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Friday, April 27, 2012

IWC NYC - The Half-Hull on The Wall

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I apologize for obsessing. We have models all over the world and in some very special places, for example, The St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco or the one in Dubai. There is something about this setting and the quality of the surroundings that make this a particularly special place to have a model. It is in New York City in the place that people go to buy the finest things in the world. Indeed, IWC Schaffhausen is known for making some of the very finest watches in the world.

This is clearly an honor for us and it's also been fun to see the parade of Champion Boxers, Fashion Models and Movie Stars who have had their photos taken in front of our "little boat" as they attended the Opening Gala of the brand new IWC Boutique at 535 Madison Avenue which was dedicated to the Great Muhammed Ali.

The whole thing started when we were approached with a rendering of a room and asked if we could make the model in the image - with a few modifications. The model in the image is a full-hull model and we would be making a half-hull and the backing panel that fits within the frame, but not the frame. We were asked to work up a proposal, not aware of who the customer was and received quick approval. As the project progressed, we learned more and more about what we were really getting into.

We then had to design the model according to the specifications of a design team in Switzerland. Our plans and samples of materials to be used were all submitted to New York, from where they were sent on to Switzerland for approval. The model needed to be relatively lightweight, but would clearly be much larger than most model boats of the class. It was to be of a particular raceboat that is a prominent contender in the Volvo Ocean Race, which is a grueling race around the world involving 70' sailboats that are as "state of the art" as anything currently made by human beings.

Unusual for us was that both the boat and the backing board had to be pure white. In fact, a color that is classified under the European RAL system of colors: RAL 9016 - Traffic White. It was unclear whether or not this kind of paint would be available to us, but we found an expert in European colors at the Annapolis Paint Store in Easton, Md. who was able to create both water-based and lacquer paints for the job.

We were not able to procure drawings of the boat, so we used photogrammetry to develop the lines. You will find that they are quite accurate. The hull body was to be a little over 48" LOA (53" with bowsprit and radar arch). We decided to cut the hull from machinable foam, a material that is epoxy based with additional constituents to give it a density between pine and maple wood. It is preferable to machining wood because it is infinitely stable and there is no grain, which tends to cause print-through and does not take details as well. We have a small CNC machine that can cut a piece of material to a maximum length of 12". In order to cut the hull, we thought that we would have to farm the job out to someone with a much larger machine than ours.

We found that, for too many good reasons to elaborate on here, most CNC cutting companies did not want our job. Thus, we had to cut it ourselves with our small machine. This is actually good, because it allowed us to adhere to our rule of making every single part of the model ourselves.

We accomplished this by splitting the hull form into 3 two inch thick parts, divided along the buttock lines. The longest; the one closest to the centerline, required 5 operations in which an area was cut and then, using special alignment pins, the adjoining area was cut. In all, the hull body alone took 14 separate operations involving 64 hours of cutting. In order to keep the machine from binding an elaborate counterweight system was used. The hull could have been ruined at any stage for a variety of reasons, but we were able to keep problems under control. In order to reduce weight further, large holes were drilled into the hidden parts of the hull in much the same way as is done in the construction of aircraft parts. The 3 long parts were laminated with very slow epoxy and filled with a phenolic balloon/epoxy compound. When the surface was ready, it was finished with spray lacquer.

The mast and boom are steel. The majority of other parts are made from brass. The sails from rip-stop. Metal to metal connections were all made using hard silver solder.

From the deck to the top of the antenna at the masthead is 6'11", thus if you could stand on the deck, except for a very few people in the world, that point would be well over your head. The keel extends down from the hull by about 10 1/2". From the bottom of the hull to the top of the antenna is 8'2".

The backing board presented a different set of problems to overcome. In the interest of keeping weight down, it was decided to make the backing board from two 1/2" thick layers of Gatorfoam, a material that consists of a light foam core sandwiched between hard facings. The resulting one inch thick backing board might seem very sturdy until you understand that the panel is 54.73" wide by 121.65" tall or a little over 10'1" tall. Rigidity was enhanced by using cherry and baltic birch plywood in strategic locations so that they not only strengthen the backing board, but they strengthen the model structure and provide a hanging mechanism as well. Thus, the face of the backing board is only 1" proud of the wall.
Getting such a large piece from the Chesapeake Bay to 535 Madison Ave. looked like a logistical nightmare, but with over a week put into the creation of a very special container and good freight handlers, it made the trip in great shape.

We drove to New York with the model's components and assembled it on-site, at times with the assitance of others working on their part of the Boutique. What the site looked like when we got there was very different from what is being shown all over the Internet in recent days, but we knew the kind of place that was being built. We left the store as a protective cover was being placed over our model.

It's hard to explain the feelings when one leaves a model like that. We don't know exactly when we will get to see it in its full glory, but we're looking forward to our next trip to New York.

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