For those who don’t know me yet my name is Dr. Roderick Sampson. I wanted to share with you how I got started with this business, and why I am so passionate about the sailboat propellers that I sell. I’m originally from Yorkshire in the North of England close to the Border with Scotland. At 18 landed an amazing job as a Cruise Ship Photographer based out of Miami. Can you imagine what that was like back in the 80’s for a young lad from a gritty steel town? I had never met an American only seen them in movies, it was cooler than going into space or something.
I worked 26 ships in 10 years and had a blast, but the party sadly had to end. I remember being in the engine room baking potatoes on the hot engine manifolds with the engineers (as one does). The engineers kept telling me, you keep all the photo equipment going, you spend all your spare time down here, why not come back as one of us? So that is what I did, I returned to college in the UK with the dream of going back to sea as an engineer. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my creative instincts from photography would champion working on oily engines.
Despite the draw to go back to sea, I switched major to the design side and chose Naval Architecture at Newcastle University. Bachelors led to a masters, and before long I was finishing my PhD in ice class propellers, teaching and running a research lab. My ship career had literally sailed off into the sunset. As luck would have it, I was offered a position in Baltimore to work on the US Coast Guard Icebreaker program – I took it. This was just as the credit crunch hit and all the Government contracts dried up – ah so close!. I was able to land on my feet. I met my now wife Lisa and we started a consultancy called King Propulsion.
For me personally I had always secretly wanted to be self-employed and work on my own terms at my own pace – this was now my chance. Starting the company was not just about being my own boss but also overcoming some personal goals as well. My childhood was fun, but we were financially challenged. My mum went back to school, finished high school, college and earned a teaching certificate to become the bread winner of the family – pretty amazing. So we were always scraping by and making do. Starting my own business was a way to show that I could stand on my own and be financially independent to provide for my own family.
There were however some niggling thoughts though on my journey, a little self doubt. I totally thought University was my calling after leaving the heyday of cruise ships it was supposed to be my reboot. If I am honest, there was always something missing from the academic research lifestyle.
So I took a Journey with King Propulsion, Initially it was out of necessity, I was in a bind from the credit crunch, after just moving to the US, but I knew it was the right thing to do, I did not know the direction of the company, I had a vague business plan, some experience, zero startup cash but knew striking out on my own was non-negotiable, so I took the leap.
King Propulsion seems very focused right now, but it wasn’t always that way. The foundations were laid by working with and getting to know my PhD mentor Prof. Mehmet Atlar. Working at the University prior to setting up King Propulsion, I ran a research lab for him. I was drawn to high efficiency, low drag hydrodynamic projects. Mehmet and I were a great team and were especially good at solving the projects nobody else could do.
A turning point from the most unlikely of places – a propeller test!
The turning point however, came from the unlikeliest of places. King Propulsion was just getting off the ground so at this time I would fly back for a week or two every couple of months to consult and help train the staff in the University lab for Prof Atlar. On the first trip back I was helping on some water turbine tests. A water turbine pulls energy from the tidal current and converts it to electricity, just like a wind turbine. They work backwards to a marine propeller test where you drive the propeller, turbine tests the flow drives the turbine.
One of the challenges with the turbines is the self-start, what causes the turbine to turn and get going and work its magic. One of the designs was mounted on a dynamometer to measure loads and we were increasing the flow speed to get it to start. It was a little troublesome to get going, so we kept increasing the flow, nothing, increasing the flow, nothing, until this thing started, and then took off like a freight train destroying itself in seconds. It is rare for a failure but when they come, they are spectacular – water can be pretty powerful. To investigate why this happened we ran tests with a regular fixed pitch propeller increasing the water to measure starting torque vs flow speed, kind of a benchmark. At a certain point the prop started to leisurely self-rotate and the loads we were measuring dropped significantly.
I remember there were several sailors in the room, they started a debate about sailing with the prop in gear or out of gear to go faster under sail and which gave the lowest drag. If they smoked pipes, it would have been one of those thoughtful moments. I don’t think it was officially decided until later that night in the pub (of course!), when I learned about folding propellers and their benefits – I’d never heard of them. I was so intrigued by this flow effect as my PhD was on blocked propeller flow, that a huge lightbulb went on for just how critical propeller drag was for a sailboat – I realized every sailboat should have a folding propeller!
“I realized every sailboat should have a folding propeller!”
So armed with this I dropped everything for my business and re-focused my direction to folding sailboat propellers. Through my connections I was able to take on the dealership for Varifold folding propellers in the USA – I had clarity! I then set about creating a media platform. I setup a studio in a spare room of the office, taught myself green screen and started making videos, blogging and getting an online presence. I am now able to work with clients who like me and want my products. I’m definitely odd in my market.
I’m a propeller guy who knows about sailboats, not a sailor that has some experience with propellers and I freely admit this – hydrodynamics are my thing. When the sails come down, my job starts. It allows me to teach clients so they know exactly what they are buying and empower them to make the right decision for them – putting the client first is tremendously important to us. The upside is the right people get the right product, so our clients totally understand what they are purchasing, adding value and happiness!
I can’t say I have achieved my goals just yet, but I am on the right path. I feel more fulfilled. I gambled everything on this business and merged two very different career paths. I know I am starting to put the woes from my upbringing to rest. I’m still very much on the journey and I am excited to see where the business and my clients will take us!