Capturing the Spirit of Puget Sound

Windjammer Park is a 28.5-acre waterfront park located in the picturesque town of Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in Washington State. The town of Oak Harbor is situated on the shores of the Puget Sound with beautiful vistas of surrounding mountains and ocean water.

Windjammer Park recently underwent a complete renovation that included the addition of an iconic, custom-designed splash pad play area. The splash pad play area was a part of a larger waterfront reconstruction, including the redesign of the adjacent Oak Harbor Waste Water Treatment Facility. Water Odyssey worked closely with the consultants at Northwest Playground Equipment and GreenWorks Landscape Architecture & Design Group to produce this unique, custom shipwreck design, complete with the hull of a ship, mast, sails and water cannons. Natural-looking boulders, logs and driftwood accented by realistic starfish and mussel detail all emit water spray effects that delight children of all ages.

Glass-fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC) made it possible to create a natural look of a shipwreck that has long been abandoned and is now a part of the surrounding natural beauty of the waterfront shores. The splash pad looks like a shipwreck washed up from the shore onto the land long ago and now sea-life, rocks and driftwood surround the wreck and water surfaces throughout the play structure. Children and adults alike enjoy the cool water while climbing the boat and adjacent logs and wood, all while enjoying spectacular views of the surrounding Puget Sound.

The GFRC ship contains a custom "wrecked" prow and stern along with a mast with crow's nest. The designers even took the opportunity to include a wheelchair access point directly through what appears to be a broken hull—complete with water effects flowing through the edges of the hull-break to delight those going through—either on foot on in a wheelchair. The structure is quite impressive as the mast height is 18 feet high, and more than 237 gallons of water flow throughout the splash play area. Designed for inclusivity, the water-spraying system is computerized and allows for different "play scenarios" for a wide range of ages and abilities.

A Wish List

In this particular case, the client was looking for a themed concept that reflected the spirit of the community and its beautiful natural surroundings. For hundreds of years, and even today, ships transporting explorers and merchandise have sailed through this harbor, so it was natural to gravitate toward having an old ship as the focal point of the splash pad. Once the theme of the shipwreck was agreed upon, it was important that this ship have the appearance of naturally weathered wood. There was also the desire that the components blend into, and not obstruct, the natural beauty of the surrounding Puget Sound. All of this needed to come together to create an attractive public space that invites visitors to play.

The design team worked to create a shipwreck that is partially sunken into the ground with water emanating through what appears to be the weathered, distressed wood of a ship that crashed along the shores of the Puget Sound. By doing so, the structures don't obstruct the view of the surrounding ocean. In addition, the team created boulders and rocks with attached sea creatures into which water features were inserted to provide interactive splash play opportunities.

The Use of GFRC

GFRC is significantly lighter in weight and higher in tensile strength than conventional concrete and is also very adaptable. The chopped strands of glass-reinforced fibers that are added to the mix give the concrete strength and durability. It can be sprayed or poured into a mold, and adapts to nearly any complex shape, from rocks to fine ornamental details. Water Odyssey has created a unique blended concrete mix with fine glass fibers for reinforcement.

This project started with a 3-D animation in which each of the individual pieces of the splash pad were placed. This made it easy to visualize how the pieces would be placed together and spaced on the splash pad. This animation also included the water features in action to illustrate how the water flows from each of the pieces. Included in this process was creating color concepts to ensure the color palette was in line with the expectations for the overall look of the project.

Included in the design process is the challenge of determining the most appropriate ways to ensure the play area is ADA-compliant.

From the design phase, the team moved into production, beginning with creating the frame drawings and the hydraulic layout for each of the splash pad components. For all splash pad features, the structural framework is made entirely of stainless steel to ensure against corrosion by water and chlorine, knowing the pieces are going into a wet environment. Specialists bend the rebar and create the basic shape of each component. Placement of the plumbing within the stainless steel framework is required before beginning the "lathe" application. This particular design had many little jets throughout the perimeter of the ship so there was a fair amount of internal plumbing that needed to be placed before applying the lathe and GFRC. Much of the primary plumbing runs at the bottom of the framework in 4-foot channels that run the width of each component. These channels are what make the structure quite heavy. To give you an idea, the front of the ship weighed around 4,000 pounds, and the smaller section, or back of the ship, weighed about 1,000 pounds.

Once all of the plumbing has been arranged in the framework, the diamond wire mesh and lathe around the frame were applied. The lathe is all done by hand and cures in sheets. After the placement of the lathe, the stucco—or the fiber-reinforced concrete mix—is applied to cover the steel and lathe.

With the frame, plumbing and lathe complete, the stucco sculpting begins. This is where the real artistry happens. A shell of concrete is placed over the steel and lathe. Sometimes the concrete can be shot, like gunite or shotcrete—but in most cases, it is all applied by hand. There are usually three to four people involved who spend many hours creating and adding the texture, line cuts and details that give the product its final look.

In the case of this Windjammer project, much of the time was spent giving the concrete an old, weathered look of wood. There was a lot of hand-sculpting involved, which was fairly time-consuming.

The final step is the coloring and painting step. For the Windjammer project it took the team about two to three days to get all of the painting and coloring done of the ship itself. The rocks and boulders were painted much faster.

Installation on site

Once the splash pad components arrive on site and are installed, Water Odyssey sends a specialist to help facility managers program the water features on the splash pad. This liaison uses the plumbing diagram to show how each element in the splash pad has its own plumbing line as well as its own electrical fuse on the control panel. There is a controller for these water features that has a program for the sequence of each sprayer. The specialist will program the features on-site and spend time teaching the client how to adjust if they wanted to do so in the future, to accommodate for any feedback by patrons.



Kent Walker is GFRC design and creative manager for Water Odyssey/Fountain People for wet play, and Gametime/Playworx for dry play. He has worked for the company for 10 years, and has 35 years of experience designing and creating GFRC and other products for the waterpark and playground industries. For more information, visit