Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sweet sweet planning pain

Okay, we're at T-8 days to soft launch, and there's no going back on the announcement now. True, it's just a facebook post that not many people will pay attention to, but we need to draw the line somewhere. So where do we stand?

- The 3D rendering glitch that caused me to have to delete the whole hull has been fixed - in fact I figured out how to reduce the number of faces that were created when I exported the Delftship file (ship/boat design software) into Blender (the 3D rendering program). This simplifies things greatly, and I'm swimming along nicely. Getting faster every day - and I plan to take this evening away from the shop to really get things moving on deck details etc.

- The website is coming along, and we're in the final development stages. We've all been swinging by http://www.firetree.org/ - that's FireTree Productions, the brainchild of our Multi-Media Assistant Alex Lutz's creative efforts. She posts the draft websites there for review, and we're cranking out the revisions and tweaks and trying to polish the site as best we can before the release. Of course, that's going to be an ongoing thing.

- Mini-Hornet, our name for the 1:12 scale model, is also coming along nicely. Knocked together the main- and mizzen-tops yesterday, trimmed the masts to height and put shoes in the bottom of the hull to prevent 'bottom blow-out' with all the weight pushing down on the foam. We decided last night that we're going to save time but spend money to buy dowels for shaping rather than plane down the spars from square stock as we've been doing - getting the octagon right just takes for bloody ever. And what's the worst effect? The heels of the masts won't be square - chock that one up to nobody will notice, and besides, it's not museum quality, it's a visual aid for crying out loud. Bill Rodgers and his wife Noemi have been hard at work cranking out the sails - which are made from four (!) queen sized bedsheets. Apparently its quite a little mountain of cloth. The foremast is rigged with shrouds, forestay, and fore preventer stay, although we're going to have to go back and replace the line on the forestay - I used bungee and should have used nylon. As a sort of armchair model maker I fully realize how absurd all this sounds, but have to admit that even I'm impressed with the product.

- Vic Keranen, our Historical Director, is coming out to the Dockyard on Wednesday night and staying through Saturday to lend a hand, and I hope to knock out casting the carronades, getting the lower deadeyes and chainplates on all of the channels, and rigging the main and mizzen. Then we'll strip everything down, pull the masts out, move the hull into the Lofting Bay to finish up work there while the masts are laid out in the Framing Bay to be assembled and rigged. Final rigging will need to take place in a gym or something - we can't have this thing outside in any wind at all or the huge sail area will blow it right over (the hull is foam and plaster, afterall).

- In the midst of all this, I was supposed to drive up to NY again to take care of family business, but I really need to put off that visit and get more done around here. Rest when we're done, I suppose.

- I should give a shout out to the NHS staff in other areas. DC Crew - Joe Sturiale, our Finance Director (in real life a VP at Wells Fargo Commercial Real Estate), who has been working long hours on business end pieces and Joey Fuller of Kutak Rock who has been combing through the legal side of things. Down in Florida and in Maryland, Melbourne Smith, Hal Whitacre and the rest of the design team are cranking out the submissions to the USCG for conditional approval of Hornet's design. In New York City, Janet Bartucci and her network of strategic communications gurus are turning and burning making up that end of our plan. In Maryland, Jerry Todd cranked out a pattern for mini-Hornet's carronade barrels, a great help and time saver for the Dockyard crew.

We are ALL busy. Someday I'll look back at this and smile that we were ever able to pull this - even just this announcement - together in such a short period of time. But that's what you get when you have great people! Rock on, guys.


Monday, April 25, 2011

So that's it!

We've been rolling on this for months now, and the strain of preparation is wearing most of us down pretty hard. Thankfully, in true Navy fashion, we've muscled through and charged onward. The grandeur, excitement and sheer shock value of the project helps.

Back in January I presented a new project to the Board of Directors at our annual meeting. And although every member of the Board attending that day had been well aware of what I was working on (I'd been developing it for three years by that point) I don't think they were really prepared for what I brought to the table. Yeah, I wanted to build a tall ship. Sure, it seemed a little impractical. But when I laid out a fairly detailed business plan, marketing figures, tourism statistics, life-cycle costs - everything right down to insurance premiums - I think everyone was a bit shocked. Could we actually do this?

My answer was a very confident YES.

Because in those three years that I spent sailing on various ships, picking the brains of the various operators, talking to world-class naval architects, historians, artists, insurers, regulatory authorities - all while taking copious notes - I was attempting to develop a solution to the problems that plague most sail training programs - mostly lack of funding. The solution couldn't be a better fundraising plan - fundraising is fickle and will let you down when you most depend on it, like poor Olympia. No, I had to get into the guts of the system, find out what makes it tick, and discover a way to make the program actually support itself.

The answers, as I began to find, were directly related to the vessels not being dimensionally suited to their intended missions. And after dozens of spreadsheets analyzing hundreds of pages of gathered data, I found several "golden ratios" hidden in the statistics. The problems? That none of the vessels I analyzed met these ratios. Whether it was operating season, personnel capacity, USCG limitations or any other of the myriad categories of data points, none really fit into the 'zone'.

So what then? I had to prove the system could work, so I made up an imaginary ship and began plugging in the data collected from other programs to make a business plan. The models I used to determine cost structure etc were taken from the standard analysis models for hotels, museums, parking garages and restaurants - all mashed together to create a model of how a sailing school vessel could relate as a business. After all, the business of what an SSV does isn't as common nor relatively simple as any of those companies - I needed to mash them together to make what I needed. Enlisting the help of some executive level help whose occupation was to analyze the profit potential of major corporations, we put the model to the test.

It worked. I remember an evening in 2009 sitting around in the home office surrounded by books, papers, printouts and charts thinking - whoa. It was somewhere in there that we realized that while we couldn't use this data to help other programs, we could certainly create one. And I started the plan.

In following months, I went on a research spree to find the ideal ship. It had to have historical and operational interest, an ingrained market that represented a large segment of the population, and the right dimensions. Of nine ships that made the final cut, none could compare to Hornet. And from that point onward, we kept falling into information that made her more attractive and appropriate.

Her rich history began unfolding, her design began leaping off the pages as preliminary plans were drawn. Since January, a team of volunteers including Sea Cadets and active duty Sailors have been building a 1:12 scale model in the NHS Dockyard - an impressive sight at more than 16 feet long and 12 feet tall. The business plan was refined, polished and perfected, and we grew more and more sure of what we had, and what we could do.


Today is significant because we just posted the date of our soft-launch - the website, this blog and our facebook page will all be updated to include the Hornet Project. We've been putting this day off again and again - knowing that we needed to make a grand entrance in order to make the project real to the public. Additionally, we had to ensure that the project wouldn't flop - setting our supporters up for failure. I don't believe in wasting people's time, effort and excitement.

I think we will have what we need. Our multi-media assistant Alex has been chruning out iteration after iteration of the new website, and we're finally down to polishing. Setup and testing is another story, and we're definately going to be running down to the wire on this one. Since taking on the 3D rendering myself several weeks ago, I've had to balance every free moment of my time to 1) learn how to do it, and 2) build a decent product that we can add to the website. As of last night, I had to scrap the hull I had and start again. Luckily the whole rig and sails are done, plus most of the deck detail. Modelling the big shapes is the easy part - relatively. We're still cutting it really close here, and I know it.

But that's it - the gauntlet has been thrown down, it's go time, and FINALLY we're going to get the word out there on a large scale about this thing.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

She's doing it!

Just look at the NHS website! That's it - its all done. Our multi-media person has totally deleted our website. No warning - just, there it is. At least there's still a link to this blog!

I told you - wait and see, she's going to destroy the whole thing. Ha!

Actually, in all seriousness, our website is down as we enter the terminal phase of our super secret missile flight - please return your seatbacks and tray tables to their full upright and locked position. In the first week of May - and there is some fine jockeying going on with dates - we're going to be unveiling our master plan - our most ambitious project yet - which includes a new website. I'm sure some people have figured out what we're up to, but for the rest who are still in the dark, your patience is worth the wait, I assure you.

I need to get back to work, so as Depeche Mode said - enjoy the silence - for a bit, anyway.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Refusing to be afraid or reliquish responsibility

Last night we had the Dockyard crew out until about 2200 - working in the framing bay, chasing the Dockyard dog when he got out, eating pizza. And I think a good time was had by all, we certainly got a lot of work done. But it was last night, as everyone is standing around during the break having pizza and a cold beer (everyone was of age), when I realized how to vocalize one of the key components of NHS.

The Navy - and the military in general - has its fair share (maybe more so) of alcohol related incidents. Regulation, oversight and procedure steps in more and more, and soon we're trying to micromanage simple things like having a beer after a tough job. Not a kegger, not getting plastered - a beer. I had two, I wasn't driving. But the point is that I think there's a good deal of fear out there on the part of seniors to open that door - after all, with a high number of incidents, there is a good chance it'll come back to bite you, and you'll be spending time in court with your sailor.

But at NHS, we've put another principle to work - trust and teamwork. We've been very lucky so far about the quality of sailors and civilians that come out to support us. But between the retirees, career sailors, younger sailors, and everyday average Joes, there has melded a sort of collective that - I would bet - hails from our past. If you're old enough to drink, feel free. Judge the timing, make good decisions, and enjoy it. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a sport, don't rush. And if you slip up and make a bad decision, your shipmates are there to keep you in line.

Perfect example - last night. Pizza arrived, and everyone had soft drinks of some kind. The beer fridge opened, and one of our First Class Petty Officers said to the opener "stop, wait." Then looked to me "Sir, are we going to be doing much cutting or using power tools after the break?" My answer, negative. "We still have a couple of hours of sanding and touch up left, right?" My answer, affirmative. He turned back to the guy opening the door. "Grab me one, and go get that book you wanted me to look at." I watched as while we enjoyed the pizza, and some enjoyed a cold beer, everyone enjoyed some laughs and conversation.

Simple? Yes.

My point is this - if we write out alcohol from events entirely, then we are missing a golden opportunity to teach responsible alcohol consumption by example. Supervised, yes, to some degree, but I'm finding out that trust is a powerful motivator. And when someone feels that they represent something greater than themselves, that they are following in the footsteps of people they respect (in the last example, the FCPO) they are less likely to do stupid things.

It could be that we have a $hi+ hot team. The quality of our volunteers really does make a tremendous difference.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Return of the Monomoys

Tonight is another working session at the Dockyard - we'll be doing some work on the model, getting the hull ready for paint, but also breaking out gear for Monomoy No. 1 and preparing her for the - da da dada daaaa - first sail of the season. That's right, this Saturday we'll be launching the Monomoy at Naval Station Norfolk and taking her out for the first sail of the season! In the process, we'll be breaking in new crewmembers for Conquer the Chesapeake 2011 and getting our laundry list of repair and improvement items polished off. Anyone interested in participating get in touch soonest and I'll provide more information.


The covers on Monomoys No. 2 and 3 are both off - one in a horrible state of tatters and splinters, the other worn to near unserviceability. New covers will be going together and be ready for setup the week after next - so standby for that operation.

And on that score, someone asked recently - "you've already told us its okay if the boats get wet, so what's the big deal?" Well, simply put, water isn't the only enemy of wooden boats. In their current state, the bigger threat is actually the sun - which can cause the wood to check and crack and do serious damage. We need to get them out of the sun - hence the covers. Its okay to leave them exposed for a few weeks, and doing so gives us a great opportunity to clear out the area. But leaving them that way for too long is a recipe for disaster.


Amidst everything else that is going on, we're going to be working out the details for a quick restoration of Monomoy No. 3. Some time ago, we determined that she was by far the better preserved of our two 1904 vintage Monomoys, and in the interest of getting one of those behemoths out of the Dockyard, we'll be putting all of our eggs into one basket to get her restoration cranked out and completed. She'll need a complete recaulking and some refastening, plus a lot of scraping, painting, and fabricating all new masts, spars and oars. More to look forward to this summer!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Everything that can, and will, go wrong - or - its all about the Irishmen

This weekend the Dockyard was humming with activity - or screaming as the case may be - as one thing after another after another began going wrong. But what started out as an exercise in not screaming like a three year old in frustration ended as a great lesson in how adversity makes people better, tougher, and more ready for the next challenge.

First, on Friday night, we had a hacker attack and lost our primary comupters. Earlier in the week, we lost one to a rogue beer tsunami. Luckily, everything was backed up, but I lost notes, our web people lost drafts and all of our carefully balanced technological ballet fell flatter than Natalie Portman's actual dancing in Black Swan. Fun times were decidedly NOT had by all.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, while work progressed in the Framing Bay and in the office, a series of nasty squalls hit the Dockyard and took out the cover on the No. 3 Monomoy. I was told that it was quite a sight - almost biblical - the way the frame shattered, lines parted and tarp disintegrated into tatters. But alas, I was neck deep in computer issues and didn't even hear it. All else was well, but now we also had issues digging a Monomoy out from under a wrecked cover.

Saturday evening, we recieved word that a donor was coming down to the Dockyard. Greaaaat. Here's how your hard-earned well-donated dollars are working - computers that are fried, boats hidden under wreckage, and of course wet, crappy weather. Come on over! As if I had anything that I could possibly say to stop them that didn't make us seem like bumbling idiots.

But in the process of getting to know our dear friend Murphy - whose endless stream of probable improbability laws I have always known to govern my life - I also got to know his dear cousin Mulligan. Now, the latter I've been casual friends with since I took up golf - invoking his good graces on nearly every outing, at every hole - who am I kidding? at every stroke. This time, as hurricane Murphy devastated our operations, we wept and prayed to his cousin - the patron saint of do-overs.

On Saturday, around mid-day, our multi-media coordinator Alex arrived and began plotting the solution to our computer woes. Until this incident we had worked from laptops, so we could take our efforts mobile on the drop of a hat. Except the hat never dropped, and those computers stayed glued to the worktable in the office. Using a spare 52" LCD TV and some reconditioned towers, we were soon up and rolling with five times the computing power and a kick-ass joint control desktop display. Yes, that's right - we just had those laying around. Actually, we're master scroungers - we have to be to operate on our shoestring budget - and a special thanks to Kenny and the staff at Best Buy for your help in finding us the best scratch-and-dent deals and second-hand donations in the area.

Meanwhile, the volunteers in the Dockyard - thoroughly pissed off at the collapse of the cover - went hardcore into DC (damage control) mode and used the ol' time-tested boarding axes to clear away the wreckage. Haven't seen that angry working spirit evoked since Monomoy No.1's first mast exploded during testing. But in about 15 minutes the cover had been cleared away, new lumber was being laid out for making up the new framework and the requisition for the new cover was on my now very Gucci desk. Fantastic.

And of course, our donor arrived just in time to see our media assistant and volunteers hard at work, recovering from the pain, and was so impressed that he gave us more money! I know you don't want your name up here, sir (for fear of divorce, I think) - but THANK YOU just the same!


I don't ever expect that we should meet every setback like we did this weekend, but whatever the next one happens to be, WE'RE READY FOR IT!