By Adam Marsh
For Stephen Hodges-Whittaker, it is impossible to be lost at sea. It is where he says he is most found.
Hodges-Whittaker, 62, sailed on the navy ship YAG 320 for the first time in 1970, and spent the next 32 years training recruits on board the ship.
He knew within moments of stepping aboard the 23-metre vessel he wanted to take the ship home with him.
More than 40 years later, he fulfilled his dream.
“I had just fallen in love with boats,” he recalls, sitting in the galley of YAG 320 sipping Hawaiian coffee. “I said, ‘I could live on this boat.”
In 2011, he bought the ship at a federal government surplus sale, and quickly made it his retirement project.
But repairing and renovating the vessel has been no easy feat, Hodges-Whittaker says.
“The navy’s wiring was old and standards and requirements have changed,” he says. “Because they used normal steel nails, we’re pulling up all the deck boards and either treating the steel, or replacing it with stainless.”
Hodges-Whittaker says the steel is treated by changing the rust into iron phosphate, which is done by putting phosphoric acid on the steel.
“We pour that stuff over the steel; it changes the rust, and seals the steel where it is.”
He says the phosphate incases the steel and essentially acts like a shield against spreading rust. But he doesn’t mind the hard, occasionally tedious work.
“It’s a feeling of that’s where I belong,” he says. “Every time I pull out a rusty nail or a broken screw, it feels to me like I’m pulling a splinter out of somebody’s finger.”
Hodges-Whittaker says it comes down to treating the boat how she deserves to be treated.
“The boat, to me, has a personality. It’s an entity.”
Cam Ward, who works at Rush Adventures in Cooper’s Cove, where the boat is anchored, says he sees Hodges-Whittaker put his zodiac in the water regularly and motor into the cove to work.
“From what I’ve heard, he’s trying to refurbish it back up. It’s a nice little conversation piece. It’s always fun to see those guys go back and forth in their little dinghy,” says Ward.
Hodges-Whittaker’s wife, Susanna Joy Hodges-Ransom, says she is looking forward to getting the construction of the boat done.
“It’s been a construction zone, but we’ve been able to still stay on it while they did the plumbing or took out the electrical.”
But Hodges-Ransom says things changed when the deck work began.
“Since it’s been having more and more construction, I’ve been staying on it less and less, because when I get there, instead of enjoying being on the boat, I’m now cleaning and organizing and helping.”
Hodges-Whittaker says it is not the kind of project with a definite end date. He links his experience on the water to that of an addiction.
“As soon as I got out to sea, I was sick as a dog, but it was like an addiction. I can’t stay away. There’s something about feeling the deck move, that’s a lot of it. Just feeling it move under my feet as I’m walking, I’m moving with it and it’s just the way I want to be.”