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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Shahid & SV Safina
Making life work on a 30 ft space
February 4, 2020

ailors who take to the seas later in life are prone to carry aboard the vestiges of their former lives.

It can result in a mixed-bag of fortunes. Though for Shahid Khawaja, the retired engineer leverages his former life’s work to his advantage, and his comfort, on the water.

SV Safina

Tan, bearded, and eyes twinkling, the solo-sailor from Basque Country arrived to Oriental in December. He was laser-focused on a short list of inventions and customizations to make his life easier aboard his Albin Ballad 30’, Safina.

Items on the list were handwritten in his personal log and diary from days he wished he had them. On the list: slab reefing, a seat for his companionway, and a steel-built wood stove for the saloon.

Others might look to a catalog or box-store for these creature comforts. Shahid, however, sailed south down the Neuse and into Oriental Harbor, equipped with measurements, hand drawn designs, and a local team of friends on speed dial.

Shahid met one of those friends, Christian Michaels, on his first visit to Oriental three years ago. Back then, they retrofited Shahid’s galley cabinetry with a swing door fridge.

SV Safina
Shahid aboard Safina.

Now, on his third trip to Oriental, Shahid recalls reaching out again while underway: “I called Christian [from the Pungo River], and told him about my ideas. He said, ‘come on over, let’s make it happen.’”

The first night back in Oriental, Shahid and Christian hashed out a plan, and by the following day, the companionway seat was nearly finished.

Shahid’s rationale for a custom seat is safety-based: “I want to be able to sit comfortably and steer the boat with protection,” he said. The ‘protection’ comes from the sporty, wood and acrylic-windowed dodger he also built himself, painted royal blue to match Safina’s freeboard.

SV Safina
An earlier project of Shahid’s – a hard top dodger.
SV Safina
Shahid in the cabin of Safina, discussing the modifications.

With one-third of the list complete, Shahid focused on the slab reefing and constructing the wood stove from scratch.

Shahid dreamed up the idea on a chilly evening while tied up at the R.E. Mayo docks in Hobucken, two days prior to his arrival in Oriental. “I drew up the design, and started to think about how I would do it,” he said. Alone on his boat after his daily prayers, Shahid began to take measurements around his saloon.

Discussing the matter with Christian, the two quickly agreed that the thickest steel they could find for the best price would be the best steel for the job. “At first, someone suggested I use an empty fire extinguisher,” Shahid laughed, describing early iterations.

SV Safina
Christian’s grinder throws sparks while working on the wood stove.

Shahid hitched a ride to New Bern to investigate some off-cut steel pipe for the fire chamber. In a steel yard, he found a fairly large 6 inch diameter pipe among scraps on a forgotten rack. Convincing the yard boss to cut it down to his specs, Shahid returned to Oriental with his find. “A fire extinguisher’s metal would turn red hot with a wood fire inside,” Shahid explains, “this one… 1/4 inch steel.”

They men got to work. “We just made it up as we went,” Shahid said of the involved 10-day construction and installation process.

SV SafinaSV SafinaSV Safina
Shahid and Christian check their work, and take measurements for the chimney installation.

Christian wasn’t the only friend Shahid called on.“There have been so many people who have helped me here,” he said. “My other friend, Dan, was helping me with the slab reefing.” Steven at Deaton’s Yacht Service helped with some of the metal work, and Pat and Teresa at the Provision Company helped him with orders and receiving packages.

“Everyone was helpful.” Shahid said it’s why he comes back here and why he’s brought cruisers along with him, when they’ve needed help.

When asked about his sailing origin story, Shahid is quick to laugh: “Listen, I am not a sailor. I didn’t know anything before I bought my boat four years ago!”

In his previous life before cruising, Shahid made his name at British Petroleum, first as an engineer, and upward to executive-level roles that took him far and wide across the globe as a contract negotiator and manager to several hundred employees worldwide. It’s where he picked up Safina’s name.

“When I was working with BP, I was stationed in the Middle East, drilling oil. And I used to look at the sailboats,” he said. “And safina literally means ‘boat with sail’. So I said, when I buy a boat, I’ll name it Safina.

SV SafinaSV SafinaSV Safina
The wood stove completed, along with the chimney and a small ash shovel made from scratch.

But after 28 years working among the top ranks at BP, a triple bypass surgery his doctor deemed ‘entirely stress-related’ gave Shahid pause. He decided to retire. “For six months I was restricted from doing several things… and I was taking approximately 9 different medications when my friend said, ‘Come sailing with me.’

“And that was it, man,” Shahid said. “We went cruising that day. It felt like freedom. I decided; I need a boat.”

At age 61, Shahid began extensive research on seaworthy boats, calling on college friends-turned-naval engineers for advice. He soon found a tried and tested Albin 30’, a Swedish, pedigreed blue-water boat, from a Swedish couple who had just completed an African tour.

SV Safina
Shahid waves as he and Safina motor back into the harbor.

He spent a year learning to sail Safina around Morocco, Algeria, and Gibraltar before making a two-part jump across the Atlantic in 2016.

On his longest run, from the Azores to Bermuda, Shahid realized he needed something more. “I learned if you want to be a solo sailor, you need to have hobbies. Spirituality, star gazing… for the first time in my life, I had time to think about me and my inner soul. Before then I was surrounded by people… work, friends, golf… it’s different. But solo-sailing [across the Atlantic]… I had a lot of time to look inside.”

Shahid admits, “When I did, there were dark spots.” On the water, he said, “there are occasions that will make you believe in God.”

Before he reached the Americas, Shahid had decided, “I’m going to keep this belief in me 24/7.” During his travels, Shahid has kept a diary – an accounting of these “private thoughts and memories.” He plans to will it to his son.

SV Safina
At dusk in Oriental’s harbor.

“I started to see that the more good I put into the world… the more good keeps coming back.”

During the holidays, Shahid left Safina and a few unfinished projects to fly back to France to visit his son. He learned that his son will be interviewing at several medical schools stateside. Shahid asked him to attend a school along a coast, preferably in Texas, so Shahid can visit and sail the Gulf of Mexico.

Once Shahid’s project list for Oriental includes only checked boxes, he plans on heading south for the Keys and beyond, weather permitting. In true engineer fashion, he has set a clear goal and a timeline: “I want to see as much of the world as I can in five years, and meet as many people as I can.” And when five years is up? “I’ll just re-set the clock… another five years from the next time I say it.”

Posted Tuesday February 4, 2020 by Allison DeWeese

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