The Journey Begins

Well, I’ve bought a boat.

Everyone familiar with boats will know what that statement entails. Boats are a big commitment. “A hole in the water in which to throw money” is an often used definition, and it’s not far off from the truth. And the boat I’ve bought is the worst kind; an old sailboat that has fallen into disrepair, what repairs once made done by a previous owner with very little knowledge of boats and even less craftsmanship; a boat so tired and worn out that I was able to negotiate the asking price down to free. Free boats are the most expensive kind.

So what would possess me to take on such a project? Well, there are several reasons. For one, I was raised in a commercial fishing family, grew up around boats and on the water, and spent 10 seasons working on various fishing vessels up and down the west coast of Canada. My father has fished for over 40 years. He’s not given to bragging, so perhaps few people know it, but he’s one of the best fishermen on the west coast. He’s consistently in the top 10 producing boats for whichever company he sells his fish to, and most importantly, he has an excellent safety record. He’s one of the few people out on the water today whose knowledge is so vast, seamanship so sound, and willingness to help others so great that everyone’s safety is improved just by having him out on the water. My paternal grandfather was a mechanic, aircraft engineer, and aircraft safety inspector. My maternal grandfather was a sailor his entire life, from the time he joined the merchant marine as an underaged kid right at the start of WWII, through to captaining various coastal vessels and his own fishboats. I’ve been surrounded by a wealth of knowledge my whole life, and I’ve had some excellent teachers.

Commercial fishing is still the best job I’ve ever had, and I miss it terribly. However, for various reasons I made the career choice to be a knowledge worker, and now live in Japan where I work at a digital marketing agency and have a small internet company on the side. I spend my weekdays and a good portion of my weekends at a desk tapping away on a keyboard. I miss working with my hands, living outdoors, working in harmony with nature to produce a valuable product that feeds families. Meaningful, visibly productive work. I don’t want those old skills I was taught to get rusty. I want to improve my knowledge of the sea and seamanship.

The nature of my daily work leads to another reason for buying a boat, I simply need the stress relief. Living in the world’s most crowded city, surrounded daily by jostling crowds, ensconced in technology, materialism, and the never ending quest for financial success, gets very tiresome at times. It’s real nice to get outside the city. Nothing calms the mind like the solitude of being out on the water.

I also enjoy the process of restoring things. It’s a lot of work, but if there’s a good frame (or hull) to start with, the thing was built solidly and with pride in craftsmanship, and it can be considered a classic, it’s often worth it. I like working with my hands to turn what looks like junk into a treasure. My first car was a 1974 Valiant that I bought for a quarter when I was 15, had towed home, and spent a year restoring to the point where it would run. Dad helped and I learned about everything from electronics to bodywork (well actually, that’s not the best example, as even when I finally got it to run it was still pretty much junk. But I did eventually sell it to a wrecker for $25, so that was a 1000% profit. Minus 2 years labour and about $500 in parts that is). Anyway I like working on projects that breathe life into good old things.

Another reason is that it’s been a long term dream to one day semi-retire and cruise the world by sailboat, hopping from port to port and working via laptop and cellular connection when conditions are right. I’m slowly trying to move all my work into the Cloud and automate as much as I can in preparation of this dream, to become a sailing Digital Nomad. Having a boat to hone my seamanship skills on improves the feasibility of this one day becoming reality. And who knows, perhaps some day I can fish Canada’s west coast again during the summers, cruise down south during the colder months.

And finally, the kicker was spending my winter vacation down in Okinawa this year, where Mom and Dad joined me from Canada. We rented a Yamaha 30 sailboat from a great guy named Carey, a soon to be retired US marine who lives near Naha. We had the time of our lives, a dream vacation where we spent just over a week sailing from the main island of Okinawa down to the Kerama Islands and back again. We island hopped, tied up in quant little ports, anchored in beautiful aqua coloured bays, snorkelled with more fish than I thought were possible in one stretch of reef, and floated lazily alongside sea turtles. More about that adventure in a future post.

Anyhow, there are many justifications, but the short of it is that I wanted a boat. I’ve been keeping an eye on the used sailboat market for years now. If anyone’s wondering where to get a sailboat in Japan, this is the place: http://www.chukotei.jp/cgi/?mode=ichiran&cat=y (in Japanese). I’ve followed that site for years, and purchased my last vessel there, a 14′ Yamaha sailing dinghy I used up in Hokkaido:

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I loved that boat, but I couldn’t bring it with me when I moved to Tokyo. I live in a tiny apartment here with no way to trailer and keep a boat. So I needed one that could stay moored in the water year round. After coming back from the Okinawa trip I came down with a bad case of boat fever, and after looking at a few, serendipitously found this one:

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She’s a 30 foot Sparkman & Stephens designed IOR (international offshore racing) half-tonner. I’ll post more about her specs another time, but the main thing is that she’s famous for being a seaworthy design that’s fast and sails well to windward, but is also built like a tank and can handle offshore weather. I love her classic lines, old-school craftsmanship, and the fact that she’s got a rock-solid hull and decks with no signs of waterlogging/rotten deck core. She needs a complete overhaul of her running gear and interior, but she’s got a very solid hull to start from. It’ll take a looooong time to get her back in shape, but here’s a little snapshot of how she would have looked when first launched 40 years ago:

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