A professional SCUBA diver and owner of Big Blue 33 dive shop in Seogwipo City, Ralf Deutsch spent the last four years building a catamaran christened Kavenga hoping it will prove “strong, seaworthy, and fast.”
Due to the boat’s size, the process of moving Kavenga was as laborious and difficult as it was to build. Kavenga is 30-feet long and five-meters wide, and weighs between 1.2 to 1.5 tons. Finally, on March 8, after years of preparation, Kavenga launched from Seogwipo Harbor.
The boat still needs a few sea trials before sailing anywhere too far, but “she looks quite right,” Deutsch told The Weekly. “At the moment, she is beautiful, has character, and so far has not disappointed me.”
Ralf Deutsch sat down with The Weekly at Big Blue 33 to tell us about his boat.
▲ Ralf Deutsch Photo by Angela Kim
When did you come to Jeju and why?
I came to the island in March of 1995 to start a job at Jeju National University in the German department, teaching German. I have left the island for vacations, but I have lived on Jeju since then.
How did you change from teaching German to teaching SCUBA diving?
The contract ended at the university. The university’s policy was to employ foreigners for a limited time. I needed a new job. I was a SCUBA diving instructor. I saw the possibilities to offer dive services for people who do not speak Korean. I guess it all worked out. We started the diving shop in July of 2001, so it’s been a bit over 10 years.
When did you start sailing?
Before I had the diving shop, my previous hobby was SCUBA diving. When you make your hobby into [your] profession, you need a new hobby. So about five years ago, I became a member of the Gimnyeong Sailing Club.
When did you decide to build the boat?
I’ve been thinking about building a boat for a while before I started in January of 2008. And for two years prior to that, I was thinking about building a boat.
Why did you choose to build a catamaran?
The main problem was to get proper materials in Korea ... At the beginning, I had not decided to build this style of boat. I’ve been thinking about a lot of different styles. I was thinking about a steel boat. I was thinking in all different directions. It all depended on what the available materials were. I love this catamaran design. It was always my secret favorite. But I couldn’t find the materials at first. Then a Korean friend from the sailing club told me about plywood availability in Korea and a company that sells proxy (glue). Then it was quite quick. After I sorted out where to get the proxy and other materials, it was a matter of two months to get everything started.
Also, the sailing club has a boat which is very similar to mine, which is by the same designer but in a smaller size. The opportunity to sail on that boat gave me the last push.
Who designed the boat?
A man named James Wharran who lives in England. He’s a pioneer of catamaran design, especially home-built catamarans.
You can buy the building plans, which I did, then you get a set of technical details. They give you a little textbook.
▲ Top two photos by Angela Kim. Remaining photos courtesy Barbara Deutsch
What were the reactions from your family?
They like it. At least they say they like it.
My parents visit Jeju pretty often ... my father sometimes helped me on the boat.
They’ve seen the boat in different stages of progress. They were not expecting everything to take so long, but they enjoyed it.
My wife wasn’t shocked ... She is an artist — a professional photographer — who has projects of her own. I know that some wives would have problems with [their] husbands spending less time with the family and spending money, but she was not like that.
How many hours did you invest in building the boat?
It’s hard to say. I haven’t counted the hours. It must be something around 2,000 to 3,000 hours. In some months I didn’t work at all because I was busy with the diving shop. Sometimes I worked more, sometimes I worked less.
Which part of the process did you enjoy the most?
I enjoyed most the part where I was working with wood. And as most boat makers would agree, I least enjoyed sanding ... It’s boring, dirty, and not nice. But it’s necessary. Because when you paint, all the parts you didn’t sand become visible. Sanding was the worst part.
How much did it cost from planning to launch?
It cost about 20 million won (US$18,000) to build the basic boat.
What the boat actually cost is a difficult question. I don’t count the working time, but the outfitting of the boat changes the price. Some people put every available material into the boat. I’d say 20 million [in costs for the] basic structure, including sails.
What does Kavenga mean?
I chose a Polynesian word because Polynesians were the inventors of catamarans. I think, as Westerners, we owe this concept to the Polynesians. Kavenga is a term which has to do with the Polynesian way of navigation. It literally means “navigation by the stars.”
Also, it is a word that is easy to pronounce in many languages. Some people give Polynesian names to their boats. And sometimes the names are so unpronounceable. Kavenga can be easily pronounced in English, German, and Korean.
Where is your ultimate dream sailing destination?
I still must do testing before going anywhere, but I like small islands in the Pacific, like Micronesia. It’d be interesting to be able to go to such islands, because they’re not normal travel destinations where you can get on a plane and fly there.
(Edited for length and clarity.)
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