Although the much talked about rapture did not come to fruition last week, there is one big sign – emerging out of the waters in the Netherlands — that the apocalypse may still be near. As the New York Times recently reported in its story, "A Biblical Blueprint Meets The Fire Code And The Neighbors," Johan Huibers, a successful contractor in the Netherlands, has spent the last few years building an ark identical to the one Noah built. As it nears completion, the ark is 300-feet long, 450-feet high, and 75-feet wide. (The Bible used “cubits” as its form of measurement, which is the distance between ones finger tips and elbows, but Huibers translated this to modern measurements.)
While Huibers has stuck as closely as possible to the original plans — including by using Swedish pine, which he contends is what the Bible refers to when it describes Noah’s ark as being made of “resin wood” — he has had to include modifications like a heavy steel frame to comply with modern safety requirements. As the Times notes, these modifications are not the only differences between Huibers’s efforts and his biblical predecessor’s efforts:
Unlike Noah, Mr. Huibers had to conform to Dutch fire safety standards. To do so, he installed a special anchor that qualifies the 2,970-ton 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 neighbors.
“The ship takes away our view,” complained 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,” Mr. Kruythoff, a retired employee of the big DuPont chemical works here said. “You could see the ships passing by.”
He has not lodged a formal complaint, he said, because his home, with those of several neighbors, will soon be torn down anyway, 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.
Critics of the these critics dismiss such complaints, noting that the view was never that great to begin with since it looked out upon a shipyard. They also hold out hope that interest in the ark will drive tourists to a town that is experiencing higher unemployment rates than the rest of the Netherlands. Still others look at the ark as a potential escape hatch in a town that is situated at the intersection of three rivers that have been rising steadily. In fact, the town “has been swept by floods numerous times, including the devastating St. Elizabeth’s floods of 1421, and most recently in 1995.”
Finally, this is actually the second ark that Huibers has built. He built his first in 1992, over the objections of his wife. It was smaller, only 225 feet long, and was built to sail through the Dutch canals. When it was done, however, it became a “minor sensation,” attracting more than 600,000 visitors, each of whom paid $7 to board, which left Huibers with a tidy $1.2 million profit (prophet?). Huibers insists, however, that profit is not his motive. Instead, he intends the ark to be a “kind of teaching tool,” with panoramas and live animals helping to tell the story of Noah’s ark.