Launching a seagoing `pickup'. Fishing boat for developing world fuses economics, ecology
AT his Cape Cod home, John Todd discusses the One-Ton Ocean Pickup -- a lightweight and inexpensive sailcraft presently test-fishing in Costa Rica -- as if it were floating past the solar windows of his porch. ``The Pickup is both a needed technology and a means of restoring an area,'' says Mr. Todd, a biologist by training, who has spent six years on the design and production plan for the boat.Skip to next paragraph
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The technological need for sail-powered fishing craft was first recognized by Todd and anthropologist Margaret Mead over a decade ago. John and Nancy Todd, co-founders of an alternative food- and energy-research facility called the New Alchemy Institute, were presented to Mead on her 75th birthday as ``a gift of prospective colleagues.'' Soon, the Canadian-born Todds began accompanying Mead on working trips throughout the developing world of the 1970s.
On these travels, the group observed common problems in villages along the shores of the Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian oceans. In the postwar period, many traditional fishing areas had obtained mechanical boats through government or multilateral credit. In the '70s, when fuel prices rose, commodities fell, and third-world currencies further softened, these mechanical craft became prohibitively expensive for individual or ``artisanal'' fishermen to operate, repair, or replace.
Over the same period, however, traditional fishing craft had been practically forgotten or were regarded as obsolete. In other areas, deforestation made traditional wooden craft expensive to construct. According to the Todds' latest book (``Bioshelters, Ocean Arks, City Farming,'' Sierra Club Books), the result in many villages was abandonment of the fishing trade.
But another travel experience provided Mead and Todd with a possible solution. While visiting Marlon Brando's Tahitian island, they observed the actor's son outfishing even motorboats in the area with a sail-powered Hobie Cat. The boat was aerodynamically sleek and therefore the envy of the local villagers. It provided Todd with a crucial requirement for the Ocean Pickup.
``It could not in any way seem like a second-hand technology,'' Todd says, recalling the early design stages. ``It would have to be as fast or faster than a motorboat.''
With Mead's death in 1978, responsibility for the sailcraft idea fell to the Todds. Along with biologist Bill McLarney, they formed the nonprofit Ocean Arks International in 1981 for research and promotion of the sailcraft project. Aquaculturist McLarney, whom Todd describes as ``a fish maniac,'' has in recent years concentrated on ANAI (Asociacion de los Nuevos Alquimistas), the New Alchemy affiliate in Costa Rica that is researching local applications of soil building, reforestation, and aquaculture. Todd plans to integrate these technologies with the local production of Pickups to help restore the ecology as well as the economy of coastal communities.
Ocean Arks got off the drawing board in 1982 when Todd collaborated with naval architect Richard Newick on design and construction of the Pickup prototype. Aside from low cost, high speed, and technical excellence, Todd had other essential design specifications. Because of the increasing problems of currency exchange, no more than 10 percent of the boat's costs could be imported from an industrial to a developing economy. The boat would have to be constructed from the relatively soft, lightweight woods native to tropical climates.