Hangin’ Out, Conceptually, with the Popular Mechanics Guys
OK, right off the top, here, I’m going to admit that this design study was instigated originally after looking at an article on the Jim Michalak design, the Harmonica. The more I studied the photos in the story, the more it flashed on me that this boat would look very similar to a typical pickup truck, cab-over camper if it were flipped upside down.
Then, in one of those absolutely weird, Popular Mechanics, moments we all get after too many years in the garage twiddling with stuff, it hit me. The Harmonica design of Jim’s could actually serve as a jumping-off point to draw-up a really utilitarian camper/boat that a retiree could use all over the country while he lived in the camper as his home on wheels. I’m kinda poking my finger in the eye of the guys at Pop Mechanics because all my life they constantly ran all these wild and crazy inventions that really stirred my imagination in a big way. The Flippin’ Boat is right up their alley.
I’m not so sure the little woman in this retiree’s life would actually go for having a 1960’s inspired, Tomorrowland boat on their camper. Nor was I convinced that there wouldn’t be hell to pay for even suggesting the potential over Mac and Cheese with weenies. But, the idea looked kinda fun to me anyway, so I started fooling with a few possible lines for the boat that I hoped would conquer Route 66 one day.
The first thing would be to settle on a hull shape that would work well in a lot of conditions and could carry the load of a superstructure that would emerge from the camper box that goes in the bed of a truck. I wanted a cab-over design so that the hull could be fairly long when compared to the height of the camper form.
I settled on the moderate vee hull without a spray chine to keep things simple to build. I like the way moderate vee handle in a lot of widely varied conditions without pounding when things get rough. The moderate depth of the vee means that this boat can be taken into reasonably shallow water without problems. That will make it easier to anchor, take stuff ashore while wading and they are pretty easy to build. The form also presents a surprisingly good aerodynamic shape to the wind at highway speeds.
Keep in mind that this boat has to work upside down and right side up, or it becomes a fairly stupid exercise in a real hurry. A crappy looking boat would never appeal to the guys at Popular Mechanics, even if it did work decently.
I wanted windows so the cabin area would be airy inside. This is a pretty boxy shape, so it can’t look like a shed that has been plunked down on the hull.
What about the utility of the design? You can see that the Flippin’ Boat has a nice front porch area so that you can fish, or sit in the afternoon’s fading sunlight with a cold one in hand or set-up BBQ. There’s another porch on the stern end of the hull for fuel and engine business, as well as a space for letting your flatulent uncle have a little privacy.
The main cabin is fashioned to follow the form as provided by the bed of the truck. In this case, it works out that there is a wonderful, stacked sensation, of a multi-level house with lots of big bright windows to let in the light and the wonderful views of the lake or river on which the boat might be anchored.
I gave all the boxy corners a radius turn to soften the look of the cabin once launched. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to a basically boxy form that fits in the bed of a pickup for stability. This change made a world of difference and really improved the overall looks of the design.
One of the big concerns for me was how to make furniture for the camper that would also work for the boat. Lots of stuff is sort of no-brainer like the boat flips and the bed becomes… the couch/bed when you put the cushion on the other side of the same structure. But what about tables and cabinets and stuff like that? I don’t now too many folks who would want their dish cabinet turned upside down and find it sitting near the floor of their boat.
I designed all the simple, wall mounted fixtures so that they were on swivels. As the camper is turned over to become a boat, the fixtures rotate around to their normal, right side up position and none of the interior contents are disturbed. Of course, this means that the placement has to make sense for both scenarios, but it turns out to be not such a big problem once I took a look at how it needed to work.
One other little item that deserves mention. There is a raised, cockpit-style coaming ring around the front porch area. This serves two purposes. As a camper, this coaming provides a more aerodynamic seal against the cab roof. I know it matters only a little in the grand scheme of things with such a big hulking structure sitting up there over the truck, but I like that the idea was addressed in the design. Second, in boat mode, the ring helps to deflect spray away from the front door of the house and the front porch, aiding in overall comfort while underway.
So, the big question is, “How do you get this Bad Dude flipped over and in the water?” That’s sort of important isn’t it? While I was goofing around trying to get my brain wrapped around the practical uses of pulleys, cables whiz-bang gadgets, etc. I stumbled upon a Swiss designed lift system that is being manufactured in Iowa by Stellar Industries that will lift fairly heavy items right out of a truck bed and deposit them on the ground in their intact, right-side-up orientation. They even show the retrieval of a jetski from a launching ramp as an example of the usefulness of their device. You can checkout their website here:http://www.xtralift.com/
When I saw that product, it dawned on me that I could then just roll the camper over with a couple of big curved wheel shapes mounted to the back end of the camper and inserted into preformed pockets to hold them fast. The hydraulic system already in the truck bed for the lift system would now serve a second duty. I’d only have to install a telescoping ram to lift the bow of the boat and at some point, gravity would do the rest, putting the boat on its hull in the water.
After a week on the water, retrieval of the boat to camper status is accomplished by means of a cable taken off a back bumper winch. The transom rotation wheels are installed once again. A Gin Pole is mounted to the top of the cabin and the cable goes up and over the Gin Pole to the bow. Reel in the cable and the bow lifts as if you were stepping a mast on a sailboat. Once near vertical, the telescoping ram re-attaches and the boat is gently returned to earth, resting on the lifting mechanism as a camper.
Of course there are all sorts of little maneuvers to make sure you don’t screw something up, such as removal of the Gin Pole before sitting the boat back in its lifting cradle; stuff like that which is too much written material for this article, but you get the idea.
The outboard is stored in the camper when not on the boat and the fuel is stashed under the camper in the cavity near the wheel wells in the truck bed. Sure, there’s lot’s of detail stuff to be worked out, but this is not a manufacturing description. It’s only a design study to examine feasibility.
Right now, the whole thing looks more than feasible to me and could progress to the next stage with a financing partner who had a bent for stuff like this. I’ve got the boat part of it covered and I’m pretty happy with the way the boat balances in the water, the stability of the hull form and its overall usefulness in a wide range of water conditions. No, it’s not meant to get up on a plane with the small outboard that will be easily moved around by the owner, but it will provide miles of comfortable cruising and get terrific fuel mileage as a payback for not being the fastest boat on the water.
This boat was designed to fit on any extracab/clubcab equipped, full-sized pickup with a long box. The truck should have a pretty decent engine due to seriously increased wind resistance and the battery and technical add-ons that one would suspect for a full-tilt trailering package. Stuff like tranny coolers, bigger brakes, ¾ ton minimum load capacity axle, oil coolers, bigger radiator, etc.
Yeah, the idea is a bit on the gimmicky side of things. But, so what. I’ve enjoyed the process of working out all the dual application issues (and there are a lot of them) as well as coming up with a nice aesthetically pleasing design that could actually work in the real world if someone cared to build it.
One final note: The name Flippin’ Boat should be pretty obvious as to how that came about. There is, however, one extra little sidebar piece of information to add a bit more to the business of the name selection. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. A lot of folks in this community find it offensive to swear, so most of the conventional swear words that one would hear occasionally have been supplanted with euphemistic, non-swear words. Hell has become Heck and you probably guess what the equivalent for Flippin’ would be. I’m not of the predominant faith, but this is just my way of tipping the cap to the local culture in a fun manner. No offense intended to anyone.