By Toby Sterling
Wednesday, March 29, 2006 4:56 AM
Photo: Daily Telegraph
Johan Huibers hopes his working replica of NoahĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Ark will spur greater interest in the Bible.
SCHAGEN, THE NETHERLANDS — Some people think he’s crazy. His wife’s not exactly thrilled either. But like the biblical Noah, Dutchman Johan Huibers is steadfast in his mission: he’s building an enormous working replica of Noah’s Ark as a testament to his faith in the literal truth of the Bible.
Townsfolk in Schagen, 30 miles north of Amsterdam, frequently stop by to wave hello or just gawk at the huge wooden ship that is nearing completion in the town’s small harbour.
Johan’s Ark is calibrated to be able to pass narrowly under every bridge and through every sluice along his planned sailing route, through the interior waters of the Netherlands to the country’s big cities.
Reckoning by the old biblical measurements, the ark is roughly 150 cubits long by 30 cubits high and 20 cubits wide. That’s nearly 230 feet long, 45 feet high, and 30 feet wide.
As described in Genesis, Noah used “gopher wood” to build his ark. Johan’s Ark is constructed with American cedar and Norwegian pine – on top of a seaworthy steel hull.
While spectacular, it holds only about a fifth as many cubic cubits as Noah’s would have, according to most biblical scholars.
“And just think, Noah did it alone and without modern tools. It’s unimaginable, no?” says Huibers, an energetic 47-year-old contractor.
According to Genesis, Noah kept seven pairs of most domesticated animals, and one breeding pair of all other creatures, plus his wife, three sons and three daughters-in-law together on the same boat for almost a year while all the world was submerged by an enormous flood.
Huibers’ vision is more modest. He plans to stock his ark with a collection of farmyard animals such as horses, lambs, chickens and rabbits, plus an exhibition on more exotic creatures.
He hopes to set sail in September – displaying the ark as a combination religious monument, museum, and petting zoo.
“This will speak very much to children, because it will give them something tangible to see that Noah’s Ark really existed,” Huibers says. “They’ll hear the creak of the wood, smell the smell of the dung.”
Huibers kicked the idea around in his head for more than a decade before he bought and milled more than 1,200 logs needed for the project last summer. His son Roy, 17, and several builder friends have helped when they can. But most of the work was up to Huibers.
And Mrs. Huibers?
“She doesn’t really like it,” he says. “She always says ‘Why don’t you go dig wells in Ethiopia?’ I’ve been involved in projects there before. But she understands, this is my dream.”
Seeing is believing. Huibers began hammering in the nails in December, and on a frosty March afternoon, he walked energetically around the ship, pointing out how it will all work.
The entry is through a large drawbridge in the side, leading up to the second of three levels, where the animals will be stalled. Stairs take visitors to displays on the first and third levels. On the top deck will be a small covered house serving drinks, with the zoo outside.
Johan’s Ark will house mostly baby animals, which Huibers believes Noah would also have done to save space. They’re also cuter, which may help business.
The total cost of the non-profit project is estimated at slightly under $1.2 million.
Huibers plans to charge admission, $2.40 for children and $3.60 for adults, which will include a tour, a drink, and a religious pamphlet. “So at least a hundred thousand people will have to visit to call it a success,” he says. “Do you believe they will? I do.”
Huibers has already convinced his fussiest critics: the bankers, who provided loans. Johan’s Ark will meet all naval, fire and animal rights regulations.
Despite coming from the low-lying Netherlands, fear of rising seas from global warming or a new God-sent deluge didn’t play a special role in the Dutchman’s plan.
“It won’t happen again. You know: the rainbow,” he said, referring to the passage in Genesis where God put his “bow in the cloud” as part of his promise that he would never again flood the whole Earth.
Huibers said he hopes the project will renew interest in Christianity in the Netherlands. “That’s my motivation.”