Log of the Construction Period

Click here to view photos of the construction and testing period

Mar 28, 2001 Corpus Christi, TX.(Ed interviews himself)

Q So what is going on Ed? Did you go away on vacation or something?
A No I don’t need a vacation, what do I need a vacation from?
Q Well what have you been doing? We all figured you jumped ship and went off for a bicycle ride or something.
A I’ve been re-organising and been really slack in keeping people posted of the latest events.
Q So tell us, was the Mississippi trip as scary as you made it out to be in your last letter? I was thinking about building a raft but after reading about your troubles I don’t know.[Editor's note: This letter was not posted on the site, although some of you may have received it from Ed via e-mail]
A I was having a bad week when I wrote that. It was unfair to all who read it because it was very point of fact and devoid of all feeling.
Q So give us some feeling then.
A You’re really pushy. The Mississippi trip was for me a trip of new discovery…. From start to finish I was presented with challenges that tested my skills as a captain. My intent at the outset was to develop my command skills under the tutelage of Poppa Neutrino and Captain Betsy. Well, the multitude of events coming down that long winding river has prepared me for command of a crew on an ocean going vessel. But more about that shortly. In all it was a six month trip from Fridley, Minnesota to New Orleans LA. Four started the trip and five finished the trip. Shawn, who joined the voyage after a month and a half, also saw the trip to its conclusion. She is still with the ‘Vilma B’ project 100 miles south of Corpus Christi. We didn’t accomplish all we set out to do at the beginning of the voyage. We wanted to have ocean going rafts by the end and the crews to man them. What we found instead was that the people and materials (used and discarded) were not to be found. Oh, there were a few people but not free to set off for long periods down rivers and across oceans. I am not disappointed that we could not go sailing out into the gulf of Mexico after passing New Orleans. We modified our plans as we drifted down river and arrived in New Orleans, triumphant and ready to continue west and south down along the coast of the United states and Mexico. Our intent once in the Intra-coastal Waterway (ICW) was to continue our voyage and slowly reshape and transform the raft into an ocean going (coastal) vessel. We had a great welcome to New Orleans with National Geographic there to film our arrival. We visited the cities infamous districts and stayed three weeks before turning west into the ICW. I was a little shocked upon arrival in New Orleans to look back at the six month trip and all I’d learned. I thought at the outset that it would be a piece of cake. It wasn’t! I was nave to believe I knew how to handle a crew, to take care of their needs and concerns and still run the boat. It takes more than just enthusiasm on my part. There is the safety of each person and their individual strengths and limitations to think about. They are not machines that can work without rest and therefore patience is needed in designating the correct chore and helm time for each person. Are they getting want they want? I want to travel but does the crew need a day off? You bet they do. You can have too much movement. Communication? Have I given all the information to a person so that they can carry out the task/chore? Are they confident in taking my directions? All these things and more were thrown at me daily. Sometimes I didn’t succeed and there was a shouting match on the Mississippi river as communication broke down. But more and more things went smoothly and we arrived safely at our destination. How did I solve all these problems? By simply Describing the situation, Comparing it to others and making an Evaluation of how best to handle it this time and in future. By listening to the crews' thoughts on events and situations that related to our work together. Finally by listening to the information of two great commanders Poppa and Captain Betsy. Through November and early December we motored down the ICW to Corpus Christi Texas. We made some modifications to the raft and tested a few ideas. We placed all the sections end to end making our home on the water 106 feet long. Quite a sight! (click here to see a   picture of it)  While we were moored in Corpus Christi at the ‘Land and Sea Marina’ I made a decision to stay and start construction of the ‘Absolute Absolution’ raft. David, Betsy and Shawn continued on to the south just before Christmas taking 72 feet of the ‘Vilma B’ with them and leaving 34 feet and one engine with me. June also decided to stay with the Ab Ab project. Since our separation I have, with some help from locals living on Padre Island transformed the 34 feet (called ‘Alley Way’) into a 37 foot building platform that is extendible to 47 feet. On this we will build the hulls of the 50 foot catamaran the ‘Absolute Absolution’. In the past month we, June and I, have prefabricated the components for the first hull. Found used wood from local homeowners, such as plywood used as hurricane shutters, redwood under-flooring that we tore out of an old house and old treated decking. Just recently we found an enormous supply of polyurethane foam pieces that are discards from a road raising operation here in Corpus. This past week we have moved into a sheltered canal to assemble the first hull on the deck of the ‘Alley way’. Our host here is Dolly an adventurous spirit that insisted we come and build the first hull out back of her spread.
Q So how far along are you all?
A The 50 foot keel is set up 16 inches above the deck. 20 feet of the hull ribbing is in place and fastened to the keel. All the foam we need for the first hull is standing by. And everyone around us is super excited. Our biggest help down here is an 84 year old gentlemen (also named Ed) who drives us to pick up things and finds us lumber. He loves our project. He figures that it is a good exercise for the mind. I will keep this log more regular from now on.   Photos

When it piles up so deep that you can’t see over it the answer is not to simply sweep it away. Eventually you must deal with it. Small manageable piles are easier to deal with.

June 12, 2001, Tropic Isles, Corpus Christi, TX

It's been a few months in the making but the first hull of the catamaran 'Absolute Absolution' is built. We launched her on the 9th of June. I was a little nervous during the lifting of the hull into the water, fearing several different disasters - would it break in two, would the track hold the nearly 2 ton weight, would anyone get hurt? Thankfully all went smoothly and Ed Kelly's launch track worked perfectly. The crew at the launch were impecable in carrying out their tasks. We had Mark of the Corpus Christi Coast Guard helping us on his day off and Bob and Pete who brought down a couple of extra 'come a longs'. Ed Kelly was here of course and June who has just returned from England and a visit with her family. June is excited to be back with the project as we move on to the next phase. 'duplicating the first hull'.

I figure the second hull will go a little faster as all the original problems have been worked out and there is a little more help now from some of the locals interested in our rafting project.

It is a great feeling to have this first step under our belt. To build on the water and launch from the building platform was an added bonus.

July 24, 2001, Port Isabel, TX

Capt. Betsy here (Ed's been too involved to get to his typewriter lately): Just to let you know that the Absolute Absolution construction is now proceeding forward in Port Isabel, having rejoined the main Neutrino raft fleet for the time being. Joint sharing of resources leads to more progress on all fronts. We are all happy to be working in closer proximity. Click here to read an article June wrote for the local newspaper, just before leaving Corpus Christi.

November 30th 2001, Port Isabel, Texas

We have launched the second hull and are now in the process of connecting the two hulls together. In the last few days we have constructed the second of four bulkheads between the two hulls and are poised to begin enclosing the aft third of the catamaran.

It feels so good to be moving into this time of year, where the heat isn’t so oppressive. It still amazes me that the construction crew (Tony, Dean, Jaclyn and June) was able to build this second hull in temperatures averaging 95 degrees and about as much humidity. Now, as we enter winter in Texas (which is more like a Canadian fall), building the raft has become a real treat for us.

This is a very exciting time as we are now down to the final stage in the building process of the Absolute Absolution. After this comes the testing of the vessel, which could be as soon as February or March of the New Year. It feels to me like I have built two four foot by fifty foot foam logs, and I am so looking forward to riding these foam logs with my crew to other countries. We intend to demonstrate and teach how living on the water can be achieved with recycled materials as we travel to different ports of call around the globe. We are still looking for more builders and crew for this next stage of the catamaran’s evolution. 

January 18, 2002, Port Isabel, Texas

Winter has arrived here in the sunny Rio Grande Valley, and with it the partially finished aft bridge deck. June’s cabin is built and she moved into it a week ago. I moved into my cabin in the starboard hull one month ago. Now we are starting on the midship cabins and then the forward ones. All the bulkhead walls are in place and it looks like three more months of our current pace will have most of the raft complete.

As the project progresses so does the interest of people who want to build and crew. It is really starting to look like something other than two 50 foot canoes with a lot of spikes sticking up in the air.

It feels great to be in this position with the project, considering that at this time last year I was thinking about starting construction of the building platform. The people, the materials and the will have come together to make the dream come true, and what a dream she’s turning out to be.

I look ahead down the road that I am going to walk and I see my fear, the hurdles, the obstacles, the threats that will lead me away from the route, the path I have chosen. I will overcome these things.

May 11, 2002, Port Isabel, Texas

[This log entry has been added by June Donaldson, as Ed is fully focused on the final stages of construction and the many last details to be attended to before getting underway.]

Summer has arrived early here in Port Isabel, and temperatures are now in the high 90's during the day. We are so glad of the breeze coming off the water to cool us down.

We are now in the final stages of external construction so that we can put ourselves in motion. There is an old sailor’s saying "If you wait ‘til your boat is finished, you never leave." Our intention is to go coastal in a southerly direction towards Panama, continuing to build as we go.

All six primary crew cabins are now complete. There will also be two smaller cabins, one in the bow of each hull, for short-term crew. The main cabin at the stern is now fully enclosed, and we have a working galley in the center main cabin. We have closed in nearly half of the bottom of the bridge deck.  Work continues - enclosing the port bow and completing the external structure of the bridge deck, as well as building the rudders and the helm.

Our crew list continues to expand – Anna Seeger has joined us from Vermont and has settled in very quickly. She has experience of coastal sailing on tall ships, but was particularly drawn to our project because of her desire to be part of a community. June’s son, Adam, will be arriving from London, England, at the end of this month – he has tired of the city life and is looking forward to learning how to sail and to visiting different countries. Brian Hockaday, who has assisted with construction and the launching of the second hull, is taking a year out from college and will be sailing with us as far as Panama. Poppa Neutrino has moved into his cabin. Tony Davis, who helped with construction all last summer and fall, is still interested in joining the crew, so we have a potential full complement of crew for the first leg of our journey around the world.

Dean Kennell, who assisted with the construction of the second hull, provided transport for materials and donated tools, a GPS and a solar panel to our project, has left Port Isabel for the cooler woodland areas of Austin, Texas. We are so grateful for his friendship and have promised to keep in touch.

August 12, 2002

On July 13th we motored away from Billy Kenon's dock in Port Isabel, where we had been moored while building the Absolute Absolution, and out into the channel on our maiden voyage. We wanted to conduct sea trials on our experimental vessel and had decided to head south along the coast of Mexico to test her in varying conditions. We were so elated to be on the move at last, and the cheers and waves from the fishermen on the shrimp boats lifted our spirits even more. see photos

The Absolute Absolution handled better than we could have possibly imagined. She tracked beautifully through the water and steering her was a breeze. We cleared the jetty at South Padre Island and entered the choppy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In spite of the wave action the Absolute Absolution was rock solid – not a creak or a groan of protest from her structure. We motored for a day and a night down the coast of Mexico to our intended destination – the port of Mesquital – arriving at dawn. The Mexican Marine Authorities led us to a safe anchoring location, and were amazed that it had only taken us a year and a half to build our 53' vessel.

The people of Mesquital were incredibly friendly, offering us rides to shore on their boats, which are ubiquitous, used not only for fishing in the Gulf and in the inland Laguna, but also as essential transportation since many of the local dwellings are on islands with no bridges to the mainland. We were also given lifts in their trucks to the local stores which were several miles from the port, and even inviting us into their homes for cold drinks and conversation. I don’t think they had ever seen anything like our vessel before, and were intrigued that we were not merely tourists.

While in Mesquital, we decided to step the first of our four masts. Ed designed and built a tabernacle and the crew assembled to raise the 33' main mast on the port hull. Betsy and Shawn pushed up on the lower part of the mast while Tony and Brian used a long pole to push against the upper section of the mast. Ed scrambled to attach the shrouds and stays in their positions and I was responsible for making sure the mast and the people involved in the lifting process didn’t get tangled up. Poppa was filming the whole operation, which included some anxious moments when the mast started swaying off course, but it was soon standing tall and proud. see photos of mast stepping

Having decided to return to Port Isabel under sail, we motored directly into the Gulf until we could no longer see land, then raised the mainsail and a jib to catch the wind. see photos The Absolute Absolution performed even better under sail, and it was so calming to experience moving with the wind, despite choppy seas of around 5-7'. All of the crew agreed that Ed had done a magnificent job with the design and construction of the Absolute Absolution and felt confident to tackle the various oceans of the world in her.

We are now preparing to step the second of the four masts and finish the exterior paint work before departure towards the Yucatan early next month.

- log entry by June Donaldson

Port Aransas, Texas, Oct. 2, 2002

We arrived here in Port Aransas yesterday, having sailed from Port Isabel for two and a half days in the Gulf of Mexico.  Now that we are equipped with two 33' main masts, one on each of the bow sections, we tested the catamaran's ability to sail to windward, using variations of main and jib sails.  On the voyage we saw 10 to 15 knot east winds trying to push us onto the lower Texas coastline, but the Absolute Absolution beat to windward the whole time, her crew guiding her competently into safe harbor. The sailing raft did all that she was asked to do and surprised us all.  We learned a great deal about how to sail the
vessel and what she needs for better performance, in particular the installing of mizzen masts at the stern for better windward sailing.
My hat goes off to the great crew I have on board.  Everyone is excited to get back out there and sail some more. This short trip only whetted their appetites.   Hurricane Lilly has brought us into harbor for a couple of days and then we will be off again on the 4th of October. Our planned route is to continue on across the Gulf to Florida, go through Florida at Lake Okeechobee, then proceed on to the Bahamas.  From there we will sail into the Caribbean and then down to the Panama Canal.  This will complete the first leg of our around-the-world adventure.
What a great feeling it is to finally be moving, to finally be taking the vessel somewhere, to be with people who are intense and excited about life.  I forgot how great it felt to be on the move - how great it feels to be shaking up the world in front of me.
One month ago, just prior to the completion of the Absolute Absolution, I remembered an event from 21 years ago, when I had an experience of absolute euphoria that lasted for three months.  This memory caused me to realize that I'd become 'stuck' somewhere else for the past 21 years, and that my desire is to become 'unstuck' - moving towards renewing my connection with joy and bliss.
Take care, Ed
Go after your three deepest desires because they won't be coming after you!

Morgan City, November 2, 2002

We spent a couple of loud weeks motoring east on the Intracoastal Waterway from Port Aransas to Galveston, Texas. We experienced the sometimes temperamental moods of our two unenthusiastic outboard engines (one would work, the other refused, then vice versa). After the first couple of days with constantly droning engines, the crew were equally unenthusiastic, preferring to be sailing. Motoring the Absolute Absolution with both outboards cooperating, we could make about 5 knots, or an easy 65 mile day. She handled well under motor power and proved herself in a severe thunderstorm that forced all barge traffic on the ICW to stop pushing their loads and pull them into the bank. The wind howled, drowning out the din of engines, whipping the Intracoastal Waterway into a tumult of racing waves. The storm was a short-lived event and gave us all great confidence in the raft’s manoeuvrability under extreme conditions in tight quarters.

We finally arrived in Galveston with the decision to wait for the wind to come in our favour so we could continue our voyage to Florida under sail.

On the morning of October 15 we motored out to the Galveston jetties and set sail for Florida on a fresh north wind. Running downwind for twenty-four hours put 83.2 miles behind us and a new record distance for a Neutrino raft in 24 hours. During the night one of the rudders sheared off and disappeared into the night astern of us. Tony discovered the rudder was missing and, like myself, couldn’t believe it was gone. We still had one, though, and the vessel was steering well - the beauty of a catamaran.

October 17 saw us 150 miles off shore and clear of the oil rigs that form an obstacle course between the mainland and the deep water to the south. On the evening of this day we tacked back to the northeast under full sail, with our new mizzen sail being used for the first time. The mizzen’s effect was felt right away as the vessel pointed higher and higher into the wind. I proudly settled for a course that left us sailing 55 degrees off the wind and good speed under our hulls. I was overjoyed.

With the seas building to 5 to 7 feet and a 15-20 knot wind, Absolute Absolution raced along through the night, edging towards the Mississippi Delta. The following morning left me not quite so happy about my engineering skills. Tony shouted out from the aft deck while I was eating breakfast, "The other rudder’s broken off!" I arrived a second later, staring dumfounded at the blue form of the second rudder bobbing up and down and falling astern at 4 knots. There was nothing to be done; we were rudderless, 110 miles offshore.

I immediately asked Brian, who was at the helm, for the course that the ship was now on and to my astonishment she was holding the same bearing. Everyone was a little shocked at the current state of affairs, though Brian, who had recently celebrated his 18th birthday aboard, took it the hardest. He felt that it was somehow his fault that the rudder had broken off. I assured him that it was an engineering flaw and the blame for our current predicament was solely on my rudder design. We had a crew meeting at which I expressed my desire to sail on towards Florida using the sails to steer the vessel. We had lots of sea room and, as we would have to sail up close to shore before using the motors, it may as well be Florida. We needed a southerly wind, though to be able to sail east, otherwise we would be making landfall in Morgan City on our current course.

Since the first rudder fell off I’d been working on a design for a make shift rudder. This process was accelerated when the second rudder drifted away. With all hands helping out we built a rudder that would be mounted amid ships off the stern. Due to the turbulence and wave action between the hulls the makeshift rudder could not be hung until we sailed into calmer water. The first night, rudderless, each of the crew on their watch played a game of ‘dodge the oil rig’ as we sailed back through the hornet's nest of production platforms, derricks, survey vessels, seismic vessels and drilling platforms between us and Morgan City. The horizon all round was twinkling from the activity of the petroleum industry. Twice during the night we had to make a sail adjustment to avoid hitting a rig. The adjustments were subtle - drop the mizzen for 10 degrees downwind; raise a jib for another 10 or 15 degrees. Average speed during the night was 4.5 knots.

The crew on the morning of the 19th was in an enthusiastic mood, unfazed by the state of things. They had so competently handled the steering of our crippled vessel. I still felt disappointed in my rudder engineering, but with it there now came a feeling of pleasure that, even without rudders, the raft was going where I wanted it to go.

However, the wind remained out of the east and, during the afternoon, we passed the point at which I wanted to tack if we were going to clear the Mississippi Delta. Our course would now take us into Morgan City. That evening we dropped anchor just off the channel buoys that lead to the Atchafalaya River. Without rudders we had set another new Neutrino record for a 24 hour run - 85.3 miles!

On the morning of the 20th we mounted the plywood rudder and fired up one of our engines. We spent the rest of the day motoring in the channel and then up the Atchafalaya River to Morgan City, arriving safely a couple of hours after sunset.

What a trip! What a crew! What a raft!

Take care, Ed

In the pursuit of a dream there are many disappointments. To see beyond the disappointment may reveal that you are yet a step closer to what you set out to achieve.

Jan. 6, 2003, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We arrived in the Caribbean in December having sailed across the Gulf of Mexico!

Brian Hockaday left the raft at Morgan City, Louisiana to continue his adventures in the USA and then on to Chile. We wish him safe voyage and good travels. His cabin was immediately occupied by a new crew member, Corrie Cole, a native of Morgan City, who felt our project to be an exciting possibility at this moment in her life. Also joining us (myself, June, Shawn and Tony) for our sail across the Gulf was Poppa Neutrino and an artist from New York, Lech Bider.

With the rudders replaced with a better design, we were ready to tackle the Gulf of Mexico again. It was necessary to leave during one of the many cold fronts coming down from the north. This would give us good driving winds to get out past the oil rigs off the southern coast of Louisiana. We left Houma, Louisiana, on the tail of a gale with a crew of seven.

After 2 days sailing, we were well clear of the rigs and found the vessel to be riding very nicely with average speeds of 4.5 knots over the 2 day period. Our destination was Isla Mujeres on the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Yucatan Straits. We were becalmed for a couple of days, but then another cold front sped our voyage along. We made our first landfall in Rio Lagartos, staying there one night and then leaving for Isla Mujeres. It was a terrific sail, we learned so much about the vessel and her abilities. The crew matured rapidly in the knowledge of sailing and working together.

The long awaited sailing has really given new life to the project. It’s exciting to be on the water again, and having reached the clear Caribbean waters really makes all we have done to this point worthwhile. Here in Isla Mujeres we will take a long needed break to enjoy our success, then do some sail repairs, get some charts, put on provisions and head to Panama via the south coast of Cuba. Being in this part of Mexico is so refreshing and we feel really up for the next leg of our journey.

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