof and watertight.  When I get time to use the UQ sewing machine, I will build a pram hood over the hatch so watertight won’t be a problem. 
The ww hull is now closed up, ‘just’ got to make it pretty enough to paint.  Apart from sanding, bogging and patching a few holes this involves moving it away from the shed wall.  Fortunately, it is still light enough to do this by sliding one end then the other.  We then need to tip it over to fair and epoxy/copper the bottom, which will be an interesting test of the structure, particularly the deck which is unsupported until we know where the frames for the solar panels go.
Unstepped the masts and removed the beams solo, which was a little nerve wracking.  Once the masts were out, the beams were resting on the lee hull and the ww hull was heeled 20 degrees.  I had to get it level to remove the beams.  Lifted one beam about 6″/150mm (some of which was spacer compression which will be eliminated when the tapers are added to the beams) and the other one started to lift, which was surprising and gratifying as I was unsure of the torsional stiffness of the windward hull.  Looks like it will do the job.  However, this is a complicated way to remove the beams, so we chopped off the top of the case, making fitting and removing much easier.    They may be lashed in or the tow replaced, depending on how often the boats will be disassembled.  

Lashing will please the Marshallese, who replaced my tapered beams in sockets with traditional lashings (almost, they used nylon fishing twine) after the beams slipped out in an early test.  The plan was for the trampoline, mainsheet and stay pressure to hold them in place.  Would have worked except we sailed without the tramp, broke the leeboard lashing and got a tow in, but the tow boat put us wrong side to the wind and the rig fell down.  No mainsheet or stay and out the beams popped.  Quick thinking by one of the crew meant nothing broke, but it was a lost cause.   They are now building another one, which is great news.  

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference for traditional and modern boat builders, with emphasis on zero emissions and locally built, situation suitable vessels.  Some interesting people have been invited, it should be an informative couple of days.  

A group of switched on  Fijian business people and academics (SSTI, see attached) have offered to do all the ground work for a trial route from Suva to the islands to the east and south.  This is a huge load off me and should ensure there are no cultural, legal or procedural missteps.   The routes consist of short hops, max of about 100 kms/70 miles.    These routes will show us what works and what doesn’t and should reduce what was intended to be 3 years of demonstrating into 6 months.  All going well, the next step is to set up a boat building facility in Fiji and start producing them, followed by a shipping company to start using them.   SSTI are actively seeking funds for both ventures.  It is astonishing how many grants are available and how many boxes the cargo proa ticks on those grants.  They are also getting interest from other parts of the Pacific, in particular the Solomon Islands.  

SSTI reckon launching in Fiji is a better idea than launching here from a PR point of view.  They have an assembly and launch site arranged on the shore of Laucala Bay (east of Suva) which they want to make into the Pacific green shipping hub, including sail training and boat building,  are talking to the Minister about import duty and to shipping and trucking companies about reduced rates.  The components will fit in 2 containers, cost about $9,000 from door to door.  This is less than the cost to get the bits trucked from the build site to a boat ramp,  rent while we assemble it, some more to launch it and a lot to get the safety gear required for the trip to Fiji.   Plus a considerable payment and copious paperwork to the Aus authorities for registration.

SSTI  are supplying a couple of Navy6 electric outboards, at least 5 sq m of solar panels and 4 x Blue Lithium batteries.    One motor will go on the tender, not sure about the other, yet.  They will be enough for motoring in no wind and for maneuvering in tight spots.  A big step up from the cheap second hand outboard I was intending to use.  

Dec 1 in Fiji is looking possible, maybe launch by the end of the year, but probably not. Trial routes begin in April.

Fit out decisions are coming up which makes me realise how out of touch I am with developments.  The minimum the boat will need is a chart plotter/gps, AIS, tracker, VHF and nav lights.  These will either be second hand/cheap if I have to buy them, or top of the range in terms of durability if someone else does.  Any suggestions welcome.