The Real Deal: Tom and KARAKA, and you can go too.

20 Oct

For anyone who whines about the cost of cruising, Tom’s story is inspirational, and perhaps instructional.

First expense, a 52-foot steel ketch, $1.

What was that? Yes, Tom saved this ketch from a trip to the scrapyard, which was just days away. He found her in Hong Kong in 2004, looking neglected, with a notice on her side for removal. He tracked down the owners and they agreed to let him have her for a symbolic dollar.

I know several people who have bought $1 boats, before I could tell them “Noooo! Don’t do it!” Tom was the former First Mate and later Captain of the 100-foot schooner RANGER, and knew he’d spotted a diamond in the rough. Many months, many thousands of dollars, much lost skin, and some severe burns later, Tom renamed her KARAKA, after the town in New Zealand where she was built, and she was ready to sail again. Since 2004 Tom has sailed her everywhere, with a revolving cast of characters, musical instruments, and a cat.

You can peruse Tom’s website (, but will soon be moving to or his Facebook page to see how the alternative lifestyle is meant to be lived.

I met Tom when we were both hired guns on the Clipperton Project, a quasi-scientific expedition to Clipperton Island, 700 miles off the Mexican coast. We sailed back from Clipperton to Cabo San Lucas on Island Seeker, a Downeast 32:
Frank, Island Seeker’s owner, on left; Tom in the middle; David on right; I’m taking photo

Over eight days Tom proved a very agreeable shipmate, and a good sailor. I’d sail anywhere with him. I woke up for my sunrise watch on the second or third day to find Tom grinning in the cockpit, and not touching the wheel. The boat had no self steering, and during the night Tom had figured out how to balance the rig just so, and she sailed herself. The banter between Frank, a Texan, and Tom, a Frenchman, was never dull.

So how does Tom do it financially, after over ten years without a real job? That revolving cast of characters? He charges them, but not much. His going rate is about $125 Euros per week, not including food and booze, but from the photos it looks like they catch lots of fish. And of course it’s expected that everyone work hard to keep Karaka running smoothly, which may mean chipping rust, grinding steel, cleaning fish, or stitching sails.

Did I mention that he plays the accordion?

If you think you’ve got what it takes to go gallivanting across the high seas with an accordion-playing Frenchman, Tom is currently accepting applications for his next leg across the South Pacific, from French Polynesia to Kiribati, Micronesia, and the Philippines, approximately six months. There is more information on his website about costs, expectations, and paperwork. Tom’s email address is


This article was syndicated from The Adventures of the Vessel Condesa


  1. Clark

    Corrections: Tom didn’t rename her Karaka; she was already named that. Tom charges 100 Euros per month, not 125, and he supports himself through odd jobs, deliveries, and selling bone carvings. The weekly fee from crew is purely for boat maintenance.

Comments are closed.

More from the AIM Marine Group