Unlike Noah’s, this ark meets fire safety standards

DORDRECHT (The Netherlands) - If Noah had run into the modern nanny state or a few of the other obstacles Mr Johan Huibers has been facing, the animal kingdom might look a lot different today.

Mr Huibers, 60, the successful owner of a big construction company, has spent the last few years building an ark identical in size to the one Noah is said to have built in the book of Genesis: 300 cubits, or 137m, in length; 30 cubits, or about three stories, high; and 50 cubits, or 23m, wide. The cubit is an ancient measurement of length.

“We should be finished by the middle of July,” he said, leading a visitor through the ark’s cavernous decks which are still rich with the smell of fresh Swedish pine. “Maybe later,” he added.

But unlike Noah, Mr Huibers has had to conform to Dutch fire safety standards.

To do so, he installed a special anchor that qualifies the 2,970-tonne ark as a building rather than a vessel.

Moreover, he will have to paint the ark, inside and out, with three coats of fire-retardant varnish – Noah covered his ark with pitch, making it waterproof but hardly fire-retardant.

And then there are the neighbours.

“The ship takes away our view,” complained Mr Gerrit Kruythoff, 65, who has lived with his wife and family for 42 years in the trim brick row house next to the disused shipyard where Mr Huibers is toiling with the help of two of his three children and a handful of friends.

“We used to have a view all the way to the river,” the retired employee of the big DuPont chemical works here added. “You could see the ships passing by.”

Mr Kruythoff said he has not lodged a formal complaint because his house, together with those of several neighbours, will soon be torn down to make way for a new residential development on the site of the former shipyard where the unfinished ark stands.

By then, the ark will have sailed.

This is not the first ark Mr Huibers has built.

He first began dreaming of an ark in 1992, shortly after a heavy storm lashed the coastal region north of Amsterdam where he lives.

His wife Bianca, a police officer, opposed the idea.

“She said no, but by 2004 I had built a smaller ark, 69m-long, to sail through the Dutch canals,” he said. It became a minor sensation. He charged adult visitors US$7 (S$9) to board it.

“More than 600,000 people came, in about three years,” he said.

When it is finished, the ark will be a kind of teaching tool. Panoramas will tell the story of Noah and live animals will bring the pageant to life. At the moment, only birds in cages and hens and roosters live on board. Two conference rooms will seat a total of 1,500 people.

But others wonder how seaworthy it is. “It’s not very nautical; it’s top heavy,” said Mr Bas Keyzer, 46, who was sipping a beer in Linda van Kooten’s Upside-Down Cafe.

“But it certainly looks like the ark.”

NEW YORK TIMES