Camas High School student rocks the boat

He builds rare racing vessel for his senior project

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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photoCamas High School senior Stephen Moran sits atop his i550 racing sailboat Friday afternoon. Moran spent seven months and 300 hours building the boat for his senior project.

(/The Columbian)

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CAMAS -- The dark blue coat of paint Stephen Moran applied to his hand-built i550 racing sailboat set it apart from the handful of others in the Pacific Northwest. But the 18-year-old decided one more flourish was in order: a turquoise racing stripe on each side.

Moran's racing stripes provided an added flair to his boat, but they also added a degree of difficulty and increased the amount of time he spent in his family's garage working on the project.

He built the 18-foot-long i550 boat from scratch across seven months and 300 hours for his senior project at Camas High School. Senior projects require 40 hours to receive an excellent rating. Moran's boat consists of fiberglass with epoxy and carbon fiber used in high-stress areas, and okume quarter-inch plywood sealed with epoxy resin, his father David said.

The reward? Graduation, a sweet, new racing sailboat and a cool unofficial title.

Moran is believed to be the youngest person in the world to build an i550, of which fewer than 100 actually exist, said Eric Rimkus of the i550 PDX fleet.

Six months in the making

He started the project Oct. 24 and officially finished April 27. He will present the project for review Tuesday to Camas High officials.

The other four existing i550s in the Portland fleet are white. Moran based his color off a black and turquoise Transpac 52 Quantum racing boat he saw.

"I really like the color," Moran said of his boat. "I didn't want to copy their color."

"If he had just painted the boat, it would have been done months ago," added Moran's father, who advised him on the project. "But, like Stephen said, 'quality counts and appearance counts,' so if you're going to do it, you might as well do it."

Moran originally planned to participate in a Coast Guard captain's course for his senior project.

However, the program was not offered during his winter break. So he asked his father if he could make an i550 sailboat -- a boat he had not previously sailed. The boat cost around

$6,000 to build, Stephen's father estimated, noting that did not include the cost of the boat's parts.

"I didn't know anything about boat-building when I first started," Moran said. "It was a learning process the whole time."

His passion for sailing kept him motivated, even as he worked seven days per week, often foregoing other hobbies.

Moran started sailing a decade ago during his childhood in Guam, a U.S. territory where he lived until age 13. His father was a professor of marine and environmental biology there, and built and sailed boats in his spare time.

The sport's skill and strategy appealed to him.

"It's always the person who has the most skill who takes first place," Moran said, explaining that a good skipper knows how to play the wind. He learned to do just that in Guam, where the trade winds whip up to 25 mph.

The Morans moved to the Pacific Northwest prior to his time at Camas High School. The weather was "a bit of a shock," his father said, joking that he continued walking barefoot even when it snowed.

One thing remained constant: Sailing.

During his high school years, Moran joined the Willamette Sailing Club, competing against other high school students in the Pacific Northwest.

"It's kind of like Stephen was born to sail," said Sukhmanjit Singh, his teammate and fellow Camas High senior. "He knows what to do on the water."

Moran's time on the water didn't fully prepare him for the challenges associated with building the boat. The boat's plans were vague, his father noted.

Father and son bonded over discussions of the plans. The project, Moran said, taught him problem-solving techniques, self-motivation and not to settle for less than his best.

Now that it's through, the whole project seems like a blur, the young boat-builder remarked.

"You can look at it now and say, 'Wow, I did that!'" said Moran, who plans to attend the University of Oregon to study human physiology.

The boat should make its first appearance on the Columbia River this month, he said. It will join four other completed i550s and a soon-to-be completed one to give the i550 PDX fleet six boats.

"It's pretty amazing … for a kid to start with 20 sheets of plywood and finish with a boat," Rimkus said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com