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Designing the Future

One New York college is creating tomorrow’s boatbuilders.


Four college students designed this battlewagon.

So how do you design a 64-foot convertible sportfisherman that makes 50-plus mph, sports eye-catching lines, and runs in a seaway? Just hire four bright college students. Barely out of their teens, a quartet of up-and-coming naval architects from Glen Cove, New York’s Webb Institute did just that.

The designers included New Jersey-native Brad Gelles; St. Thomas, USVI import Josh Rothman; Ardmore, Oklahoma’s Tom Tindale; and West Palm Beach, Florida’s Dusty Rybovich. Yes, Dusty is from that Rybovich family; his dad is custom boatbuilder Michael Rybovich.

Designing a battlewagon was part of a school project for which the students worked as teams to create anything from a submarine to a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. “Why did you pick a sportfisherman?” I asked during a phone interview with this talented team. “It’s a lot more fun than designing container ships,” Gelles chuckled. I guess there’s no argument there.

While this crew had what some may consider a ringer in Rybovich—who grew up around his dad’s custom sportfisherman boatbuilding business—Rothman assured me that this was truly a team effort. Everyone came up with their own preliminary design with the goal of meeting required criteria that had been set by the school’s dean, Roger Compton.

In addition to an impressive wide-open-throttle speed, the boat had to have a LOA of between 60 and 65 feet and a maximum draft of 5'0", be able to transit from Key West, Florida, to Cozumel, Mexico, nonstop; have three staterooms, one being a full-beam master, and feature an effective, seakindly hull form. This fab four of the drafting table also had to specify the engines, allocate the vessel’s weights and balances, and consider all those other fun spreadsheet- and calculating-oriented tasks that are part of creating a boat from a blank piece of paper.

As the team came at me rapid-fire over the phone discussing the myriad variables they had to contend with, my brain was in full-blown overload. However, I could also hear in the group’s voices that each of the members was excited and happy to have tackled this challenge.

And of course they should be—not just anyone can make the grade at Webb. This tuition-free institution accepts only 26 freshmen per year, has a total student body of fewer than 100, and offers only one degree, a double major of naval architecture and marine engineering. And when most every other college undergrad is on spring break or summer hiatus, these students are working in the industry or venturing out to sea. Needless to say, only the best, brightest, and most-dedicated make it at Webb.

The teams competing in this contest also enlisted top-notch mentors in the naval architecture field to help guide them through this exercise. This group’s advisors read like a who’s who of boatbuilding and included Lou Codega, Robert Ullberg, Michael Rybovich, and others.

These four students spent several months completing the project, which also included calculating prop specs, determining longitudinal and vertical centers of gravity, and, of course, adding up the price tag for their 64-footer, which Rothman confidently says is a great value at an estimated $4.5 million. Buyers anyone?

The team finished its battlewagon’s design, which the members deemed a blend of “modern and traditional” lines and shapes, and presented her to a group of industry experts who gave her solid reviews for both the design’s form and function.

The successes achieved and lessons learned at Webb during this project have helped launch this foursome into their design careers, which are remarkably varied. Gelles is going to work for Donald Blount and Associates. (Who knows, you may see us testing one of his designs soon.) Tindale is planning to attend a graduate yacht-design program overseas. Rothman is headed into the Navy to enter the nuclear power program (he’s into submarines). And Rybovich may venture down to Chile to teach before going full bore into the marine business.

Whatever paths these naval architects choose, the only design boundaries they seem to have are those imposed by their imaginations. And as this project has demonstrated, this quartet’s creativity appears limitless.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.