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.


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