“Obsession is a young man’s game, and my only excuse is that I never grew old”. This is Michael Caine’s well-known quote that would perfectly describe why men can get so easily obsessed with something. From sex, women to themselves, a list of men’s obsessions can go beyond one’s imagination. What drive men to keep up with their never-ending obsessions? What’s this a substitute for?
While some men may fiddle with cars, football or cheesy blogging on the Web, Iain Tolhurst is an exception. He is one of the pioneering organic growers in this country that runs a local farm in the Thames valley near Reading, where he has built a 36ft sailing boat in the back garden of his home. Whilst working 70 hours a week on the farm, Tolly managed to build the Pinky Ketch yacht made entirely from supplies of local sustainable and indigenous timber. All except deck planking that is from trees that he has harvested and dried himself from the woods on the estate in South Oxfordshire, where he runs another organic farm. It only took him 22,000 hours, all his spare time and all his money.
“I have had a passion for wood and boats all my life; this has had to fit in around my farming activities, as an occasional hobby. The hurricanes of 1987 and 1990 offered the opportunity of bountiful supplies of local timber, and the dream to build an ocean going yacht became a reality in 1999, when I started building Naida” said emotional Tolly with a smile on his face remembering the good old times in his workshop.
The oak, cedar and pine he used was local and reclaimed as was the 4.5 tones of lead he used for the keel, which saved him the costs of around £60,000 that he would have never afforded. When stepping into Tolhurst’ s workshop its easy to understand the excitement of his work. White sails and studdingsail, mast, yards, tack, ropes, all these details around drag you into the mystical world of sailing. His atelier is considerably bigger than his wooden house, both being under the same roof and in the middle of the forest, creating the perfect background for working on your lifetime dream. Looking at the boat shaken by the waves of the Thames, you understand that this work of art, ready to be popped inside a giant bottle before being shipped off to a museum, is a real thing. It is modeled on a 19-th century New England fishing boat and is called the Naida – after the ship on which his first wife was born off the Isles of Scilly in 1954.
“Building a boat is the nearest a man can get to having a baby,” says the captain, ready for the first sail to London by Thames.
For Tolly and his family, Naida is a legend and every part of it has interesting stories to tell. It is a hybrid of traditional and modern methods, based on the Pinky Ketches model originating from the East coast of USA in the early part of the nineteenth century. These were safe and navigable designs that would have been originally brought by the early pioneers from Norway and were used for offshore fishing. The rig is gaff ketch, offering great performance especially with the wind on the beam and it’s easily handed by the captain and its small crew. The Pinky Ketch is quiet unique and has been drawn up particularly for Tolhurst by Wiltshire shipwright Paul Fisher of Selway Fisher Design in 1992.
“I’m no expert but I can do metal work, and mechanical engineering,” he says. “But I underestimated the scale of the job. I thought it would take me only four or five years, not decades.”
Building the boat for twelve years meant more than an emotional attachment not only for Tolly and but for many other people from the local community whose lives seemed to have been touched by Naida and to a certain extent continues to do so. It has 103 small doors inside that have these people’s names engraved on them as a sign of gratitude for their help. His current wife, Tamara, has been very supportive all the way through.
“The moment I saw they are taking Naida away, I couldn’t refrain from tears… It’s like a child that leaves home”, confesses she.
Originally coming from Bristol, Tolly admits to have inherited his skills from his father, a rep for an electrical company whose passion for woodworking ultimately led to a small boat-building business and family sailing trips of the river Avon. Sadly he didn’t get to see the finalized boat, but for sure he would have loved it.
Mr Tolhurst admits that it took a while for him to recover from not having Naida around, but sailing her has been compensating a little. Ironically, spending so much time on building the yacht, the 58-year-old hasn’t been sailing himself for long years and now plans to head up for a voyage around the world. “It is,” he says, “the start of a new journey.”The motif of men, sons and boats has been an old concept deep rooted into ancient mythology and classic literature. From Christopher Columbus to the Pirates of the Caribbean we have learnt about sailors, sea and black legends that have brought up the symbolic connection between men and boats. Having said that, it’s easy to bridge the gap between the passion men get for boats and their determination to accomplish their obsessions.
During my stay at home this winter holiday, I met for a coffee an interesting man with a great story behind that shared the same thoughts on boats and sailing. His name is Stephen Moroz and he is the first master of this kind in the small land of Moldova, Eastern Europe. Master Stephen designs and simulates wooden souvenir sailboats of all times. He got his talent as being a professional painter and creates his own works of art by making smaller models of the most popular boats in the world. It can take him up to one year to build a sailboat that has more than 10.000 details. Looking through his sketchbook, it’s amazing to see how much he cares about his creations and for each of them he has a different tale to tell.
“At the time you start building a boat, you need to know everything about its history and its heroes. If you are not completely dragged into the story, it’s not going to work”. With a smile on his face, he remembers the first model he has ever done.
“When I was a kid, I was astonished with the discovery of the new land of America by Columbus. I built the exact simulation of Santa Maria de la Inmaculada Conception ship, the 1492 model that Columbus sailed in his first voyage.”
With a lighted up cigarette and a coffee, Stephen nostalgically confesses that he was twice married and has a 23-yeard-old son. Now he lives alone and spends most of his time in his workshop, working on new models. The 52-year-old says that because he is so dedicated to his occupation that absorbs so much time he is not able to have a family. The master got his obsessive passion for the sea and boats back in his young years by the time he was a sailor in Lithuania. Because of the fall of the Soviet Union, he was forced to return to Moldova, but his thoughts stayed on the waves of the Baltic Sea and his dream is to build a real boat one day and sail the sea for the rest of his life. Anyone that has been messing around with boats knows that those cunning curves, endless seams, and rooting wood hold more than practical challenges. All boats have histories, some more sentimental than others, but they inherit certain meanings. Reflecting on Tolhurst’s or Stephen’s story, we’ve seen more than an obsession, we’ve seen a lifelong dream achievement and total dedication to work. Some men compare the feeling of being in love with what they do with the one of being in love with a woman. They feel younger, they feel more empowered and it feeds their need of self- fulfillment. Being stereotyped as hunters, it’s vital for men to focus on something that underpins a meaning, an impact that will also give them a great sense of accomplishment.
“Even if I’m gonna sell hot-dogs, those will be hot-dogs with vitamins and probably will cure cancer” says 23-year-old student Terrence Carp.
These are the kind of challenges that make us evolve and break the boundaries. It is said that each one of us should have an obsession. In medical terms, obsession is defined as the way to madness. Yet, others define it as being really passionate about something or having your heart in everything you do and this is what successful examples above unfolded. Why men? Because they do it better.