Yellow submarine's voyage of note

April 20, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

A bright, yellow boat that looks more like an oversized bathtub toy than an oceangoing vessel pulled into the Annapolis City Marina yesterday, carrying Seiko Nakajima and his tales of a trans-Atlantic voyage.

"I come here from Switzerland," said the diminutive Mr. Nakajima, 61, who made the journey alone in a boat whose engine looks like a Tinkertoy.

Mr. Nakajima launched his homemade boat, Seiko da Grindelwald, Sept. 10 at Basel in western Switzerland.

He cruised down the Rhone river through France and into the Mediterranean, then crossed the Atlantic to Barbados. He landed at Miami, then motored up the Intracoastal Waterway to the Chesapeake Bay and Annapolis. He is to leave tomorrow for New York and the end of his adventure.

"People ask me why do I do it?" Mr. Nakajima said. "I tell them, 'I lost my screw from my head.' "

Mr. Nakajima grew up building model boats out of leaves and sticks by the seaside town of Kyushu in southern Japan. He moved

to Switzerland in the 1960s and carved out a career as a commercial photographer and travel agent.

He began planning the journey at his home in Grindelwald, a town in the center of the Swiss Alps so tiny that his mail is addressed simply: Seiko, Grindelwald, Switzerland.

The amateur boat builder constructed the 18-foot, lightweight vessel, modeled after the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, with $10,000 worth of fiberglass, mahogany and other supplies.

He equipped the boat with a 2.5-horsepower outboard engine, which enabled him to cruise at 5 knots while never running out of gas from the 170-gallon tank. A bigger engine would have been too heavy and used too much gas, he reasoned.

The formula worked. The boat survived storms and 50-foot swells during the 2,000-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

"There was storm and wind and darkness, but I trust my boat more than anything," Mr. Nakajima said.

Mr. Nakajima said all he ever really wanted was to do something different, have an adventure, simplify his life.

"At the beginning, it was very, very boring," he said. "But then I became very pleased when I realized I had nothing. I thought, this is very good. I can think something."

In the boat's tiny cabin, where Mr. Nakajima can only crouch, he stowed one sleeping bag, a blanket, three pairs of pants, one sweater, three T-shirts and three pairs of socks. He said he missed only hot tea, hot soup and cold beer.

Mr. Nakajima could not cook for fear of blowing up the boat, whose gasoline tank rests under a seat cushion. So he caught fish and ate them raw, even though he didn't take to the ritual.

"When I take in the big fish, they cry 'KI! KI!' I felt so bad but I tell them, 'I'm hungry and I want to eat,' so they die," he says, #F slamming his hand down over an imaginary fish head. "Just like that. KONK."

Sleep was another problem. Six days after he set out from Cape Verde off West Africa on his ocean crossing, the boat's steering gear broke, making the automatic pilot useless. He steered the boat manually, using satellite navigation systems, charts and maps and sleeping only an hour at a time.

He landed in Barbados on New Year's Eve, then set out for the United States a few days later, landing in Miami Feb. 11.

Mr. Nakajima plans to meet his wife, Vreni, in New York, then fly home after loading his boat on a cargo ship. When he is settled back in the Alps, he plans to write a book about the voyage.

"This was his hobby ever since we were married," said Mrs. Nakajima, 46, in a telephone interview from Grindelwald. "I think it was good for him."

Mr. Nakajima wonders if his wife will recognize him when they finally see each other. He has grown a beard and lost 20 pounds. Most of all, Mr. Nakajima, who never believed in God, said he found faith in the isolated waters.

"I am different now. I hope she accepts me," he said. "This is my biggest present from my journey. Before I thought only the weak ones ask to the God. But we shouldn't be so high-nosed."

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