Polyurea shores up “Brazos Bear” double-decker sternwheeler to continue its journey down the river
The Brazos Bear (formerly known as The Spirit of the Rivers), a brightly painted green and yellow recently re-constructed 70-foot double-decker sternwheeler, with its roaring bear proudly displayed on the side, paddles its way up and down the Brazos River, drawing interest along the riverbanks, as it passes by Baylor University’s McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas.
Ricky Grones, the boat’s owner spent more than 20 years enjoying airboats and other watercraft on the Brazos River. Building a paddleboat was something he had never done before, but he was mechanically inclined and embraced the challenge. After salvaging the lower frame of the Spirit of the River Tour Paddleboat from the bottom of the Brazos River, Grones designed and built the sternwheeler in a warehouse at his business, Grones Environmental.
TOP: After salvaging the original paddleboat, which sunk, the owner opted to have SPF and polyurea installed for added flotation and maximum protection, respectively; BOTTOM: The boat hull was filled with SPI’s Envelo-SealTM 2lb. closed-cell spray polyurethane foam, providing an additional 50,000lbs of flotation
The original tour boat traveled the Brazos River regularly from 2002 until 2008. It was in 2008 when it sank into the river while the then boat owner was trying to pump water out of the engine space. After the paddleboat sank, he hired Grones Environmental to salvage the boat and move it to their shop north of Waco. The boat sat for more than two years while the previous owner battled an insurance company for reimbursement for the loss of the boat. A judge found in favor of the insurance company, based on an argument that the boat was not kept or maintained in seafaring condition.
Grones was never paid, and was left with the paddleboat itself for his salvage work. It was rusty and there wasn’t much of the original boat he could use. Since this was a new adventure for Grones, he got ideas from Google searches, sketching out a final design for the new sternwheeler that included welded steel for the decks, and a lower deck fitted with stained wood. He built twin paddlewheels that operated by a hydraulic pump system connected to a diesel engine, with a set of four rudders in the back to guide the boat. The completed paddleboat is 70 feet long and approximately 15 feet wide.
Not wanting to take any chances of the boat sinking again, Grones engaged Delta-E Foam Construction of Wylie, TX, an experienced foam and coatings contractor to assist him with protecting his newly designed sternwheeler. Delta-E Foam Construction filled the boat’s hull with 10 inches of Specialty Products Inc’s (SPI) Envelo-Seal 2 lb. closed-cell spray polyurethane foam. The spray foam was then coated with an elastomeric acrylic topcoat to keep the flotation foam watertight. Protecting the hull’s exterior was critical, and preventing the boat from sinking if swamped by water coming over the sides required buoyancy. Therefore, the mostly steel Brazos Bear’s honey comb flooring and side walls received 900 cubic feet of high-density closed-cell polyurethane foam giving, the vessel nearly 57,000 lbs. of added buoyancy and added another seven to nine inches to hull thickness.
To help protect the welded steel decks against abrasion and corrosion, Delta-E and Grones chose SPI’s abrasion resistant polyurea, K5™ UB (Ultra-Bond) to spray apply over the entire exterior of the boat’s hull. Originally developed as a resilient blast resistant polymer and similar to SPI’s coating used on Humvees by the U.S. Military, it was soon discovered that K5 UB is exceptionally resistant to abrasion, compared to other spray-applied coatings. Additionally, K5 UB can be sprayed on to virtually any surface configuration, at any thickness. With its “UB” adhesion enhancer, it can be selectively applied to high wear areas for adhesion and long term service endurance.
The Brazos Bear’s steel hull received K5-Ultra Bond polyurea coating water side in thicknesses ranging from 100 up to 200 mils depending upon locations on the hull. This extremely abrasion resistant and durable coating provides corrosion protection, adds to structural integrity, adds impact absorption, adds sound control, and reduces water friction.
“The use of high density spray foam and polyurea in combination provides exact solutions for inherent watercraft dangers involving vessel structural integrity, as well as occupant safety,” confirms Delta-E’s Chuck Ijames, who partook in the installation of both materials.
“The polyurea will provide the Brazos Bear relief from the typical hazards of running aground, floating logs, invisible stumps and rocks. Even though hull exterior protection is critical, preventing a boat from sinking if swamped by water coming over the sides requires buoyancy. The added buoyancy and thicker hull should make the Spirit of the Rivers vessel nearly unsinkable. Overall, the use of coating and foam helps to keep the boat and its occupants safe and sound.”
After sand blasting the steel surface to a four-plus mil profile, the steel was washed with TSP (tri sodium phosphate) to remove any further contaminants, in accordance with SSPC SP1. Delta-E utilized PMC’s PHX-40 high-pressure, plural-component spray equipment to apply K5 UB polyurea at 120 mils over the exterior of the boat hull. An additional 80 mils of K5 UB polyurea was spray-applied over the front quarter of the hull in an effort to guard against the particularly high abrasion hazards the 70-foot sternwheeler could encounter along the Brazos River.
For now, it’s just a private boat intended for family and friends. Although Grones isn’t a graduate of Baylor University, he is a fan and is part of the game day tailgating scene on the Brazos River, traveling to the stadium on his green and yellow sternwheeler, while proudly displaying a giant roaring bear on the side.•
*Information for this article was obtained courtesy of Murph Mahaffey and J.B. Smith
Photos provided by Specialty Products Inc and Chuck Ijames of Delta-E Construction