Building The Ship

Design and Construction 1973-74

Institute of Ecotechnics was established in the early ’70’s on Synergia Ranch, outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Establishing projects in biomes around the world, Ecotechnics noted the importance of stewardship of the sea.

With no previous experience in ship-building, we researched ship design, engineering, construction, logistics, celestial navigation and sailing training, identifying experts to help fill gaps in knowledge. he construction of a sea-going vessel was an enticingly different venture, and rapid progress was made in the specification and design.

The original vision of a sea-going vessel designed to study the ocean biome was initiated by John Allen, one of the Institute’s Directors. He articulated an early vision of the ship:

“a ship, probably a junk, but perhaps also a Baltic Trader-type vessel, which would enable fourteen or so people to live for long-term periods on the sea, adventuring along its coasts, visiting its many ports and exploring the great estuaries, rivers, reefs and islands. It would contain space for a scientific laboratory, a theatre, a library for research and writing and a work-shop; be capable of repairing itself, be of relatively shallow draught, fitting it for reef and river work, be primarily for sailing, but with an auxilliary engine for safety, and have a small territory for each crew-member, all of approximately equal size. The Command Room would have a sheltered helm, contain maps of the world ocean together with all essential equipment such as radio, depth-sounder, charts, etc., and provide sufficient space for full crew meetings when desirable. Its name would be Heraclitus, after the philosopher of the cosmic ocean of change and of change itself ever-changing.”

Ferrocement was chosen as a low-cost, labor-intensive, strong material.

Ecotechnics members formed a team doing design, engineering, construction, logistics and sailing education. John Allen, Freddy Dempster and Phil Hawes worked out the design and engineering; Margaret Augustine ran the construction site; Marie Harding kept an eye on finance, Kathelin Gray did logistics. Dempster, Augustine, Allen, Harding, Gregg Dugan, Gray, Robert Rio Hahn, Mary Evans and Warren LaForme were amongst the key people in this effort.


Scaffold Frame

The group moved into a large three-storey redwood house in Berkeley, provided by Dempster’s mother. Theatre of All Possibilities’ bus transported the crew to the Fifth Avenue Marina in Oakland, where they squatted and built the ship, near where Jack London built his ship, the Snark.

To raise money and attract volunteers, the Ecotechnics team opened a café – The Junkman’s Palace –on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Alcatraz. It became a popular local eatery whose profits supplied most of the project’s operating costs.

Theatre of All Possibilities’ ensemble were part of the construction crew, and performed locally during the construction.

Work began with locating condemned houses to salvage wood and nails for ship construction scaffolding. The keel was laid in August 1974. Next came a frame of half-inch steel rebar, supporting a dozen sheets of wire netting to reinforce the cement which was sprayed into the net and troweled smooth. To maximise strength, the cement was kept wet and cured for a full month. On February 24, 1975 the ship, named after the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (who said ‘change is the only constant’, and ‘you never step in the same river twice) was launched.

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