First you must create the universe

Much has happened since we last checked in.  We have committed to building a Schionning Arrow 1280S.

It is a very high performance catamaran designed by Jeff Schionning.  It is an epoxy foam core flat panel kit boat that we will assemble at my parents farm in Virginia.  The boat will come in panels in a 40′ shipping container from South Africa and Jessie, myself and the only member of our team with any actual experience Pat, will spend the next year putting the boat together.  We have settled on this boat for a few reasons.

  1. As a flat panel boat we do not have to build molds and this reduces our costs.
  2. The boat is designed to be a kit/plan home build boat and with the flat panels it greatly reduces the labor hours fairing and getting curves perfect.
  3. The boat can be constructed in epoxy infused panels and then CNC cut and shipped to us where we assemble it, again reducing the labor hours (think IKEA but for boats).
  4. The boat can be ordered with balsa or foam core, and being made of epoxy the boat will be incredibly light, strong and this translates to fast.
  5. We will choose the systems, the color, the interior and all the options on the boat (we will also install them)
  6. We have discovered a huge global network of other folks who have built or own other Schionning models and have heard nothing but great things about the boat’s quality and performance.

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At the current moment we still have a few hurdles…We don’t have a building to build it, the boat ramp we have access to is not wide enough and a fair bit too steep.  The building we have purchased won’t have a door wide enough for the boat to get out and we have no experience putting together such a building.

One of my heroes, Carl Sagan once said,

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

That is how we feel.  Before we can focus on the boat we have had to develop a foundation plan with an engineer, sort out getting a building permit from King George County , build said foundation, run the electrical, get a heater big enough to heat the building and get all this done in less than 2 months all while selling our current boat, possibly find a new place to live, Ridge changing jobs, Jessie starting Yoga teacher certification, coordinate international shipping and erecting the building…then we can begin our actual project.  Though it feels very daunting, it has given us both purpose and focus every day.  I may not be sleeping much, but perhaps that is because a lifelong dream is starting to take shape.

In chronological order:  we purchased a steel building (35’x50′) (though we have pretty much no idea how it goes together), we purchased the plans for the Schionning Arrow 1280S, we had an engineer develop a foundation plan for our building, we chose our build site and had a local company strip the topsoil, dig the holes for our buildings pedestals and we put the 50% down payment on our boat kit.  We have also formally listed our boat for sale and shown it a few times to folks that seem pretty interested.


Before we could get started we had to clear a few small trees, remove an old barb wire fence and determine the orientation of the building…this was much hard than it sounds.


This photo is from about 2 weeks ago after we had built batter boards to determine our final floor height and to give us a reference for square and level.  The steel building is under the blue tarps.  At this point we had dug and formed the footers and removed the topsoil.  I had also blown a seal on the backhoe removing a stump…



Note the stump is still there and the backhoe as well.


Well, when you put it like that…In just over a month our plans are starting to take shape and our accounts are quickly emptying.  One of the more terrifying moments was realizing we had just wired a large sum of money to a man we have never met in a country (South Africa) we have never visited for the pieces that make up a boat we have never sailed on designed by another man we have never met (Australia) which we have no experience assembling.

Here is a flyover of our site before we began our project:

And here it is after we formed the pedestals.

Our steel building has been delivered and our project is starting to come along.  After a few weeks our footers are poured and the pedestals are done.  Our next step is having the pad leveled, filled and built up with stone so we can prep for our slab.  Working every weekend and every day I can spare during the week has been tough, and I have finally become motivated to get up before sunrise.  The work has been fun and rewarding and it’s exciting to see things progressing so quickly.  Our current challenge is to find a clearing agent to help our 40′ shipping container clear US customs and then getting it trucked to our site and dropped on the ground.  This has proven elusive.  Jessie has contracted almost 30 Baltimore freight forwarders and agents and the quotes have varied by almost 100%.  We have a few solid quotes though some require the rental of a crane (almost $2000).  While others say they can use a roll back truck…we are still a bit unsure.  Current estimated delivery of the shipping container is mid November and our goal is to have the shed up and wired for electricity by then. As an added bonus we have decided to purchase the container and our plan is to eventually have an office and workshop/storage in it for additional tools/materials to add space to our shed.

Over the last two weeks we have been focused on the foundation and concrete.  To say this has been harder than expected does not do the effort justice.  Over the preceding months we had worked to get an estimate from local concrete subs.  Between Jessie and I, we contacted at least 15 different companies to get estimates.  At first we were not sure we wanted a slab floor and with the estimates we got we realized either we would have to do a lot of the work ourselves, or we couldn’t afford it.  After many, many, many left messages and almost no call backs we realized this would be much harder and more expensive than we first thought.  After talking with a close friend we realized one of our neighbors and our friend’s Father in Law had a ton of experience and was soon retiring from over 30 years in contracting, having done it all.  It sounded perfect, he could be the authority and ensure we were building to code and be available to help as we needed him, but allowing us to do much of the labor and prep and thus save some of the money of a full time concrete team. When Mike Long agreed to help us it was a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.  I had spent over two weeks staring at our expensive foundation plan that at that moment made almost no sense to me.  I felt vindicated when Mike himself said more than a few WTFs looking at the same plan.  Many of the measurement didn’t add up and what I realized at the moment is that the building’s main columns would bolt down to anchors embedded in the concrete.  In a moment of terror I realized we would have to get these anchor bolts accurate within ¼ of an inch before the steel building could fit onto them.

Here is our foundation plan…it may make sense to everyone else, but it took me 2 in-person meetings and three phone calls with the engineer to finally understand it.Capture2


With Mike’s leadership and experience we made an incredible amount of progress.  He was willing to come out on his weekends and make sure we built to the plan.  He is a great teacher and gave us that confidence boost we needed to continue believing we could do this.  In just over two weeks we were able to get the footers dug, formed, poured and the rebar set for the pedestals and then form and pour the pedestals.  The pedestals are the super important spot where the building will transfer its main wind load in the event of a high wind storm.  It is essentially the keystone on which the rest of the project rests and we absolutely could not have done it without Mike and his partner Billy.  Mike and Billy are a dream team of sorts in an industry that is not often known for reliable, skilled and hardworking people.  They show up early, stay late, and work at a breakneck and efficient pace.  Though I am probably almost 25 years younger I couldn’t keep with him swinging the sledge hammer, it was more than a little humbling to have him take over every now and then as I swung wildly missing the 2×4 stakes and almost crushing my shins.  He was even brave enough to hold the stake as I hit it…after one fairly inaccurate thwomp, I told him I wasn’t comfortable with his hand that close…  With Mike and Billy on-board and Pat now full time and me on weekends and every weekday I can spare we have come a long way fast.

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At the time of this writing we have done everything we can as we wait for the land to be leveled and the gravel to be set so we can prep for our massive slab.

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Patrick and Ridge doing their best statue impressions on finished pedestals.  Pat asked…”Do you think we should be naked?”

Stumped:  Backhoe mechanic: I can now add this to my resume.  Prepping for our site I had to remove a few trees and having a backhoe on hand is a very handy way to remove the stumps…or so one would think.

After only a few minutes of effort we blew two seals and hydraulic fluid came pouring out.


The back hoes lies where it died…close to the stump that for almost three weeks sat mocking our efforts.

DSC_0044For almost 3 weeks both the stump and backhoe remained.  We were eventually able to get the pistons or rams or whatever they are called out, but we did not have the tools to get the seal off the shafts and so we took it in to a repair shop, after many trips back and forth we finally had the seals and were able to reinstall them and then re-attack the stump.  Here is my moment of glory!

All in all things have really begun progressing.  We got a great quote from a rigger in new Zealand on an all carbon mast with a park avenue style carbon boom and aramid rigging.  All of this at a better costs than our previous quotes and for better materials and hardware.  We have settled on Evolution Sails and have even got a very comprehensive cost estimate spreadsheet, though I am quite sure I have under estimated everything.  Though this is the hardest I have ever worked in my life and we are both taking on more than ever before, there is an excitement we feel at this undertaking.  We know it will not be easy, but so far even the challenges are fun and though we don’t have much experience, things are working out great and we haven’t had any major screw ups yet…yet.

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