Mechanical engineer Christian Stark is bringing back the past with the tools of the future.

Stark, a technology consultant based in Bellingham, Washington, is fully immersed in creating a precise 3D model of the historic Schooner Zodiac, a 160-foot vessel that famously competed in the King’s Cup transatlantic race in 1928. Built in 1924 in Maine for the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson family, the Zodiac was sold during the Great Depression to the San Francisco Bar Pilots, which guides large ships along the rough California coast.

After patrolling the waters around the Golden Gate Bridge for four decades, the vessel was retired in 1972 and has been used for recreational and educational cruises ever since. Stark, a lifelong sailing buff, took one of those cruises with his daughters and was immediately hooked. He started volunteering as a crew member and soon learned that the historical preservationists had a big problem: The original construction drawings for the Zodiac had been destroyed in a fire long ago.

Using Onshape, Stark stepped up and began to recreate those plans. “With my iPad, I can take measurements and edit the 3D model as I crawl around the boat,” he says, referring to the Onshape mobile app. “It’s amazing what you can do. There isn’t any other CAD system that lets you do this.”

Dreaming of Tall Ships 

As a kid, Stark recalls always dreaming about sailing on tall ships. Growing up in Germany, he was fascinated by a famous Navy tall ship called the Gorch Fock. Walking on the Schooner Zodiac summoned up those same feelings.

“If you go on a modern sailboat, they have winches and electric this and electric that… and power this and power that. When you step on the Zodiac, you don’t have any of that stuff,” he notes. “Everything you do on the boat is manpowered. It takes 20 people just to raise the main sail on this boat. Just the canvas weighs about 800 pounds and the boom is like an entire tree. It’s always a pretty exciting thing whenever the main sail goes up.”

Engineer Christian Stark went from Schooner Zodiac passenger to volunteer crew member “in a blink of an eye.”

Coinciding with his offer to create the blueprints, Stark met a passenger who serendipitously happened to be a 3D scanning engineer. While the Zodiac was in dry dock, the men scanned every visible surface on the boat, producing 2,500 coordinate points for every square inch. Stark used software that translated their scanning data into a surface model – and then imported it into Onshape. All of the boat’s “invisible parts,” such as the frames, have been modeled in Onshape.

The historic Schooner Zodiac now serves as a private charter vessel to fund its maintenance and educational mission. High school students are taught how to navigate with charts and compass.

“Onshape is Easy to Learn" 

The Schooner Zodiac needs precise line drawings in order to upgrade its current Coast Guard certification for carrying passengers. When new top sails are added to the vessel – for additional speed and the ability to travel in light winds – the Coast Guard will need the plans to conduct a stability analysis.

Stark credits Onshape’s online training videos for enabling him to catch up to speed so quickly.

“The video library is just huge,” he says. “You can pick up Onshape without doing anything except watching the videos and then just start doing it. I even got my 17-year-old daughter excited about it. She’s designing jewelry, not boats.”

“I think Onshape is going to massively broaden the CAD market,” he adds. “A lot more people will have the ability to CAD now.”

In the belly of the boat, Onshape’s full mobile functionality is invaluable. Stark is using his iPad to edit 3D CAD models on location.

“My first thought was, ‘Wow, this runs in a browser. This is incredible. I don’t have to have super-beefy hardware to be able to run CAD. I have a fairly beefed-up machine just for my other software and even then, it’s just chugging along,” Stark says. “Not having to worry about installing software is huge!”

Wanted: Student Collaborators 

So far, Stark’s CADding progress has been limited by his time constraints (i.e. full-time job.) He’s been working mostly alone, but is hoping to recruit a local engineering school to tackle the rest of the job with him.

“I’d love to get a class out on the boat, take them sailing and then get them involved in further detailing the model that I have. Right now I have the frame, but as you might imagine, there are a gazillion other things we need to detail,” he says. “There’s the propulsion system, the electrical system, heating, plumbing, etc. – all of them ultimately need to find their way into this model. I can do a bunch of it, but I just can’t do it all.”

As for building his own tall ship, that will have to wait, too.

“I’ve actually been toying with this idea for a while. I wouldn’t build it at full scale (160 feet), but I’d like to build a 70-foot one. I would start today, but it’s a question of having a couple of million dollars laying around,” Stark says. “Unfortunately, building a boat like this is not cheap.”

(You can follow Christian Stark’s progress on the Schooner Zodiac at his Scanning/Designing/Printing blog.)