Protos 1 and 2 fulfilled the SMART Micro Project's brief and the time had come to decide whether or not to proceed. The third prototype would mark the end of tinkering and the beginning of an extremely serious commitment.
The boat would need to be designed in minute detail – there’s a huge difference between knocking something up to see if it works, and thinking through every part for ease of manufacture and reliable performance. To achieve this precise, detailed design I would have to crank up my CAD skills very quickly. Equally quickly, I would have to learn a great deal about advanced composites. I would then have to find someone to machine the plugs from which to make the required moulds. I would have to source and test numerous different materials. And the biggest hurdle by far, while the award and the legacy had just about covered the work to date, I would have to find a way to fund the next step.
The first prototypes had spectacularly demonstrated the efficacy of the catamaran configuration and the new rigger – and the feedback from the London Boat Show had been hugely encouraging.
Also, having spent many hours on the water in all kinds of sea state, I was absolutely confident in the boat’s massive worldwide appeal.
But, in order to proceed, I had to be equally confident that I could carry it off – despite being an inveterate optimist, the size of the task seemed overwhelming.
Eventually, the decision was made and I embarked on an interesting journey!
The hulls were the first target, and I set about working out how best to mould them. Normally such a shape would be moulded in two parts, which would then be glued together. But surely it would be better to mould the hull in one piece?
Perversely, sometimes the absence of knowledge can be an advantage – I didn’t know that you could not, apparently, mould such a shape in one piece. So I figured out a way of doing it and was surprised to find that the ROCAT’s one-piece hulls were unique. They were also stronger and lighter than conventional glued-together two-piece hulls.
JEC is the world's foremost annual exhibition dedicated to composites. It takes place in Paris, and every year awards are given for composites innovation – these are considered the 'Oscars' of the composites world. With little hope of placing, I was encouraged by the organisers to enter the ROCAT – specifically the one-piece hull construction. In the event, considering our microscopic firm was up against companies of all sizes from all over the world, it was very gratifying to be runner up in the 'Sports and Leisure' category to Mavic, the multi-billion euro French manufacturer of bicycle wheels!
Soon after work began on proto-3, a Plymouth University marine technology graduate (appointed under a Cornwall graduate placement scheme) doubled ROCAT’s staff, and more than doubled its rate of progress. With Anthony able to carry out much-needed work in the workshop, I could concentrate on the preparation of the CAD files for the Midlands firm, Rojac, to machine the plugs and produce the composite moulds.
I was especially apprehensive about the hull mould when it arrived because vacuum-bagging the inside of a closed mould was new territory. However, much to everybody’s relief, it worked just as it was supposed to and proved very reliable.
The seatdeck mould also worked well from the start, but the crossbeam mould did not, and it occupied more development time than all the other moulds put together. In the end I had to redesign it completely and the replacement mould then worked fine.
Assembling and launching proto-3 for the first time was very exciting. While we knew it wasn’t the final solution, it was made using the production moulds and incorporated the lessons learned from the first two prototypes.
The biggest change from proto-2 was in the size of the hulls. The boat needed more reserve buoyancy, particularly for the US market, so 15 per cent was added to all the hull dimensions, and this resulted in a 50 per cent increase in buoyancy. I was interested and pleased to note that the enlarged hulls worked significantly better than the original ones, producing almost no bow wave and very little wake.
Everything else worked pretty much as planned, and the summer of 2004 was spent testing and refining – testing and refining.