Tom West has tackled some impressive builds over the years, including telescopes, a sawmill, and his house in Poland, Indiana. But West, a retired teacher, recently completed his swan song: a 30-ton, 56-foot-long sailboat named Faith. The one-mast vessel is longer than a double-decker bus, outfitted with wind turbines, and armored with a hull and cabin doors made from steel to thwart pirates on global voyages. "Everything you see, we did," West says, standing next to the craft in his yard. "This all started out in pieces—the whole damned boat."
West had little sailing experience, let alone boat-building know-how, before deciding to construct a huge ship in a landlocked farm town. He'd simply seen a lot of sailboats on a Hawaiian vacation and wanted to make one big enough to live on. West eventually settled on plans for a Bruce Roberts 532 vessel—a design sometimes used for charter boats—and refined them into his dream.
Most recreational cruisers are fiberglass boats measuring 26 to 40 feet long. Faith dwarfs these. It has two bathrooms, a full kitchen, lounging and dining areas, and room to sleep 12 people. A door with a ¼-inch-thick steel core protects the master cabin, which has the only access to the rudder controls, should pirates attempt a raid.
Building Faith took West, his wife, Martha, her brother Lloyd, and Tom's late brother, Frank, five years—three more than they'd anticipated. They started work in West's front-yard tennis court (another one of his custom creations). Using a plasma torch, the team welded steel beams together over concrete blocks to support the skeleton of the upside-down hull. Next they built two gantries to flip the hull upright. Anything that West could make, he did—including stainless-steel handrails, rope tie-offs, and the 65-foot-tall mast.
Getting Faith into water proved nearly as challenging as building the boat. The Ohio River, located about 150 miles away, was the nearest suitable connection to waterways leading to the Gulf of Mexico. It took the Wests a month to find a towing company able to execute a hair-raising one-day slog along highways and back roads. "The trailer was about an inch off the ground," West says. "It rubbed the ground every so often."
West says he named the craft Faith because he had to believe that one day he'd actually complete it (and it wouldn't sink). The moment of truth arrived in late April, at a Cincinnati marina. "There was a whole bunch of guys pushing on the boat," West says. "But the current was so fast that the ramp scratched the bottom." Then, after West started the engine, it blew a head gasket. Leaky pipes also plagued the maiden voyage, but the Wests successfully repaired their ship and headed downriver toward the ocean. They hope to pilot Faith to several continents, but their exact route is open to the winds of chance and curiosity. "This has added years to my life," West says. "I think that's the secret to life: get out and do something."
HOW IT WORKS
Crafting part of a 56-foot-long yacht is one thing. Learning to build Faith and install, maintain, and repair all of its parts is another. Here are just a few of the nautical systems West mastered during his five years of toil.
A 100hp diesel motor and 500 gallons of diesel fuel give Faith 1,000 miles of range without wind.
A computer autopilot, radar system, sonar scanner, GPS unit, and a gyroscopic compass all work together to get Faith to its destination—with or without a captain.
To guard against pirates, West made the core of the master cabin's door from steel and incorporated a thick metal lock bar. The only access to the rudder controls is through the master cabin, so if there's a raid, the Wests can hunker down inside and disable the ship's steering. (A gun cabinet in the master cabin holds last-resort countermeasures.)
Two wind turbines on the back of the boat provide power for lights, electronics, and other systems. Faith also has a 10kW diesel generator, which fulfills most of its electrical needs.
West harvested walnut trees from 50 acres of forest that he owns, cut the timber in his homemade sawmill, and used it to build the boat's cabinets, control panel, and tables.
Faith's water-treatment system converts seven to nine gallons of seawater into tap water every hour, using carbon filters and a bacteria-killing ultraviolet light to get the job done.
WARNING: We review all our projects before publishing them, but ultimately your safety is your responsibility. Always wear protective gear, take proper safety precautions, and follow all laws and regulations.
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Popular Science. See more stories from the magazine here.
Pirate proof? c'mon, That's an awfuly bold statement. NOTHING is 'PROOF.'
Power - Since the only reinforced door is to the Master Cabin door, what if the Pirates gain access to the engine room and disable it?
Electricity - Same problem as my first point, they could gain access and disable your generators, and then you have no power. no power, means no lights, no gps, no computers, no auto-pilot.
Safety - thats good to know that the Master Cabin has a reinforced door, with the only access to the controls. But what about windows? What about walls? given enough time and the proper tools, they could cut a hole.
Also, why arent the regular cabins secured as well. They could take your guests hostage; then what?
I think the best way to protect from pirates is to find ways of keeping them off of the boat in the first place.
This boat is a standard looking design, the pirates could easily board this vessle.
now this ship is mostly metal. what if one of your defenses was to electify the hull? You see the pirates, get everyone to a safe room, and electrify the hull. If a pirate touches it with bare skin, ZAP! just like an electric fence.
With the right safety clothing onboard, you could walk on deck with your weapons and shoot at them, while they try to figure out how not to get fried when they board.
Or have a retractible fence on the perimiter, steel spike tipped fence rises out of the floor. around the perimeter.
that would slow them down. maybe 2 or 3 feet high. if they slip, they'll get impaled.
But ideally - it would have to be shaped like a submarine. but that would suc, sailing in that
Thats just a few ideas. I could write a hundred others, but i wont, dont want to bore everyone. But think in terms of a castle, how to prevent a seige.
I agree that the headline grossly misrepresents the article. A wimpy 1/4" steel door on the cabin does not a pirate proof yacht make. That kind of reinforcemetn won't even stop a large metal jacketed pistol round.
However... you might want to stop and think for a moment about your idea for electrifying the hull of a boat that's floating in the ocean.
so long as the interior is insulated afrom the Hull, as to not fry the occupants, it shouldnt be much of a problem.
Except maybe for the pirates if they fall into the water near the boat.
...hmm ... i think we need to call the mythbusters in on this one.
definately be cool to see what happens Full Scale .. :)
definately a cool What If? someone test this :)
Given the size of the ocean and the vast amount of salts in it, I think it actually would make a grounding source on it's own and that the current wouldn't travel laterally very far.
I think this ships best defence is that it looks like any other vessel and could thwart an unorganized, amateurish effort by novice & inexperienced would-be kidnappers/thieves. Otherwise, it suffers from the same problem a good safe does-a well-planned, expertly-executed effort by informed individuals applying the right tools, knowing that the prize is worth the effort.
@Wonder - lol,
I thought the same thing at first ... they built it on the guy's tennis court out in the middle of no where ..
definately no pirates there ... a side from the kind that bootleg Beta tapes, LMAO
umm, i mean VHS ... ahem, oops, i mean DVD's .. cough, HD DVD ... cough, cough what i really meant was BluRay :)
I lived near Tom in the small rural town in Clay County Indiana. I have seen the tennis court used to build this awesome craft. As in any small town the Sailboat was the talk of the town. But, with a little Faith, Tom and his crew proved that they could do anything. To those who has rudely made their little arm chair remarks about this and that, more than likely they have never accomplished anything near to the scale and magnitude of building a working Vessel. Further more you could not meet a more interesting man than Mr Tom West. By the way, With a little Faith, one should never have to worry about Pirates.
This ship couldn't keep out a 12 year old ,your armor is to thin. A ak47 would cut right thru it. Pirates would disable the boat, tow it back kill everybody, sell what they could. Burn the boat leaving no trace. Please do not put this to a test. Pirates take 35 ships every year, these are just the ones that are known.
Brilliant little article... well-written and downright inspiring.
This is a fine article but it over-emphasizes the threat of piracy. Sure, it's a problem on the high seas. Hell, it's a problem at truck stops.
I visited Tom and Marsha last November and got the chef's tour of Faith. What an inspiration!
Although not a member of the NHA (National Howitzer Association), I hope Tom has plenty of firepower on board just in case.