When a mysterious crate arrives at a major builder’s R&D department, a mystery unfolds.
Before I founded my yacht design firm, I was the design engineer at a production boatbuilder. The company produced top-shelf fiberglass yachts at a rate of 50 to 60 a year. With hundreds of people employed at the multi-acre facility, no two days were alike.
But each morning after a stop in my office, I’d begin my rounds in the tooling department, a kind of “skunk works” where the new models were developed. This is the part of the facility you would not be allowed to see if you were visiting on a tour.
The tooling department building measured 100 feet by 60 feet, and it was hidden behind a locked door and a 20-foot-tall industrial garage door. Eight skilled craftsmen worked full time there, forming the future of the company with their own hands right down to the non-skid patterns on the decks of the plugs, which would be used to make molds for the new models.
One morning I sauntered over to find the garage door wide open, our latest deck design in plain sight of every guest on that day’s factory tour. A big wooden crate was sitting right in the middle of the door opening, like a prima donna demanding the spotlight.
By the time I arrived, the guys in tooling had already been joking about what might be in the crate. None of those jokes can be repeated here.
The owner of the company was my only boss, and when he was away I had dictatorial control over the tooling department. While this incentivized them to prank me as often as possible, they all looked to me before touching the crate.
“Let’s open it,” I commanded. “Get me a crowbar.”
Like the old man in A Christmas Story, I wedged the pry bar into a crack in the cheap wood. While it didn’t say “FRAGILE” in spray-painted stencil letters, the sense of drama was palpable. Seven of the eight were standing around, waiting for me to break something. Once I’d popped the side open, they all began muscling the crate asunder until we were ankle deep in shredded paper. It could be anything!
It took only moments to discover the horrifying truth. I saw the red and green nav lights first, hanging from the twisted stainless steel bow rail. The varnish on the bow pulpit’s teak overlay was still fresh, and the stout anchor roller was there. Aft of that was a little over 5 feet of ... boat. A tip of bow, two cleats and ... myGodwhatthehellhappenedhere? The smoothly finished hull and foredeck ended in a shocking array of torn woven roving fiberglass, stretching 2 or 3 feet further aft. The boat had been decapitated!
We all stood stunned, as though we’d each woken up to find a horse head in our beds. “Where are the other 43 feet?” we wondered. “Why is this here?”
The guys in the tooling department all looked at me, as though I had any clue. I knew better than to ask the warranty department; this was above their pay grade. Wordlessly, I turned and headed for the second floor office of the VP of Sales. That guy had been with the company for 23 years and had to know something.
“You got the bow?” he asked, reading the quizzical look on my face.
“One of our customers was cruising off Alaska and had a medical emergency. The couple was picked up by a nearby ship and received treatment. The ship’s crew towed the yacht overnight with several hundred feet of steel cable.
“Morning came and the owner went on deck to find 5 feet of bow and pulpit skipping atop the ship’s wake in the distance. His yacht had been run over by another vessel in the middle of the night!”
Once ashore, the owner emailed our VP of Sales to inform him of the arriving package, and to place an order for a new boat just like the old one. We kept that decapitated bow in the tooling department and nicknamed it The Major Award