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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The End of Amphibear Journey

We have reached some of the most beautiful lakes in the world, which are situated near the Argentina-Chile border. We prepared the car to be launched into water. Here we had the opportunity to cross the border by travelling from one lake to another, as it can be done only with an amphibious car. This is the southernmost place where we planned to go and one of the highlights of the trip. I decided to check my emails once more before launching onto the water. Perhaps the Canadian pontoon manufacturer has informed us of the precise schedule of the production of pontoons.
I had indeed received an email. The email stated that they agree to manufacture pontoons only if I submit a type approval of a modified and strengthened version of the pontoon suitable for open water use. In actuality, their pontoons are meant only to be used close to the shore. Granting such an approval is impossible keeping in mind the content, the financial side and the schedule. The pontoon manufacturer is probably aware of this too. From their lengthy letter it can be deduced that they do not dare to produce and purvey the pontoons as they fear the potential liability. Obviously, I have the opposite opinion - they would be liable for leaving me stranded with broken pontoons. In order to avoid remaining too general in the eyes of supporters and followers, here are some extracts from our correspondence (names have been excluded).
Before the trip I asked the manufacturer if my pontoons would hold out, 16/10/2013:
As aluminium welding does not tolerate vibration, or repeated bending forces, some engineers have proposed it can crack as a result of repeated wave forces (develop micro cracks that later lead to a structural break in a pontoon). But practise is usually a better criteria – have you ever had these kind of issues over the years, that welding between pontoon chambers will crack eventually as the result of lengthy use of a boat?
I had previously approached them with an overview of the journey and an application for sponsorship, so they knew what was under discussion. The manufacturer's answer to my question: 16/10/2013:
In 14 years of supplying our pontoons we have never had a warranty claim on any of our pontoons and I have never heard of any structural cracks of the welds in the baffles. 
Vibration is the big enemy of aluminium welds and most of this type of damage occurs when transporting / trailering the boat or lifting the boat with a fork lift and then having it drop. For your application, I am very confident that the welded baffles will not be an issue. 
We started the specification and production planning of pontoons in the beginning of January. At first, everything went smoothly, but now we are suddenly presented with new information and a new viewpoint. Extract from an email, 15/02/2014:
Round aluminium pontoons are not meant for open water use and are only meant for use within one nautical mile from shore in open water. I know and understand that vessels that are privately owned for personal use do get used in open water conditions but it should be determined if your vessel is for private or commercial use. It might be determined it is for Commercial use. 
For a Commercial application like your application, the vessel gets evaluated under a different ISO standard.
The stricter operating conditions for commercial vessels operating in open water have to meet such restrictions as.....
~ being able to operate safely in wave heights up to 2m
~ being able to withstand wind speeds up to 33 knots for example and there are also limitations on class of voyage
Round pontoons do not meet these conditions. 
An extract from another email, 16/02/2014:
My main fear is liability against (pontoon producer name) and I understand very well what you are attempting to achieve and I respect your decision. It has nothing to do about me blaming anyone, or any project management decisions past or present and it is everything to do with moving forward safely. 
That is also another type of fear and that is fear of knowing beforehand that our round pontoons are going to be used for a Commercial application where our present round pontoons do not meet the ISO standards. You or I don't need any help from a Naval Architect or Marine Engineer to tell us that is not a good idea with regards to protecting (producer name) from liability.
Additionally, today's correspondence conveyed clearly that the experts who helped me are not considered competent and, for safety reasons, they are not willing to manufacture the pontoons on the basis of the specifications, since I have not submitted new drawings that would meet the requirements. There is no point in referencing from that email, it does not add anything here.
All in all, the manufacturer is afraid of responsibility and is not willing to purvey pontoons, unless a marine engineer has submitted drawings and thereby taken the responsibility upon themselves. Unfortunately, in Europe such type approval is the responsibility of the manufacturer and it cannot be delegated to someone else. Thus, I do not know of a way to provide the necessary documents, even though I have received qualified help when it comes to the strength calculations of the new pontoons.
It is not hard to guess how I feel when announcing that this journey will be not completed. There is a possibility that we will find an alternative manufacturer, who can make the pontoons by focusing on the content instead of the juridical aspect. We need them in Peru by the end of March. This means that there is very little time. This also means that it is unlikely to find a suitable manufacturer in the Northern hemisphere. However, I do not even know who to ask in the Southern hemisphere. Over here, the end of March might mean the end of April in some cases, and this would not work.
We decided not to go to the most beautiful lakes of the world. Although, this is why we left the old pontoons attached. But if some chance of manufacturing remains, we must have access to email, even though there might not even be any mobile reception in the mountains and on the lakes near the border. Furthermore, Peter has to be taken to Cusco in ten days for his flight, and it is necessary to start thinking of ways to somehow get Amphibear back to Estonia. And to be honest, this kind of information overshadows the beauty of these lakes.
Amphibear travelled over three continents and crossed the Atlantic from St. Louis to Praia without a hitch. It is probably the first amphibian built on a base of a conventional car to accomplish this. That is an achievement in itself, although, it makes up only a fraction of the initial plan.
This does not bring the blogging to an end as there are a couple of posts about South America waiting for their turn (i.e. availability of time and Internet access). Additionally, it is quite tricky to transport Amphibear home without the cost of an arm and a leg. Ironically, the cost of shipping Amphibear to Estonia is in the same price range as the cost of new pontoons.

I want to thank all the followers, supporters and sponsors! Without you this journey would have found its untimely ending a long time ago as it has not been easy. We have received a warm welcome in all parts of the world that we travelled through and in many cases the help received has been invaluable. Despite this, I do not believe that I will be able to embark on a similar journey, even if it would be possible to attach world class pontoons. Unless a miracle happens, this journey will be permanently halted.

Translated by Luisa Translation Agency

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1 comment:

  1. Pontoon boats are often cheaper, and there are two main reasons for this: Mostly alum construction. alum hulls are easier to mass produce, especially when its two pontoons and a sub floor / frame instead of one solid fully welded alum hull or a hand molded one at a time fiberglass hull. Learn more: boatingmagz .


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