Hi, my name is William Pack and I have shared a dream with my father all my life. Before I share the dream you, I want to introduce you to my father, Tom Pack. There is an interesting short article about his life, as it has been a constant adventure. You can find it here on my website. My father was a Marine Corps helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He flew 600 combat missions and was shot down 4 times. He saved many lives and has a million stories to tell. If you ever get the chance to meet him, I suggest asking to hear some of his legendary stories.
My father raised me with a love of sailing and when we could afford it would occasionally charter a sailboat and go to the Bahamas. We quickly figured out that the best way to explore the shallows of the Bahamas is on a catamaran as opposed to a monohull (traditional sailboat)) which sits very deep in the water. My father saw many years ago that most catamarans out there are built to make money and are not built with performance and safety in mind. So after much research in the early 90’s dad found John Shuttleworth. John is a brilliant naval architect living in West Sussex, UK and recently won several awards at the global superyacht awards in Monaco for his amazing superyacht Adastra.
Dad knew back then that he wanted a Shuttleworth catamaran and I, growing up in his shadow have fallen in love with Shuttleworth designs. If you take the time to read a couple of articles about these designs you’ll quickly see why they are the best in the world.
During my time in university I was a student at the United States Merchant Marine Academy and raced sailboats on the offshore sailing team. Racing these large boats was a dream come true. At the same time I had to spend 1 year at sea aboard several different cargo ships. I knew then that I loved sailing and that someday I would cross an ocean or perhaps conquer the world on my own sailboat.
Dad and I don’t exactly have a whole lot of spare cash around to go and buy the most legendary design of catamaran in the world and we refuse, utterly refuse to own anything else. To us, anything else is just substandard.
So now we have an issue, certainly such a great catamaran would be expensive. We needed to find out so we started asking questions. First we asked Shuttleworth himself and we found out that really no one builds these anymore. You can commission a custom boat builder to construct one for you, but after receiving quotes from an outfit in Germany and another in South Africa, we realized that we were priced out of our dream.
So what now, we were in a bit of a quandry. We can’t afford our dream, but we know some people have built these themselves. We then asked the question, “Why can’t we build one ourselves?” Well, we priced that out by working with John Shuttleworth on a materials list and local composites vendors for pricing. We found out that it should cost us well under half to build it ourselves.
At about the same time, I was having a pretty rough time at work as a Sales Manager selling a software product that was suffering some very significant quality issues. The company had a weekend golf tradition that had been going on for years, and my boss and I were the two best golfers in the entire company. I felt obligated to play every weekend, hated it and even started to hate the sport. I was so upset at work one day because of some silly politics and didn’t have the stomach to spend another weekend playing golf with the same people causing me so much stress, so I called my dad and it went a little like this:
Me: “Hey dad.”
Me: “I’m tired of playing golf with my boss every weekend, let’s build the boat.”
Dad: “Are you serious?”
Dad: “How much are the plans?”
Me: “$5,000 bucks, I’ll split it with you. It’s a small risk”
Dad: “Okay, let’s do it”
My father is the most stubborn Marine you’ve ever met and this was the quickest I’ve ever been able to persuade him to a decision in my entire life. He says he didn’t even need to think about it.
At this point it’s time for the rubber to hit the road and start building the boat from absolutely nothing. The overall project looked like this with links to pictures for each phase:
At this point it’s time for the rubber to hit the road and start building the boat from absolutely nothing. The overall project looked like this: (For this same list with pictures click here)
1. Build a Deck Mold
2. Lay up materials and resin on the mold and let cure, twice (we ended up using a process called vacuum assisted resin transfer molding)
3. Build a Hull Mold (Bottom of each hull of the catamaran)
4. Lay up hull materials and resin, let cure, repeat for 2nd hull
5. Build Beams and Bulkheads
6. Assembly and Finishing
8. Rigging, Outfitting and Sea-Trials. (we are moving the boat to the coast for final assembly. This will start in about one month and the boat should be sailing in about 4 months, Oct 2014)
(Looking to start this in August after the boat is assembled, here’s what the final product will look like)
The journey has been rough. For the first 2 years, the family and I have been driving every weekend to Austin, Texas a 330 mile round trip drive just to work on the boat. I’ve probably made the drive 100 times.
(Gordon’s note: thats 33,000 miles, the earth circumference is only 24,000, so thats almost the equivalent of 1 1/2 times round the world – now thats commitment 🙂 )
I can’t say it’s all been terrible though as my brother’s kids and my kids have had two great years of spending lots of time together and they all love spending time with their cousins.
In the beginning we had many questions which no one seemed to be able to answer properly. I mean we’ve never built a boat before, so every question you can imagine like:
1. How do we build a mold?
2. How do we keep the boat from permanently sticking to the mold?
3. How do we perform vacuum infusion?
4. Do we use epoxy, polyester or vinylester resin?
As we were constructing the first mold we decided to use the technique called Vacuum Assisted Resin Transfer Molding or VARTM (or vacuum infusion) which is a complex but much better way to build a boat than traditional hand layup of fiberglass with resin. We decided to test this process on a bulkhead first, and the results came in…complete failure.
We immediately thought, “Oh boy, what did we get ourselves into. We have a 90% built mold and we don’t know what to do with it.”
We decided to start doing some laminate tests (testing our process with smaller pieces of what the boat is made up of) with some advice from the composites supplier.
I would say we spent about 3 months testing vacuum infusion on laminates and had almost all of them fail in one way or another. We failed in every possible way that you can fail when performing the VARTM process.
As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We now know how to prevent almost every type of failure, but we still couldn’t get the laminate to properly infuse with resin.
Here’s a picture of one of our laminate failures where the fiberglass didn’t fully wet out. We had a resin flow issue that we had to solve and no one seemed to know what to do, not even the fiberglass manufacturer. We tried every option. We even sent the laminates specified by the designer to the fiberglass manufacturer to infuse themselves and they failed. Here’s a video of one of our tests.
If I can remember, this was about the 30th test we conducted and it was out of pure desperation that we tried the one thing that our vendors told us not to do.
What we had discovered in trying to infuse both sides of the core material at the same time was that we needed a flow medium on each side to insure proper flow. Flow medium is a type of material that allows resin to flow freely across the surface where as fiberglass does not like to let resin flow very well.
What it all came down to was that we were amateurs and unfortunately so were the vendors. If they were master boat builders they would be building boats, not selling me epoxy and fiberglass.
All those failed tests made us really good at setting up a proper vacuum infusion.
Now that we finally got the infusion right was when the big stress began, and boy I was a mess. After laying our materials on a 32 foot mold and getting ready to start the infusion I quickly came to the realization that we just can’t afford a failure at this point. We discovered that there are a ton of ways you can fail and failing on a small scale was no big deal, but failing on a large scale would cost too much money and would most likely put our dreams in the morgue.
After laying the matierals out, we vacuumed the first piece down, mixed the epoxy, opened the valves and it went off just as planned! (Here’s the video of the second deck infusion )
That was awesome, so we popped it off the mold the next day and started on the next one. We did the second piece successfully and pulled that off the same mold. Then we chopped the mold in half and moved it outside and started constructing the much more complex hull mold. We did two more infusions successfully and we were then on our way to final assembly.
Assembling has been a challenge and we had to have a couple of friends come help us. We are back to working by ourselves. The good news is that I have moved to working full time while my wife Karina went back to work to help support us.
We are almost finished and are projecting a finish date this summer to be in time for the Harvest Moon Regatta which will be a rigorous overnight race in the Gulf of Mexico in October.
To me the future is clear. My wife and I are both graduates of Maritime Academies and have both sailed around the world on merchant cargo vessels. We feel this is something that has instilled great knowledge and wisdom at a very young age and want our children to experience the same.
When Maggie and Zack Pack are of an age that they can handle a boat themselves we plan to sail around the world with them.
We are about 4 years away from when we think they will be old enough.
I’ve had a several jobs in my professional career and haven’t really enjoyed them enough to want to make it a career. Now that I’ve been working on this boat for almost three years and have put in all my blood sweat and tears, all I can think of his how much I want to build the next best thing.
So hopefully, my next project is the next size up, the amazing Shuttleworth 37 pictured here.
Beyond this I have even more big hairy audacious goals, but let’s see if I can achieve these first.
For more you’ll just have to stay tuned. Thanks again Gordon for this wonderful article!
Having watched this journey, in awe, I am in no doubt that Will will complete his goal and achieve his vision.
His passion is clear to be seen, only a great passion would drive the univalent of 1 1/2 times round the world, fail repeatedly and yet still keep going.
You are an inspiration!!!