by Tom.

On this page I would like to elaborate at length on what this is all about, what’s going on with Karaka, what’s special about it. The answer is complex and long but here is an attempt at explaining:

We are running the ship as a co-op.

What we mean by co-op boat is simply a ship that is run and operated by a bunch of people who jointly make the trip happen, in a non profit, egalitarian way where everybody has a say, and form a voluntary and temporary functional group with a common goal. It is more a concept about the organization and outlook. It is based on non profit cooperation between a bunch of people to get to sail nice boats offshore long term and for whom it becomes a lifestyle more than a ride across the ocean.

The reality of the community experience is radically different from simply hitchhiking across the ocean as a guest or a passenger, and that long term egalitarian community feel is really what it is about and sets it apart. It is just another approach from what most boats do, with a captain who considers the ship their own personal place, or home, in which they occasionally invites guests or hitchhikers in.

Regarding decision making, it is pretty collaborative, there is not clear chain of command. It is not necessary on a smallish boat with only half a dozen people on board. There is no strict hierarchy on Karaka and it is a conscious choice. 

That said, it is inevitable that as the most experienced on board, I (Tom) usually have the last say on safety measures, and giving directives in case of emergencies, storms, dragging the anchor at night, etc, as well as matters regarding navigation. There is a need for a captain but it doesn’t need to be an autocratic captain. Except in emergencies or decisions that need to be made quickly, as captain I do my best not to decide on my own but instead to explain and get input from everyone. 

Concerning what needs to be done on maintenance, sometimes I strongly suggest something, but the crew is free to make their own decisions and to comply or not. Since everybody is a willing participant who intends to pull his or her weight, It is usually not a problem. If there is something I consider needs to be done urgently, I ask for volunteers or I do it myself as I prefer to have somebody motivated who decides to do it, instead of having something done with reticence. For example for maintenance, we have a blackboard on a wall on which tasks that need to be done are listed, and people can pick jobs they feel like doing. Sometimes crew members simply ask me what they can do to help, or ask confirmation before doing something they feel needs to get done. When the list gets too long, we decide on a maintenance day and make it smaller. 

For other decisions, regarding destinations, when to go, where to stop, etc etc, as well as provisioning, cooking, house hold chores, watch rotas, who gets to take the best kayak or the best bunk and such, it is as far as practical decided by consensus. I or somebody else would present the info and variable factors we need to consider, makes a suggestion as to what we feel would be a good idea, those ideas are discussed, and if everybody agrees, then we do that. For picking new crew, the same process is applied. The current crew who will share time on the boat with the new crew gets to review all applications that pass the first selection and everybody’s input is considered.

We have strong anarchist tendencies but we do not pretend to apply a perfect theory or to be purists, it is just a matter of being as egalitarian as practical under the circumstances. Under those circumstances, being captain is simply one of the jobs on board. This is openly inspired from the old buccaneers/pirates organizations, with the difference that the crew “votes” for the captain of his choice by who he decides to sail with. He could “vote” to disembark at anytime if the captain abuses his power and doesn’t act in a way that suits him. In that non autocratic position, the captain has a specific job attributed to him by the others due to his higher ability to perform the job, but his authority stops there and in matters not directly related to his duties, he refers to the group like anybody else. Another person with the relevant level of skills and knowledge will have their own area of expertise and authority, for example in public relations and communication, or organizing social events, 
or organizing activities and workshops on board, playing lead in a jam session, etc etc. The goal being, of course, to cooperate and pool resources and skills.

For us, sailing on Karaka is not a temporary thing, it is a lifestyle. It is not a hobby, it is not a holiday, it is not a business, it is not a sport. It is all that at once and something else as well. Our whole life runs around the ship, it is home, investment, bank, transportation, workshop, local pub, classroom, sport club; the base for everything that we do. On Karaka, all the aspects of our lives are concentrated in the ship. It is good because living on Karaka is what we do. We don’t have times that are wasted doing something we don’t want to do in order to be able to do what we want to do later on. We don’t have to find time off work for a hobby, our house and our jobs are our hobby. We don’t need to take 3 week off work to go on vacation, what we would chose to do on our vacation is what we do everyday. When people ask me what I do with my life, I tell them I’m living on a boat. That’s what I do. I am not racing around the world, I am not running a charter business, I am not on a sabbatical, taking a few years off from “real” life. I lead a self sustainable life on my ship. It involves sailing around the world, having crew members, visiting the nicest places we can find, working on maintenance, playing music, diving, fishing and surfing, sailing my canoe, partying and basically having the best time possible.

At the same time, the crew member who come only for one of the aspects of the life on board is going to be disappointed because he won’t find what he came for. The crew who joins is going to have to participate in the lifestyle, the whole of it. We don’t expect the crew member to adopt this lifestyle forever, although a few ex crew members have now their own boat, but we expect the crew member to come wanting to experience the lifestyle. A crew member can’t join solely for the sport of sailing, or for a trip in a country he is interested in, or to live in a community with alternative views, or because he got a few weeks off work and wants to relax. The life on board is inescapable for all crew members. Those who make the mistake to think they can have only one aspect of it usually don’t last long and decide to leave after a week. That is one of the reason why we prefer people who can stay for a minimum of several months and the longer the better. A shorter period doesn’t leave enough time to get involved and those who can’t take the time to get involved will miss the point.

Karaka is not a sport boat. Although it is important to be fit as it can get strenuous, sailing on Karaka is mellow. During a crossing, I would say that only 10 percent of the time is spent doing something related to sailing, if that. The rest of the time the boat goes by itself. That is a lot of idle time in a close environment that rolls around and is crammed with other people. Restless people expecting a lot of activity will be disappointed by ocean sailing. It is most of the time a relaxing, mellow activity with short bursts of hectic action now and then. One should come prepared to occupy himself, reading, meditating, cooking, chatting, fishing, doing art, etc etc.

Another thing I want to mention is about me teaching sailing to the crew. I do, to the extent that I can, teach sailing to those who come on board, although Karaka is not a sail training vessel. I am not a qualified sailing instructor and won’t deliver any certificate. One thing that I need to say is that I think that learning by heart how Karaka works (or any other boat), is near useless. It might help you while you are on Karaka but it won’t really make you a well rounded sailor. So although I enjoy answering questions and explaining things to those who actively try to learn, mainly I don’t spend much energy on teaching to people how to do things. I prefer to teach the attitude of figuring out how to do things and give them the opportunities to try it. That way, people end up understanding what they are doing instead of being automatons at my orders and more importantly, they gain confidence and the certitude that if they forget a specific knowledge, they will be able to figure it out again when needed.

The amount of knowledge necessary to run a sailboat is staggering and few can claim to remember it all after a few months or even a few years sailing. After a while, with experience, things become natural, but for the beginner, the most important thing is to be able to correctly figure out what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. Sailing on Karaka definitely helps with that. I don’t like to teach what to think, I prefer to teach how to think.

While coastal cruising, the sailing periods are shorter so the bursts of hectic action are closer to each other. There is the possibility to go explore the shore as well, so finding something to do is a lot easier. Yet, life afloat is slow. Life in the tropics is slow too. Life afloat in the tropics is particularly slow. There is just no need to rush.

Life on Karaka is mostly good fun, but there are times where nothing happens, because it is raining outside or because it is Sunday and everything is closed in town and the point break is flat. There are times when work needs to be done. There are times when we have to stay on the boat because it is too rough to anchor close to a landing spot. There are times when we are in sewer water near a ferry terminal in front of a polluted city and you can’t leave until some engine spare arrives by the mail. There are times when it is not so exciting, and people here for constant intense excitement won’t necessarily find it. Yet, a boat is like many things in life, you get out of it what you bring yourself to it. When times are slow, the one who can’t entertain himself will get bored. It would be his fault.

People sometime ask me what I am doing with the boat. They wonder why I don’t have any ambition. They are baffled that this slow unproductive life is enough for me, an educated man full of potential…

My ambitions in life are to enjoy myself, travel, sail on a magnificent ship, keep fit, eat tasty healthy food, meet a lot of interesting and beautiful people, love, share my life with a wonderful woman, learn as much as I can about myself and the world, think on my own, live according to my beliefs and never take orders or trade my time for money.

As it happens, my lifestyle fulfills my ambitions and I find those ambitions much more worthwhile than such ambitions as making a pile of money, having a career, secure a good retirement, get a bigger car that my neighbor, have 2.7 kids, buy a flat screen home cinema, or such. Each his own, but I actually find these kind of ambitions ridiculous and shallow. I don’t think even fulfilling those ambitions would make somebody happy. I think those ambitions people don’t see in me are the ambitions that make people waste their lives. Karaka provides us with a good lifestyle that is very rewarding in itself.

I think it is a mistake to put up doing what you really want to do until the end of your life. It might means giving up comfort and tradition but there is a life worth living to gain in the bargain. Deciding to do what you want with your own life is not a luxury afforded only by an elite, anybody can do it. The people who ask those questions don’t seem to understand that there is no need for a home, a career or a steady income when living the life we lead. This life is fulfilling enough in itself on all points. We are doing good for ourselves and honestly I believe we are better off that most people who lead a more conventional life, even if they are probably more secure and wealthier than us. I think we have more freedom, more control over our own life, more excitement, more time, more adventures, and less compromise, less hassle with law and government, less obligations, than most people. What other lifestyle provides so much and requires so little back?

Some of the rewards of this lifestyle are obvious, some are not. If you are reading this it probably means you have considered the obvious ones, the remote islands, the turquoise waters, the palms swaying in the trade winds, etc etc, yet joining Karaka is more than joining for a sailing trip in exotic locations, it is also a peek into that nomadic sea going lifestyle’s less obvious rewards that we enjoy and want to share. Curiosity about that lifestyle has to be one of the reason you are considering writing to us, otherwise, you are missing the entire point.

And if anybody out there think we’re cool and want to offer us a beer, you can Support Us.

For the other aspects on living on a boat without much money, I have put together a collection of hints and advice, check “Tricks of the trades”