A maritime marvel literally unfolded before a crowd at Lone Lake this week.
Gathering at the public boat launch Wednesday afternoon, about 50 people watched as Freeland boatwright Brad Rice revealed his latest creation: a 52-foot powerboat that folds up to fit into a 20-foot shipping container. Built to ply the canals of Europe, the one-of-kind but uncompleted vessel was successfully soft-launched into the lake and made several zooming passes before the group of obviously impressed onlookers.
“It’s a great piece of work,” said Frank Simpson, shaking his head in wonder. “It’s got beautiful lines.”
“A classic case of thinking outside the box,” echoed Derek Pritchard, former commodore for the South Whidbey Yacht Club.
Rice, the owner of The Boatwright located on East Harbor Road, is a master boat builder who specializes in custom wooden vessels. The craft was built for Ballard resident Bob Kertell, who is moving to Amsterdam. Its size and shape was something of a necessity, both for functionality on a canal but also the trip there.
“This is as about as much boat as you can get into a 20-foot shipping container,” said Kertell during Wednesday’s launch.
The vessel folds into a unrecognizable white cube with the aid of two wooden masts powered by an electric winch. The stern is lifted up and rests on top of the cabin, and the bow — made of two pieces — splits in half and swings back flush with the sides. Dubbed the “Frog Prince,” details of its construction can be found on Kertell’s online blog at http://buildingfrogprince.blogspot.com
The boat is unfinished; major construction is done but it still needs a few more details, such as windows, and final outfitting. Once complete, it will be spartan but still have many of the comforts of home, including a composting toilet, galley, sleeping space for three adults, and enough room on the back deck for a small army of passengers.
Despite its length, which may well have made it the largest boat to ever hit Lone Lake, the entire vessel weighs in at just 3,000 pounds and draws only three inches of water. It’s powered by two 9.9 horsepower outboard motors, which Kertell said was a bit of overkill given the four-knot speed limit of Europe’s canals. It didn’t stop him and Rice from enjoying themselves as they pushed the boat to an impressive clip during the demonstration — their smiles could be seen from shore.
“It went up to 12 mph,” Rice said. “It was like, ‘Oh this works.’ ”
Rice said the project was jointly designed with Kertell, and much of it they had to make up as they went. He said he was “amazed it did everything we wanted it to do” and was very pleased with the final product. Not only did it perform, and unfold, the way they’d planned but it looks sharp too.
“It does look cool,” Rice said.
An earlier version of this story inaccurately said The Boatwright was located off a different road.