Rolling the Barge

by Vermont Rice

Last Saturday under a brilliant May sky, about 40 volunteers converged on the farm to roll Ceres over so we could apply a keel, rudder skeg, and fiberglass to the underside. At this point the hull is structurally complete apart from decking plywood and the deck houses. We have about 20 days of real work into her at this point, with two people at work for about 8 hours. Progress has been actually a little on the slow side as I have been busy watching my boys over school vacation and gearing up to plant rice. But all told I’m happy about where we are at, and even more happy about the great connections along the way and new talents and passions brought into the mix, giving us snowballing potential to achieve more together than we could on our own. Certainly, at least, the project will, in the end, be more compelling in every way as a group effort than it ever could be as my own individual nutjob windmill joust.

Want proof that there’s strength in numbers? Ceres hull at this point weighs about 4500 lbs. Ganging up on her all around, the 40 of us dead-lifted the hull off the trailer, an effort that a quick poll of our volunteers said required a less than 50% effort. With that confidence, we tipped the hull off the trailer and onto her side, lowered her back down to the ground belly-up, and then lifted her 3 feet straight up and rolled the trailer frame back underneath to support her. Total time at work, about 2 hours. It didn’t happen without a tense moment or two, or without adjustments to the plan, but these things are par for the course. But it did in the end happen smoothly, safely, and more or less according to plan. The moment we finished the last sequence, as if on cue, Evan served up pizzas he had baked on site and we partook of some some great hard cider.

Experienced boatbuilders might wonder why the barge wasn’t built upside down to begin with. Answer: lack of foresight. I thought we might be able to manage finishing without a single roll. But in balance rolling upside down and then, later, back upright again began to seem worth it in terms of how it would benefit the flow of the work. And it was a great opportunity to get the community out to see her. I think many of our group were surprised, even a little euphoric, at our combined ability to flip this barge.

When we do the reverse flip I am contemplating a mechanically assisted hoist system that might take some of the excitement out of the operation.

Photo credits Richard Hiscock.