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Geodesic Airolite Boat Notes
About Platt Monfort - boat designer and inventor
 
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A short autobiography by the inventor of Geodesic Airolite Boats, and so much more.

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Written upon request by Platt Monfort, September 2002

 
 

The interest in boating was well planted in my veins when I was 5 years old and went for an exciting sail with my 85-year-old grandfather. It was the first sail of the season and probably his last. The boat had been laid up for some time and he worked on it all summer, patching sails and tightening the hull. This accounted for the late season start that produced a blustery fall day with solid crisp air. I was too young to remember much of the details but it was exciting and I loved it.

Platt's first self-designed lightweight!

The next seafaring adventure was to build a kayak probably about 10 feet long. I have no idea of where the design came from other than my head. It was a hard chine shallow "V" bottom, wood stick frame, covered with canvas and sealed with enamel. I can’t remember anything bad about the way it handled so it must have been O.K.. The gaps in this story are to be filled in with many hours of model airplane building. The highlight of this era was the construction of a small gas engine for a model airplane...of course, I couldn't afford a Brown Jr., the standard in those days. That won't sound too impressive until I tell you that it was my own design and built from the ground up ... includes making wooden patterns for aluminum castings made from melted down tea kettles salvaged from the town dump. I have to tell you that it was mighty exciting to pour the 1300 degree molten aluminum into the sand mold and see it instantly chill in the sprue gate. "Oh no! It didn’t fill the cavity". "Oh well, lets break open the sand and look". There to our surprise was a perfectly formed crankcase casting. Machined parts were done at home on my father’s metal lathe. To be honest the engine would hardly run, but it still looked classy and it did help to land my first job as an apprentice in a small machine shop.

Due to WW2, we soon had about 300 employees and I became the assistant plant superintendent. As a kid, it was some title and I received a nickel an hour more than the top machinist that I was responsible in hiring.

A great discovery was that one could take flying lessons if you left Long Island and went upstate to Lime Ridge airport at Poughquag, NY. The deal was that private flying was restricted on L.I. due to coastal submarine activity. Every weekend a small group would pool some gas ration stamps and take off. We all hung out at the airport all day and if you were lucky you would get an hour of instruction. I managed to solo a J3 Cub and get about 30 hours in the logbook. One day a bright guy back at the defense plant remarked " why are you wasting your time flying those cubs, why don’t you join the Naval Air Cadets? That was a really great idea, and I did. After an academic refresher and some time at Chapel Hill preflight school I landed at Glenview Naval Air station where 75 hours were accumulated in a Stearman. That training opened the door to my Private pilot ticket.

While in the naval aviation cadets I saw a fleet of Luders 16’s in Chicago...well that was my kind of dream boat and it took a while. There was not much money, a wife, and a family kept me busy. I guess it is called "old fashion", Betty has stuck with me through some crazy adventures; including rebuilding our home for about 20 years of spare time. Can you imagine painting the bottom of a beached 45’ Ketch, on Mother's day...or digging a cellar out from under a crawl space with a drag scoop, used for pulling with a horse; only the horse was a model A Ford driven by Betty.

The next 20 years was spent punching the clock and messing around with boats. The first was a 23-ft. fin keel PENN YAN Seawanhaka Sea Bird. Along about that time three of us built three high tech plywood Hagerty Sea Shell Prams, all glued up with epoxy. They stood up well, a recent survey showed the glued joints still in good shape.

One evening, while I was working alone testing a gyro at the Kenyon shop, I witnessed a small disaster that happened to an interesting gaff rigged cutter that was a recent addition to the waterfront. It was tied up to a boatyard float and when the tide went out the boat flopped over only to fill when the tide arose. I speak of all of this only to set the stage for a lot of great things that happened in my life.

All of this excitement was too much for me to miss so I punched out on the clock and joined the volunteers working to float the "ALLURA". My efforts were reworded by a friendship that took me on many sailing trips including Bermuda, The bad side was to discover that whenever I slept on a boat offshore I would wake up with serious mal de mere. So every meal, to and from the onion patch, went over the side. Was the trip worth it? You bet it was; hell I did it twice...even did a guest crew stint on an 80 Ft. tug boat delivery from Long Island to Aruba.

My gainful employment those days was with Fairchild Missile Div. working in the plastic branch where I was involved especially in sandwich core laminates working with resins and epoxy. This led to a product named JIFFY WALL, a low cost honeycomb construction panel that I named and helped invent.

A highlight of this job was to make a friendship of Mack Boetger (an indirect father of a huge fleet of Blue Jays built on Great South Bay) We rented his tooling to built 20 at the Ketewomoke Yacht Club in Huntington. Mack also supplied the hot dipped galvanized hull for an odd Houseboat that I was responsible for the design. I mustn’t forget the thrill of sailing his DN 60 Iceboat.

The boat ownership included an Old Town Canoe, Penguin, Thistle and Hylander. After a bit of buying, trading etc., I did get my dreamboat, a Luders 16. It was all that I expected and we used it a lot for one great summer, but then the trading bug took over and it was sold to raise money to try my luck at importing a 23’ SPARTAN class sloop from England. My enthusiasm was centered on racing the "Burnam Belle" in the newly established Midget Ocean Racing Class. I was involved to the extent that I was named Commodore of the US fleet for one season. A highlight of this activity was the connection of some of the members to hold our meetings in the N.Y. Yacht Club model room.

About this time I gave some thought to selling the house to live a life on a big boat. I was talked out of the 67’ schooner ‘Wendameen" and ended up with a great old 45’ wooden ketch named "Gitana", Guess where "GIT"-ROT was developed and who put it on the market? In about 4 Years we had 88 wholesale distributors selling the stuff so we decided to sell out to a larger company and move to Maine.

Gitana under sail

The FERRO CEMENT BUG bit me; however now I was an INVENTOR so I had to improve the process. Well actually my innovations were valid and some good hulls were done. My 1st attempt was WIRE PLANK. Lines were "borrowed" from a 13-ft. peapod and some hand made 16 GA. WIRE PLANK was plastered up with 1/8" Portland cement. The boat was a lightweight at 250# and it seemed quite tough.

So on to FER-A-LITE...this is a polyester resin mixture that had lightweight filler and chopped glass additives. It mixes up to a consistency about like peanut butter. It is easy to plaster up a wire mesh armature with no voids. The best part is that this is lighter than water and has a certain amount of resiliency to allow some flexibility without cracking and a much higher tensile strength than Portland cement.

Having sold "Gitana" when we migrated to Maine, I felt the need to build another 45 footer. I decided upon a 45’ L. Francis Herreshoff Mobjack design ketch and converted a traditional wooden hull to a test bed for Wire-Plank and Fer-A-Lite materials. It proved a lot of things and made a rugged lightweight fair hull. I didn’t mention time, well in all fairness I was diverted by other little interests. The project took too long and my life changed. The boat was sold as a bare hull, with deck and cabin. The rudder was fitted and an engine was sitting on beds. With 10,000# of led ballast installed it floated 13" above her lines; thus passing stability test with flying colors.

Platt's 45-foot Mobjack Ketch

About this time frame I started attending the annual "TRADITIONAL SMALL CRAFT WORKSHOP" at MYSTIC SEAPORT. George Kelly a devoted small craft enthusiast encouraged me to try his beautiful tiny lapstrake Rushton "WEE LASSIE". I was instantly hooked by the stability, tracking and ease of effort to paddle his 18# work of art. I tried my skills and built my own wooden LASSIE and found that the process was too tedious for my nature so I tried another to test that theory of STR-R-ETCH MESH (oh another innovation) for a lightweight boat. The "DUBBLE DIPPER" was hatched. This proved to be a worthwhile design, along the lines of the "WEE LASSIE". So molds were made and perhaps a couple hundred glass PUDDLE DIPPERS were produced.

What now? The chief engineer and naval architect at the fiberglass shop, which molded up a bunch of those hulls was going to Oskosh for his airplane hobby. Platt said, "sure I would like to go along for the curiosity; after all I do have a pilots license". Now there is a place to go to... The Experimental Airplane Association week-long fly in and convention. The superlatives are too numerous to mention here; workshops, forums, exhibits, daily air shows and campgrounds that accommodate over 40,000 people will give you some idea of what it is like to look at over 15,000 airplanes. For me it was a place for inspiration, two of my major achievements were the product of ideas that indirectly hatched from going to Oshkosh.

Yes I joined a local chapter of the EAA organization and had a ride with Bob Weymouth, famous for his Flying Farmer act in a J-3 Cub. Next step was to take some time and get current in a J-3. Flying it on skis was about as good as it got.

The first achievement was STYRO-FLYERS. It was a kids book of plans on how to make gliders out of McDonalds hamburger boxes A lot of people who saw the idea thought it was a winner and that included Random House, who published the book. Unfortunately McDonald didn't go for it and this guy didn’t get rich. Not to down play my efforts, the book royalties did more than pay for a Cessna 150.

The other good idea was GEODESIC AIROLITE BOATS. That was a spin off of a system to build a wood frame ultralite airplane braced with Kevlar. It was all by dumb luck...while working on the airplane design I experimentally built an 8# canoe to test out the Kevlar bracing concept.

The invitation was from Dupont. If you were entered in an airplane design contest that they sponsored, you could bring your toys and display in their tent at Oshkosh. I brought the airplane fuselage and a last minute after thought... the 8# canoe. At the airshow, people asked about kits and plans, so in August 1982 I did the plans for the SnowShoe 12.

While all of this was going on, I frequented a number of major flyins and my enthusiasm for aviation was riding high. I ended up trading 1/2 of my C150 for half of a kit to build a pop riveted aluminum tube KOLB— ULTRA STAR ultralite. That project was fun and educational. The down side of it was that I was not crazy about flying the thing. I guess one could say that I was not good at flying the machine either. I did ding it twice in one hour’s flying time.

One interesting spin off was the design of the ULTRA-HUT building. It was an inexpensive, portable equivalent of a 2 car garage/ car port/ hanger/ shelter/ greenhouse/ workshop.

A large Ultra-Hut structure used as a boat shop, photo just prior to being covered

Plans and Kits for the Geodesic boats continued to grow to a fleet of 26 designs. A major help was contributed by the amount of free press that occurred...the photogenic picture of the translucent geodesic pattern hull was like a magnet to the editors— stories and feature articles appeared about these unique ultralight boats in approximately 100 places. Just some more dumb luck.

A while back I made a stab at playing philosopher and put my thoughts into a booklet about creating a new race of small people "EVOLUTION-THE NEXT STEP?". It had the why and how to do it. Well you know what? The advances in Science and technology have followed as predicted and perhaps it is time to have another look at the concept.

Back to reality: A change in our lives occurred one day out of the blue, when a benefactor presented us with a web site. This is something that I would never have done on my own; however the results are very positive. A counter on the site shows that so far over 68,000 people have looked at what we are doing. Not to brag, but I must say, my creations really look great on the web—the site is top notch. <www.gaboats.com> formerly <www.geodesicairoliteboats.com> The bottom line is, that the door opened to the world, so to speak. Business has picked up considerably and people are building our boats all around the world.

 
     
Copyright 2002-2008 Monfort Associates.
     

Aladdin Products, Inc. d/b/a
Monfort Associates
50 Haskell Road
Westport, Maine 04578

 

Phone: 207 882-5504
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bettemonfort <at>
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