Free From the Rat Race: A Sailor Charting His Own Course

Rob Temple
Free From the Rat Race: A Sailor Charting His Own Course

One evening last week as I was heading out on a sunset cruise, I passed an incoming sailboat which immediately caught my eye as a “character” boat. 

With almost all modern sailboats nowadays (including my own schooner Windfall II) being stamped out of molds in fiberglass, it's refreshing to see the occasional wooden boat, especially one with a gaff rig and dead-eyes and lanyards in place of stainless turnbuckles.

The boat's single occupant waved to us as he left the cockpit and moved casually forward to lower the anchor.  It was then that I noticed the vessel's name: Ideath.  I recognized it as an ideological place in a 1960s novel by one of my one-time favorite authors, Richard Brautigan but couldn't recall which novel. (At my age it's a challenge to recall the names of my immediate family members, let alone books I read over forty years ago!)

The next day as I was tending my wife's shop at the head of the dock, the captain of the gaff cutter Ideath stopped in and introduced himself.  We hadn't chatted for very long before it occurred to me that his was a story worthy of my Shipping News column.  I arranged to have him stop by the following afternoon for a formal interview. 

It turns out Randy Mims was living in Greensboro back in 1983 and had been mulling the idea of building a boat when he was driving his car from Greensboro to High Point and saw a partially built wooden boat in someone's backyard.  He stopped the car, a deal was struck and the project moved to his own back yard.  He was in no hurry.  It took eleven years of carefully selecting materials, much of it recycled like wood from a 100-year-old barn.  He even made his own sails! 

Finally in 1994, he launched the boat in Lake Hartwell high in the hills of  South Carolina.  Soon afterward his marriage “went south” and he more or less decided to do likewise, trucking the boat to Savannah, Georgia where he stepped the mast and proceeded to sail down to Brownsville, Texas.  In the next eleven years he completed four round-trip voyages between Apalachicola, Florida and Eastport, Maine.  Preferring to anchor out, he has spent only two nights tied up in marinas in all his cruising.

Free From the Rat Race: A Sailor Charting His Own Course

Since every endeavor needs a purpose, Randy decided early on that he would make it a goal to visit as many maritime museums as he could reach by boat and bicycle.  He has visited 151 so far.  At my suggestion, I'm assuming our local Waterman's Exhibit became number 152 before his departure.  When I asked if he planned to write a book about the museums he's visited, he said, “The notes I've been taking are this thick!” and he stretched his arms out at full length.  Clearly some editing will be needed.

On one of his visits to Maine, Mims came the attention of Wooden Boat magazine which published a full feature article about his boat in their February 2011 issue.  After reading the article in the copy he lent me and chatting with him a bit more, I began to realize that Mims is a true master of frugality and self-reliance.  For instance, when his rudder came partially unhinged on an off-shore passage, instead of calling Towboat U.S. And hauling out at a boat yard for repairs, he jury rigged a temporary fix and sailed in to a sheltered spot  where he anchored the boat, donned his scuba gear, and managed to inflate several truck inner tubes under the stern of his boat.  This raised the transom far enough out of the water to enable him to drill new bolt holes for additional rudder gudgeons.

When his step-father passed away a few years ago, Mims inherited enough to install a diesel engine as well as to cruise without employment for a spell until he got old enough for Social Security to kick in.

When he told me how much actual money he had tied up in his vessel, I realized that you couldn't buy two years' worth of smokes for that amount. Needless to say, Mims isn't a smoker.

For all too many people these days, life is a rat race --  putting in forty (or more!) hours a week doing things they'd really rather not be doing just to pay the bills for things they assume they need to have.  Randy Mims on the other hand is one of number of folks I've met cruising on sailboats who have managed, without being independently wealthy, to arrange their lives around a different routine wherein their time is their own to spend as they choose.  (Remind me sometime to tell you about John Nation and the schooner Zebra Dunn!) 

There's an amazing assortment of interesting characters out there cruising our coastal waters.  Since a good portion of them manage to find their way to our little island, you only have to travel as far as the harbor's edge to hear their stories.  

Fair winds, Ideath!

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