The unbreakable dreams of Bruno Tideman
“We developed the initial design, then we built and tested it – too thin. So we started again. This time too heavy... and so we did it again. And again.”
“There we were, three of us, trying to break up this old fuel tank with a sledgehammer. We even took a forklift to it,” said Bruno Tideman, of Tideman boats. “I thought, ‘if after all that we’ve only managed a few dents and scratches, this material would be ideal for a high-speed workboat’.”
There was definitely a need for a durable material: “When we started 15 years ago, we used GRP. But eventually a customer told us that so many were in for repair at a time they really needed five boats, just to make sure one would be available.”
Faced with this, Bruno Tideman thought: “There has to be a way to do it differently”. Soon after, that stubbornly indestructible plastic item gave his ideas a push in the right direction.
High density polyethylene, HDPE, turned out to be everything he’d wanted: “It’s inert, there’s no maintenance and you don’t have to paint it, it absorbs impact – in fact it’s used on shooting ranges to catch bullets.” Further, it’s completely recyclable “unlike GRP which will be littering the world forever”.
This doesn’t mean making a boat out of it was plain sailing.
The resulting design had a construction closer to steel or alloy vessels than GRP, with the skin welded onto the supporting frame. However, it was entirely new ground and he admitted: “It took a long time to get the thickness of the plates and the frame spacing right. It was, he said, an ‘iterative’ process: “We developed the initial design, then we built and tested it – too thin. So we started again. This time too heavy... and so we did it again. And again.”
At this point it’s worth mentioning that an enduring passion for marine design sustained him: “Before I started the company I was in a rather boring commercial job; during meetings I’d always start sketching boats,” he explained. Given the chance to exit he decided the daydream was worth following and added that as far as he’s concerned, he’s “still on holiday”.
Which, he said, made his search for the right balance less about frustration and more about exploration. Finally, he got the result he was looking for – rigidity balanced with a light enough structure for a planing hull. PE balls in the voids added several kilos of buoyancy, making it nigh on unsinkable and last but not least, it had a good capacity: as he pointed out: “Workboats are all about what you can carry.”
He’s kept the design simple with three lengths (and you can have any colour as long as its black) but there’s now a growing list of clients - including Antwerp Port Authority - and Tideman is stepping up the size for another customer. Of course a bow door and twin diesels of 500hp apiece “means larger forces on the vessel - so now we have to start the calculations all over again”.
It is, as he said, an ongoing process. Not that he’s complaining.
By Stevie Knight