Nearly a mile long and 25 stories high, “Freedom” will be the largest vessel to ever sail the seven seas. Freedom will dwarf the Queen Elizabeth II and become a permanent home for 50,000 people. “Walk in a straight line for about 12 minutes,” “If you don’t dawdle, you’ll cover slightly less than a mile. Now, make a right turn and walk beyond the length of two football fields. Duplicate these lines to make a rectangle, then look up to the height of a 25-story building. This is what Freedom will be.
“Freedom will be large enough to bring on more than 50,000 residents, 15,000 employees, 20,000 day guests and still have four times as much roaming-around square footage per person as the most modern cruise liners,” Nixon says during POPULAR MECHANICS’ visit to see how his ambitious plan is progressing. Taller than the highest buildings in most American cities and topped with a runway that can handle jets, Freedom may someday be the globe-trotting address for 17,000 homes and 4000 businesses.
Its dimensions are so colossal that it will have to be assembled at sea. Once it’s built, Freedom will circle the earth every two years, following the balmy breezes as it approaches the world’s major ports. The wealthiest of her “citizens” will leave their 15-ft. by 80-ft. ocean-view apartments and board their private jets or yachts for jaunts to shore. Meanwhile, the 15,000 people who work aboard the ship will gear up for the next on-rush of day visitors anxious to shop at its duty-free stores and guests checking in to vacation in its hotels and time-share condominiums.
Once under way, life aboard Freedom will be more like living in a bustling city than being on a vacation cruise. Because of its size, the ship will have its own railway system. Courtyards set about its decks will create interior park and recreation areas. Nixon has calculated that the resident population can support its own local economy, which means that residents will, in many cases, also be operating businesses at sea, in malls throughout the length of the ship.
As might be expected, this plan for a ship capable of carrying as many as 115,000 people The reason is not simply a matter of Freedom’s proposed 4320-ft. length, which is nearly five times that of the currently largest cruise ship, Carnival Cruise Line’s 900-ft. Destiny, but the enormity of its mass. When naval architects compare ships, they speak in terms of tonnage rather than length. The Destiny displaces 100,000 tons of water. The largest vessel afloat, the supertanker Jahre Viking, displaces 564,739 tons. Freedom will displace 2.7 million tons.
Nixon says that while there are many factors that determine a beam’s maximum length, a steel beam can reasonably be expected to span a distance 15 times its height. “A ship with an effective depth of 80 ft. of hull [measured from keel to main deck] can theoretically span a maximum of 1200 ft.,” Nixon says. “On Freedom, the effective beam runs 350 ft., from the bottom of the ship to the aircraft runway.” The result is a 4320-ft.-long floating beam that draws 37 ft. of water as it rides atop waves, rather than plowing through them.
“We’re not doing anything new,” Nixon says. “We’ve taken technologies used in one area and applied them here.” Indeed, Nixon says that during World War II the Navy used floating docks longer than Freedom. More recently, Kvaerner, the Norwegian ship and oil platform builder, proposed that the U.S. Department of Defense build a 5249-ft. floating airfield capable of supporting 10,000 troops. Called SeaBase , it would use Kvaerner’s patented linking system to join three giant semi-submersible drilling rigs into a landing field.
Freedom promises to be as different from today’s oceangoing vessels as the Queen Elizabeth II is from the Mayflower. Starting with the keel, Freedom doesn’t have one. This backbone is missing because Freedom is constructed of 520 airtight steel cells. Each will measure 80 ft. tall. Depending upon its location, each will be 50 to 100 ft. wide and 50 to 120 ft. long. Assembled ashore on rails, they will be bolted together to form base units, each about 300 by 400 ft. These will then be floated out to sea and joined to form the completed base.
About 10 months after the start of construction on the first airtight cell, three base units will have been assembled at sea. At this point, the tempo of construction will increase. Meanwhile, on shore, four assembly lines will be dedicated to building airtight cells. At sea, work will begin on the 25-story superstructure. By the 17-month mark, the last base unit will be bolted in place and the 25th level completed.
Two years after the start of construction, 4000 of Freedom’s planned 21,000 units will be ready for Well, not exactly. Freedom won’t have the sort of boilers you find on traditional ships. She will be propelled by 3700-hp motorized units protruding through 100 of her watertight cells. About half of these will be shrouded propeller units. The balance will rotate 360 degrees, like those used on tugboats. At about $1 million each, these are among the world’s most expensive marine power plants. Using GPS, Freedom’s captain could simply sketch the ship’s route on a touch-screen and the $6 billion ship would find its own way.