How I Got Started

          from the beginning

I’ll try to be brief in summarizing the past 50 years, or so, leading up to what I am doing today. 

Growing up near the shore of Lake Michigan, my fascination with the maritime world stemmed from watching the Great Lakes ore carriers pass by. Those long, slender ships, commonly called "ore boats", moved iron ore from far away ports such as Two Harbors, Duluth, and Escanaba, down to steel mills at the lower end of the Lake. This bulk carrier trade still exists today. As a kid watching from shore, I was also exposed to tugs and barges, fishing boats, ice breakers, yachts, and, the cross-lake car-ferries. Perhaps the strongest impression was left by the car-ferries, on which I had the good fortune to make a few crossings on family vacation trips to northern Michigan.

Armed with crayons, pencils, and paper, I started to draw pictures of the various craft that I saw out on the Great Lakes. At first, my career goal was to operate a tugboat. But later, as a teenager (and having become good at math and science) I knew what I really wanted to be: a naval architect.

Following high school, I enrolled in the Department of Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering at the University of Michigan and set out to learn the science of ship design. I was fortunate to receive an academic scholarship from the Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers ( SNAME ). I owe SNAME a debt of gratitude because, coming from a family of modest means, 4˝ years of college at Michigan would have been otherwise unaffordable.

As a naval arch student, I was forced to study computer programming, a subject that I initially regarded as strictly for "nerds".  But it didn't take long for me to realize that the computer is a great tool to use in the design of ships, boats, and barges. And we naval arch students were "in" on this great tool at an early stage. By creating programs to handle typical hydrostatics problems (trim, stability, loading) and economic analysis (vessel construction cost estimation, life cycle costs, fleet optimization), I eventually realized that computer-assisted engineering was not only useful, but also fun.   This was before the advent of “canned” computer software for naval architects.  I still prefer to use many of the programs that I created on my own. 

Though the academic emphasis was on big, steel ships, I took all of the "small craft" design courses that were offered at Michigan. In particular I sought to learn about aluminum and fiberglass as boatbuilding materials. During the summers, I worked in shipyards.  Upon graduation I went to work for Chevron Shipping’s Engineering, Construction and Maintenance group at San Francisco.  I soon discovered that the real design work (the translation of functional requirements into plans and specifications for new oil tankers) was being carried out at shipyards (for the most part, in Japan and Europe.)   Still in my twenties, and disappointed by the apparent lack of creative design opportunities, I left the corporate world and "hung out a shingle" in Oakland, California, embarking on a career as a self-employed naval architect. As a "generalist", I endeavored to pick-up almost any kind of design, analytical, and troubleshooting tasks that were available in the private sector. The great diversity of craft in the maritime world continues to enthuse and inspire me even today.  I have never become focused on a single specialty (or niche market). I continue to work in a fairly wide spectrum of design disciplines and with a variety of different craft types.

Nearly all of my assignments involved modifications to existing vessels, both large and small, including tankers, bulk carriers, passenger vessels, fishing boats, oceanographic vessels, tugs, and barges. Usually these were projects to enable an old ship to do a new job, or to do the same job better, or to fix some problem.   I found time to engage in a personal boatbuilding project: a fiberglass, outboard-powered runabout, built in the backyard on a custom male mold. It was a good "hands-on" learning project.  I also took several courses in welding (arc, MIG, CO2), drafting (computer and manual), and ocean transportation, all for the purpose of improving my design skills.

Motivated by the Loma Prieta earthquake which shook the Bay area (1989), I closed up shop in Oakland and went to work for the engineering firm of Art Anderson Associates in Bremerton, Washington. As a senior naval architect with the Anderson firm during the next thirteen years (1990-2003), I carried out a number of designs "from scratch", including:

  • Concept design of a high-endurance research vessel for NOAA
  • A cable-ferry for Clackamas County, Oregon. With an unorthodox, electric propulsion system, this little ferry works fifteen hours per day, carrying cars, buses, and trucks, across the Willamette River at Canby, Oregon.
  • Conceptual design of a 310’x76’x20’ocean barge for Hawaiian inter-island movement of containers, automobiles, and break-bulk cargo.

In 2003, desiring to remain focused on non-military craft, but still a "generalist" at heart, I "hung out a shingle" for the second time.  I remain here in Bremerton.  As always, work includes a mix of design for new construction as well as analysis and reconfiguration of existing craft to achieve improvements in economy or function.  Recent clients include:

  • Uncruise Adventures (Seattle, Washington)

  • North River Boats (Roseburg, Oregon)

  • Oregon State University (Newport, Oregon)

  • Mercy Ships (Garden Valley, Texas)

  • Billeter Marine (Coos Bay, Oregon)

  • NOAA Fisheries (Hammond, Oregon)

In my spare time I enjoy kayaking the local waters, bicycling, and discovering and traveling on as many of the ferries throughout North America as possible.

It is the goal of Alan Winkley Naval Architecture, LLC to develop a long-term professional working relationship with a modest number of stable, reputable builders, commercial vessel operating companies, and individual boat owners. If you are interested in professional design and engineering assistance, either for new construction or for improvement to an existing vessel, your inquiry will be welcomed.


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