While Noah will likely always remain the first name in arks, tourists are chomping at the bit to climb aboard “Johan’s Ark,” an ambitious re-creation of the biblical boat that’s attracting gawkers galore along a waterfront shipyard in Dordrecht, a city in the western Netherlands.
Dutch builder Johan Huibers is expected to complete work on the massive vessel sometime next month in what has been a staggeringly ambitious project to bring one of the best-known stories of the Bible to life. It’s taken three years of his life and $1.6 million out of his pocket, but Huibers, owner of a successful construction company in Holland, says the project is a dream come true — literally.
“I dreamed a part of Holland was flooded,” Huibers, 60, told Janet Shamlian in a report that aired on TODAY Wednesday. “Then, the next day I get the idea to build an ark of Noah.”
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That dream occurred 20 years ago, and Huibers has been ark-obsessed ever since. Despite his wife’s misgivings, he built an ark in 2004 that was roughly half the size of the specifications listed in the Bible. He guided the craft through the myriad canals of the Netherlands, and it proved such a hit among tourists, who were charged seven bucks apiece to climb aboard, that it financed Huibers’ true dream — building an ark every bit as big as Noah’s.
“Johan’s Ark” clocks in at 450 feet long, true to the Bible’s account of a 300 cubit-long ship (in ancient times, a cubit was the length of a man’s arm from elbow to fingertips, or roughly 18 inches). The ark weighs in at a whopping 2,970 tons, and is constructed of Swedish pine, which Huibers told The New York Times is in keeping with God’s command to Noah that the ark be built of resin wood.Video: Biblical proportion: Dutch man replicates Noah’s Ark (on this page)
As far as God’s command to Noah that the ark be stocked with two of everything in the animal kingdom, Huibers steered a wide berth around animal rights activists and opted for inanimate models instead — and indeed, the ship now boasts faux giraffes, zebras, cows and donkeys by the pair.
Shamlian was amazed when Huibers told her it cost $11,000 for just one elephant, saying, “You have a lot of money invested in fake animals, don’t you?”
“You can’t imagine!” Huibers replied.
Huibers is now putting the finishing touches on his ark, built by himself, two of his children and some friends in a project that began in 2008. He plans to make the floating faux zoo a first-class tourist attraction, complete with two conference rooms that will hold up to 1,500 people.
And for those tourists who might be disappointed in only seeing animal models on board, Huibers already has a couple of live chickens free-ranging in the ark’s deckhouse and plans to judiciously add a few more animals as he goes along.
Unfortunately for the Netherlands, and especially the city of Dordrecht, which has been hard-hit by floods several times in its history, Huibers’ ominous dream of 20 years ago has become more of a reality. In the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” former U.S. Vice President Al Gore warned of the future melting of Greenland’s ice, which he said would be “absolutely devastating” to the low-lying Netherlands.
And while Huibers might not be able to save Holland’s animals should catastrophe occur, his massive ark is seaworthy. While officially registered in the Netherlands as a building because of its massive size, Huibers says his gigantic craft is ready and able to set sail. In fact, he’s in negotiations with London officials to bring the ark down the Thames River for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
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