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It's the life of a pirate for me



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August 27, 2014 - Brandon Twp.-Robert Farrell has never found buried treasure, walked the plank, or had a parrot on his shoulder.

And while "Captain Farrell" lacks most of the common traits of a pirate, he does sail on a ship that would make any buccaneer proud.

On Saturday, Farrell's "career as a buccaneer" set sail in Bald Eagle Lake when a two-year construction project floated and the crew of the good ship "Fang" floated into history.

"I've always loved pirates," laughed Farrell, 49, a Groveland Township resident and Mt. Clemens area optometrist. "As a child I would regularly get in trouble when homework had pictures of pirates over the front and back. The principal secretly loved it when I got sent down to see her and explain myself. I believe she was a closet pirate wannabe, herself."

The closeness to pirates continued through high school, undergraduate college, and optometry school. So in 2012, Farrell decided to transform his garage into a dry dock and begin construction of the pirate ship Fang.

"The first step was finding a designer and the right guy turned out to be a retired New Zealander named Stuart Reid," he said. "He and I went back and forth for about six months getting it 'perfected' which was not as easy as it sounds."

The plans included a two-masted brig with fore and aft sails, square sails, a stern captain's cabin, and a shallow draft.

"Stuart was very patient and did a great job of balancing all of those factors into a safe, stable design," said Farrell, a Royal Oak native. Building began in early 2012, and was completed this August.

"All in all, we probably averaged about an hour per evening and the kids were a huge help along the way," he said.

The ship's crew included the couple's four children, Meaghan, 17, Robbie, 15, Patrick, 13, and Michael, 12.

"My wife and first mate Kathy has been great during this adventure," he said. "She's glad it really sails and to get the garage back."

The keel and frame are made with clear pine, the two masts are from spruce.

"Spruce is used since it's light and bendable," he said. "The shell of the hull is from marine grade 1/4 inch plywood, covered in epoxy, followed by another layer of plywood. The outer shell is fiberglass up to about two feet from the deck."

The Fang draws about 18 inches of water with an 8-foot beam and is 24 feet from bow to stern. Add on a 7-foot bowsprit and the total length is about 31 feet.

With the maiden voyage behind them the crew will set sails in other vast waters.

"We have a trailer for the boat and after some testing on Bald Eagle Lake and a few other local lakes we plan on hauling the boat to Grand Traverse Bay," he said. "I'm going to hug the shore for sure, but head out to Bowers Harbor in West Bay. The low draw makes the ship ideal for going into shallows, but not real stable out in heavy seas."

The captain's cabin, sleeps two people under six feet tall and a crew of four to six can sleep in the front. The ship has two masts at 24- and 22-feet to support the seven custom made sails.

"The launch on Bald Eagle Lake was just about as smooth and easy as one could imagine," he said. "She floated level, was very stable, and just seemed to love being in the water. We motored her around to test the batteries, lights, pumps, then headed over to the Boat Bar for lunch. The winds were rather light on Bald Eagle Lake on Saturday, her maiden voyage. Tacking was a little difficult, but other than that, she moved right along."

When the wind is not just right the ship is equipped by an electric motor producing 55 pounds of thrust.

"It drives the ship at about 3 to 4 knots," he said. "It's really a safety measure to use in the harbor. We have all the navigation lights and meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements."

The ship also has a galley complete with a gas Coleman stove, used to cook these pirates' favorite Jiffy Pop, he added.

"My friend, Steve Kremer, helped with the final pre-launch work, and he was kind enough to spend the whole first weekend making sure everything went well.. The first night at sea in Bald Eagle Lake we played Monopoly," he added.

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