The U.S. Navy is exploring a partnership with the city of Gloucester to fund construction of a prototype Phil Bolger-designed patrol boat.
If the plan goes ahead, the prototype would be a simple craft about the size of an in-shore fishing vessel that could be built overseas by American forces or developing nations without highly specialized and advanced boat-building training.
Still in its early stages, the plan could end with just one boat, or, if the Navy thinks the design has promise, it could order more and begin an ongoing project.
"There is an opportunity, but it is in the early stages," said Susanne Altenburger, Bolger's widow and leader of the Phil Bolger & Friends design firm since his death in May. "If we do something simple and plain and small, without guns blazing, there might be more contracts that could become more ambitious."
The designer of 680 boats ranging from dinghies to tall ships, many unique creations, Bolger had been marketing a more fuel-efficient commercial fishing boat design since 2003 that he hoped could help the struggling industry lower costs.
In February, a prototype of that vessel, funded by former mayoral candidate Robin Hubbard, was completed and is being used by a Gloucester fisherman Davie Mero.
The Navy had been talking to Bolger for years about a simple military craft, Altenburger said Friday, but this would be the first time that a prototype would be built.
Under the proposed partnership, which has yet to be finalized, $75,000 of the project's cost would come from Gloucester's share of federal community development block grants and $50,000 would come from the Navy, according to Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
"The Navy is looking for precise engineering and a patrol boat that can be deployed somewhere like the coast of Somalia," Kirk said Friday. "I became very interested and wanted to put in whatever resources I could."
The city is eligible for $800,000 in community development block grants this year. The money can be used for housing or job creation and Kirk's policy has been to direct a greater share of Gloucester's funds toward economic development.
Kirk predicts the project will create at least three jobs and take around one year to complete, with much of the time dedicated to navigating red tape.
Only the boat itself would be built here; any military equipment, such as armaments, would be added on elsewhere.
Early discussions have centered around building the prototype at the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, but that has also not been finalized.
Bolger's innovative designs and their focus on efficiency have been seen as both an aid to the fishing industry and potential niche market for Gloucester.
Altenburger said she was excited to see something that Bolger had worked on for so long draw the attention of "the biggest shipbuilders in the world."
"It would be gratifying to see a hull in the water and hopefully more of them," said Altenburger, who has vowed to carry on Bolger's work and advance his legacy as globally-recognized designer and marine architect.
"The hope is to graduate to somewhat larger boats in time, pleasure boats and commercial boats," she said. "Gloucester could become a go-to place."
Patrick Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org