Ferro-cement Boats: Worst Sailing Invention Ever?
Two or three decades back, ferro-cement construction seemed to be all the rage among home boat builders. The material itself, properly constructed, probably wasn't so horrid. If nothing else, the boats could have made durable undersea habitats for marine creatures.
Unfortunately, for some reason, the technology seemed to attract the loonier or less competent fringe among amateur boat builders. Hundreds or thousands of boats were started but never completed, with half-completed hulks left to dot the landscape. Others may have been built, but poorly, resulting in vessels with safety and performance issues.
And even those that were relatively well built may not have exactly offered the greatest performance. By the nature of the material, even the better ferro-cement boats weren't exactly lightweight greyhounds of the sea. The worst ones may have been more like wallowing tubs.
Perhaps these builders could have learned a cautionary lesson if they'd looked at some concrete examples from a couple of generations previous.
During World War I, with U boats torpedoing ships in the Atlantic and a shortage of ferrous metal for shipbuilding in the United States, the country decided to experiment with building concrete tankers. Unfortunately, the ships didn't go into service until just after the war. With reduced post-war needs, the planned quota wasn't built.
The ships were perhaps not terribly efficient and had short careers. One of them, the S.S. Palo Alto, was "rescued" from the mothball fleet and towed to the central California coast south of Santa Cruz, where it was beached perpendicular to the Pacific coast shoreline. It became an "entertainment center" of some degree of notoriety for a brief period from around 1929 to 1931. Eventually, the company running it went bankrupt and the Palo Alto cracked in the middle, losing enough structural integrity to become uninhabitable. The ship was stripped and served as a fishing pier for a while, but then become to unsafe even for that minimal use. It retained enough structure to become a home for wildlife. To this day, clouds of seabirds think a concrete ship is a perfectly marvelous place to roost and dump bird poop, although an expensive clean-up was required when it was found that residual oil from the ship had contaminated some of the birds.
Would ferro-cement construction be the worst sailing innovation? No; it didn't even make my top 20 list. But, during at least one generation, it did create something of an embarrassment and many local eyesores for the sailors.