Ian Holding Carving

“Swift and Sure” by Steve Saul

After completing the 2014 Singlehanded Transpac, I put my 35 foot cruising boat on the market in Oahu with the intention of buying something smaller to use on San Francisco Bay.  Despite Hawaii’s reputation for being a terrible place to sell a boat, two days after the listing was posted on the internet, there was an inquiry from a buyer in Namibia.   Namibia is a country of 2 million people on the west coast of Africa with no marinas.  Deeply skeptical, I dismissed the possibility that this would be a real buyer, until he booked a flight to Oahu, hired a surveyor and closed the transaction within 30 days.

Never one to go boatless for long, I started shopping right away.  Sailing OCSC’s fleet of J24s the past few years influenced my decision to continue to go smaller.  Over the last ten years, I did my ocean cruising on a 45’ boat; moved down to a 35’ boat, so now 30’ feet seemed just about right.

I found a Swedish built Albin Ballad for sale in Sausalito.


Built in 1978, it was 30 feet long with attractive lines.  Over 1,500 were built for recreational use in the North Sea making their performance on the robust winds of San Francisco Bay ideal.  It was covered in bird dung and looked abandoned by its owner.  The name on the transom was “Certa Ceto”. On the market for two years with multiple price reductions over time, the broker indicated that the owner was overseas and had given him the pink slip.  “Make me an offer”, he said.

Boat owners who are selling are often indifferent to the investment they have made in a boat – a sunk cost and the price paid for the pleasure of being on the water.  Their motivation to sell is more often driven by the guilt from not using the boat often enough and not keeping up with required maintenance.  I made an offer without a condition for a marine survey.  This is not something I would recommend to other boat buyers, but having researched the boat, the construction was solid and the price I was paying would allow me to address undiscovered problems.   A risk, but a calculated one.

The transaction closed and I began the process of removing all the accumulated gear raising the waterline by several inches in the process.  I bought a pressure washer and removed the grit and grime.  Most of the work was cosmetic as the former owner had thoughtfully replaced the engine, mast, boom, sails and rigging.

A few weeks later, I got a call from the former owner.  “Hi, this is Ian.  You bought my boat.  I have some extra sails in my garage if you want them.”  Ian lived not far from my home, so we arranged an evening when I could swing by and pick up the sails.  Parking just outside his garage, we transferred a spinnaker, a drifter and a few older jibs into my car.  Then Ian invited me in for a glass of wine when we were done.

This exact moment in a transaction is pregnant with potential.  Once the negotiating is over and the deal has closed, the former owner is often more than willing to talk about the boat’s history and share his experiences.  Ian had owned Certa Ceto for over a decade, so there was lots to discuss.  I started with the obvious question:  “Where did the boat name come from?” I asked.

Ian responded, “When I was younger, I was enlisted in the British Army Signal Corps.  The motto of our division was “Certa Ceto” .  It’s Latin for “Swift and Sure”.  I thought it was a pretty good name for a boat.

I asked him what he did after he got out of the Army and there his real story began.
“We were all required to have a hobby in the Army. Mine was wood carving. Something I was good at as a kid. When I was discharged, I thought I would give it a go and see if I could make a living as a wood carver.”

ian holding carving

“Every pub in Britain has a wooden sign out front.  They are usually quite ornate.   So I started out carving pub signs.  Once I got good enough, I moved on to village signs.  Every small village in the British Isles has a carved wooden welcome sign”.

The wine flowed along with the discussion.

“So do you still carve?” I asked.


“What sort of things do you carve now?” I asked.

“Well, I did the Pope’s throne…”, he said.

It seems that Ian not only made a living out of his passion for carving, he also developed a specialty in high end wood pieces – church restorations, historic buildings and custom carvings all over the world.  Over time he had more work that he could do himself, so he hired a few carvers to work for him.  The orders continued to pour in.  He hired staff in Britain and in America.  He bought property in India and built a factory where he now employs 25 carvers.  He divides his time between a home in the south of France and one in Marin County.  He Skypes regularly to his offices on three continents.

“My work follows the rise in global wealth – Russian billionaires, Chinese multi-millionaires, governments in developed and developing countries intent on not losing important parts of their heritage.  I recently bid on the carving contract for a New York hedge fund manager’s home.  $2.6 million in carving alone!”

Few people have a sense of the richness of the boating community when they first take up the sport.  So often, the individual scripts have nothing to do with boats.  Ian’s story is unique to him, but it contains common themes that inspire me:  from humble beginnings the rewards of diligence and dedication accrete slowly over a lifespan.  Faith in the future and a willingness to take a small risk are at the starting line of any accomplishment.  In our lifetimes, rising global wealth breeds countless opportunities for many people.  There are more job descriptions in the world than you can possibly think of and not all of them involve the latest trends.

Instructor Steve Saul's Bio

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