What job title graces your business card? Wouldn’t it be neat if your official profession was “Explorer”? That’s precisely how Wave Vidmar describes his occupation (specifically, he’s the explorer-in-residence at the National Science Center) and his next expedition will find him sailing solo across the Atlantic Ocean in a composite boat.
“All my previous boats were of marine plywood, but I didn’t think they were capable or strong enough for such a difficult route,” said Vidmar. “I started doing research and found that a sandwich construction was the best way to go to handle some of the most violent weather on one of the most dangerous routes.” The 24-foot boat features a carbon fiber exterior with an inner skin of Kevlar.
Vidmar didn’t have a lot of composites experience (he’s done some fiberglass work) but he loves working with carbon fiber. “It’s an amazing material, I enjoy it immensely,” he said. “I love how you can get so much strength from such an interesting material. It can easily be cut with a knife or scissors, it can be sanded and shaped, and it has an incredible strength-to-weight ratio.”
Vidmar cited expense and availability of the materials as the major obstacles in moving the project forward, but he was able to secure sponsorships and materials from such companies as Rohacell, Evonik Degussa, I-Core, BGF, AGY, and DuPont. Vidmar says it eventually became easier to convince the sponsors to come on board. “I make it a valuable proposition for them. It’s a strong statement to build an ocean rowboat and challenge a voracious ocean. The companies know it’s a huge testament to the quality of their product and what it can do.”
But the excursion is not just about adrenaline. Vidmar says his main priorities are research and education. “The boat is equipped with a variety of sensors and monitors. We’re doing extensive bio-physical monitoring, as well as mammal research and tagging.” As far as education, Vidmar reaches 47,000 schools around the world promoting the STEM initiatives to students and encourages them to expand their knowledge in the four areas of the program (science, technology, education, and math). “Kids learn that you can be inspired to do something, but it’s going to take those different areas to accomplish it.”
Another educational component is a web feed that allows visitors to observe the boatbuilding process. “The National Science Center wanted to show others the process of boat building. It’s more of an inspirational item than anything, in that people can follow along and see that someone can build something from nothing and row it across the ocean.”