John, 64, hails from Gravesend, Kent, UK, and comes from a long line of Thames tug-boat workers. In fact John is the fourth generation in his family to work on the famous tugs and both his son and son-in-law continue the tradition. So how did he end up with a 60ft steel ketch in Marmaris Yacht Marina, and where did the strange name ‘Chagazee’ come from? It’s all about the Russian connection……
John started as a chef, aged 15, on the Thames river tugs and worked his way through the ranks until he became chief engineer on sea-going versions of the river vessels, which took him to far-flung places such as Africa and the Black Sea. The jobs were many and varied. “Back in the 1960s before the traffic separation zone in the English Channel”, he recalls, “there was a lot of salvage work. Because there was no separation of traffic large freighters would occasionally collide. I remember once having to work alongside the Kent fire brigade to put out a fire on the German freighter ‘Capsan Antonio’, whose cargo contained high explosives! It took us four days to extinguish that fire.”
John spent his former years building kit cars and then transposed his engineering skills to completely refurbishing a run-down cottage in Suffolk in his fifties. “After that I felt I had one more ‘big’ project in me and decided that it had to be a boat”. He trawled Levington Marina in Suffolk and almost purchased a wooden boat. “Don’t do it”, his friends said. “You’ll break your back, your heart and your bank balance”. At that time an impounded Russian boat was up on sticks and was for sale under a sealed bid process. “I put in a silly offer and two weeks later was the proud owner of 60ft lump of rust. Because of its dubious background I was advised to change everything as it was known to just about every port authority west of the Baltic!” It took five years to rebuild her and she was launched in 2006 from Levington.
John, like many of us yotties, then agonised over the naming of his pride and joy. “When I worked on the tugs in Portugal my job was to provision the galleys, but I was also tasked with reminding the Portuguese ladies that the Brits were in town, so I would frequently recce the girly bars. Somehow I earned the nickname ‘Shagga’ by the Portuguese bar maids”. Of course ‘Shagga’ wasn’t a particularly appropriate name, but a Russian friend pointed out that the Russian word ‘Chagazee’ means ‘footprints in the sea’. It couldn’t have been more apt!
There are two remarkable features on Chagazee. The first is the helm, which boasts a tug steering wheel that is over 100 years old. “I don’t own that”, John explained. “It’s on permanent loan from a friend who has said I can keep it as long as I own the boat!”. The other amazing bit of woodwork is the figurehead. “It was made for me by an old neighbour who was a wood carver falling on hard times. It’s made from a huge block of Russian Karicci Pine that originally measured 60ft in length! It follows the traditional methods for carving Karicci Pine and hundreds of man hours went into its creation”. It truly is a beautiful piece of work and finishes off Chagazee’s lines perfectly.
The interior has a very New England feel to it, with clapboard walls painted in pastel blues and features all the mod cons of a house, including a bath! “My friends, however, keep reminding me that I haven’t built a yacht. I’ve built a tug with sails!”
John has already achieved his ambition of sailing to the Greek Islands so he’s thinking a trip up to the Black Sea may be next on the agenda. “My children and grandchildren will be coming out to visit as well. Meanwhile I’m spending my time here in Marmaris Yacht Marina, which was recommended to me by John Fessell of ‘Odin’. I met John in Almerimar and he sailed with me from Aghios Nikolaios, Crete. This has to be the best marina in the Med, though I do miss my pubs!”
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