Updated 03.26.14

Top 5 Things I think you should know before you form an opinion about Tsunamiball

  1. I do not think that a tsunami is going to hit Palo Alto, California.
    Yes, I am building what I call a tsunami-proof capsule in my back yard, and I live in Palo Alto, California, but no, I don’t think there is a real threat of tsunami here. I am building it here because I live here.
  2. I am a designer who is drawn to big challenges, and I think that designing and building a tsunami-proof boat is crazy interesting.
    Heck, just the logistics of building a 22 foot boat by yourself is a good problem, not to mention the challenges of designing an airtight craft built for impact resistance that can sit happily in the backyard for decades without real maintenance issues. Throw in materials decisions which don’t result in poisoning my family or neighbors complaining about too much noise, and again need to be managed by one person working alone.
  3. I think what I am building is beautiful.
    The craft was designed to be beautiful to look at and simple to make. I have a little ways to go to get to the beautiful part, but I have to say that I am very fond of the look of layer upon layer of African Mahogany plywood strips, and while it takes a long time to build, it is not overly complicated in my opinion. :)The boat is made up of 2 different, but simple shapes; one like the peel of an orange slice, and one which is the cross-section of the boat’s midship. So the frame is really just those two shapes. This allowed me to scale the size and stretch the length to get the shape I wanted as my first vessel.At every stage I think what I have made is beautiful.
  4. I want to make a solution, not buy a product.
    This was never about my personal anxiety about a Palo Alto Tsunami, so purchasing a survival craft or boat was never even a consideration. This is about a problem that I feel a connection to and want to try to solve.
    It is now clear that other people have felt the same way and there are now a couple of companies that sell simple spheres to survive tsunamis. Cool, right? I am glad they exist now.I strayed from the sphere (despite the name Tsunamiball) as I decided that a sphere would be a terrible shape when it was in the water. The capsule shares many strength characteristics with the sphere, while also allowing for better propulsion options, much more air, and more capacity for people while keeping its scale “workable”.
  5. Not knowing what is next has been a recurring theme and an important part of the process.
    The day I went from sketches to building was not scary for me even though I knew very little about building a boat. I read a few books and researched materials and sketched and sketched. But at some point if you are going to do it at all, you just have to do it.When I started, I plunged into new processes almost daily, using new tools, and making discoveries that I would have had a hard time planning for without the experience of doing. So I do, and I learn.Every week brings new challenges, which keeps the work fresh and engaging, otherwise it’s just hammering nails for 2 years. No thanks.

    I don’t know about the interior because I have not solved it yet. Similarly I don’t know about the engine, or the batteries, or dozens of other issues. If you have ideas, let me know. I love a good brainstorm. Until then, I have lots to keep my hands busy as I continue to learn how to build what I am building. It’s been a great journey so far, and I am happy to share it.

Thank you. Any questions, just let me know.


…previous FAQs

You say you are building a tsunami-proof boat, but aren’t all boats tsunami-proof?
If you are about to experience a tsunami then the safest place to be is far out to sea in a boat. In that sense, a boat could withstand a tsunami very well. However, the idea for this boat is to have it in the back yard above the detached garage, several miles from the water. The focus is on building a vessel that could withstand the initial impact of a tsunami from any direction while on land.

Your boat is made of wood. Won’t it get ripped to shreds from the debris field at the front of a tsunami?
It’s possible it will get thrashed by floating debris. This is definitely the biggest threat to the safety of the occupants. If the tsunami is massive, then I would rather be in the tsunamiball than anywhere else. The outer hull will be 2 1/2 inches of marine grade plywood covered in xyletol and epoxy. Xyletol is a very abrasion resistant polyester material. When combined with epoxy it is very similar to kevlar. The danger of the debris field might also be reduced by half-burying the tsunamiball in the backyard, or putting in a couple of protective walls. We’ll see.

A wooden boat? Really? Why not steel or fiberglass?
I considered all materials before I started. Since the boat will be built and stored in the backyard it was important to use a material that wouldn’t require as much upkeep as steel. Fiberglass is not very tough when it comes to collision. It is also a pretty hazardous material to work with when it comes to sanding and putting lots of fiberglass into the air where your kids play. The plywood I am using is very lightweight, and has 5 layers in the 1/4 inch sheets. This means that by the time we have 2 1/2 inches on the exterior hull there will be 60 layers of wood, each layer bonded to the next with epoxy. This is pretty tough stuff.

What’s with the crazy time consuming process? Why not just build a regular boat. This looks foolish.
Yeah: maybe foolish. It’s definitely not intended to be a model for other boat builders. It takes way too long for it to be viable for production boat building. The idea behind all of the tongue and groove framing, however, is core to my interest in the project. By building the framing in large circular components I am able to distribute external stresses evenly across the outer surface of the boat. The tongue and groove “boxes” in the frame don’t help traditional boat rigidity any more then traditional stringer construction, but again I believe the frame is super strong with respect to collision from any direction.

The frame is the skeleton for both an exterior and an interior hull. Between these multi-layered hulls I will  inject each of the “box cells” with floatation foam. The foam will act like a cushion against impact. Puncture will be an issue with a wooden boat, but now we are talking about one interior hull, wrapped in a cushion of flotation foam, and supported by the exterior hull. Its like a floating bicycle helmet.

When I saw your site I thought I saw that some of your boat is just screwed together. That’s nuts!
That would be nuts! I do screw elements together to dry fit them, but all elements are assembled with aeromarine epoxy. The screws act as clamps to pull the wood together for this process, but they are all intended to be removed. I also use plastic staples and brads designed especially for boat building to hold down the plywood strips for the hull. These stay in the boat and are sanded and filled with the subsequent layer of epoxy/stripping.

Do you really think that Palo Alto will be hit by a Tsunami?
I think it is super highly unlikely. The project started as a fun problem-solving conversation. When I started to see what other people have designed and built I fell in love with the idea of building the thing that I was sketching. So… the project is about building this awesome and unique thing and not about any end of the world, or a California Tsunami scenario.

What does your wife think?
My wife is super awesome. She thinks that its great that I have the opportunity to build something lie the Tsunamiball. She even throws her shoulder into the project when I need an extra pair of hands.

When will you finish?
When I started in 2012, I expected the whole build would take me 2 years. Now, 2 years later I am done with the framing and the initial layers of exterior hull. I hope to get the initial hull in place and finish the exterior by late, 2014.

Did you create it using software that lets you know for sure it will float and also survive a tsunami?
Nope. The project is a little on the dumbtacular side of things. A lot of my design was done using old school brute force design instead of math and software. I have had a friend do the buoyancy numbers and they look good. The structure is also looking very solid with tongue and groove joints throughout the hull frame, so… I think it is pretty solid.

How will you test it?
My plan is to find a swimming pool to do an initial test, and then if it looks good there, drop it in the ocean for an afternoon.

How will you move it?
The plan is to hire a crane to lift it from the backyard and put it on a flatbed truck for any trips I have to take. I may have to build a wheeled trailer for it. Any ideas on how to do that?

What will you do with it when you are done? Where will you put it?
The plan is for the tsunamiball to be a guestroom in our backyard. Maybe we will ut it up on airBNB when we are all done. Send me an email if you are interested in spending the night.

If you have any other questions, you can email me and I will do my best to get back to you.

-Chris Robinson

12 responses to “FAQs

  1. Yes, I’d like to make our reservation now for staying in the super cool Tsunamiball. A project of this magnitude should be enjoyed!

    • Right now I am accepting reservations to help plank, so grab your grubby clothes and rubber gloves and I’ll pick you up at the airport. 🙂

      When its done, I’ll have to start renting it out, yes?

  2. Sounds good, oh Master of the Universe! We cannot get over the magnitude of the design and planning, let alone the construction of Tsunamiball! (I can barely spell it!) We rejoice with you with each success! Do let us know when your book signing is …..

    • Thanks Betty. The project is decidedly more art school than end of the world. That said, thanks for the kind words. Your at the top of my list when we open her up for overnight visitors.

  3. A masterpiece and because i think its a brilliant idea i’d like to be included on the list please if a Tsunami were to hit us so you can pick up my familia. You have our address right? 🙂

  4. I’d much rather take it out for a spin in the ocean than stay the night in your backyard via AirBNB. Can that be arranged?

  5. Regarding moving it, any crane company will figure it out quickly. Find and retro fit a boat trailer so it can be launched and brought home easily. Crane can drop it one the first time and then take it to a lake or ocean boat launch. Probably all things you though of,,,,

  6. I have a question regarding bouyancy. WIll it stay upright in the water? Or will it roll around and around? What are you going to use to propel you forward? Good Luck, i look forward to watching you progress.

    • Vaughan,

      Thanks for the question. As is, it would roll quite a bit. The bottom of the boat will be 2x as heavy as the top because of the thickness of the hull and the framing, but the wood is still lighter than water, so without ballast… roll roll roll your boat.

      I will be adding a keel, which I hope will become the bulk of my ballast. The motor will be electric and will require a lot of heavy batteries to store the solar energy as well as drive the motor. These batteries will be mounted in the bottom of the boat, below the waterline and will also help the ballast issue.

      I have a lot of math to figure out once I get the hull done and get her weighed.

      Thanks again.

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