Guest Interview Tony Fleming of Fleming Motor Yachts and his boat, Venture.

 
Tony en route North Pole 2005
 
So, Tony, tell us a little something about your cruising to date and where you have been so far?

I did some quite extensive cruising mainly in Norway and other parts of Scandinavia – in an early Fleming 55 owned by the person who is now our agent in Australia. But I presume you are more interested in the cruising I have done in my own boats. I had a GB42 in Singapore which I took to the Tioman Islands in the South China Sea off the east coast of Malaysia. That boat is under new ownership and now lives in Seattle.

As far as Flemings are concerned, I have owned two. Both have been 65s. Venture was commissioned in January 2005. That first year we took the boat down to Ensenada and shipped her to Vancouver on Dockwise. That first year, we did some limited cruising out of Vancouver around the Gulf Islands and as far north as Princess Louisa Inlet. We then brought the boat down the Pacific coast to Newport Beach.

 
Loch Skavaig is a truly magical anchorage on the Isle of Skye, 2007
 
In spring 2006, Venture went to La Paz. I was not aboard as my sister died suddenly the day before we were due to leave. The boat was shipped back up to Nanaimo early summer 2006. We then took the boat to Juneau and back to Delta Marine Services on Vancouver Island.

Over the winter 2006/07, engines were swopped out for a pair of MAN engines. This was because our dealer on the US east coast required more horsepower and we wanted to try the MAN engines before installing them in production boats.

 
Tony at North Pole, 2005
 
During the summer of 2007 we cruised the Broughton Islands (on the Canadian mainland just north of Vancouver Island) and then down the Pacific coast to Newport Beach. During the fall 2007, Venture acted as an escort vessel for the first Fubar Rally to La Paz organised by Bruce Kessler.

In March 2008 cruised the Sea of Cortez. Then followed our major trip during remainder of year during which we took Venture to the US east Coast via Galapagos Islands, Panama Canal, Grand Cayman, Florida Keys, Intra-coastal, Hudson River, Erie Canal, Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence Seaway and River, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New England and back to Chesapeake where we arrived in September.

Venture II was built and shipped to Southampton in the UK where she arrived July 2009. We took her down the English Channel and, later, across the North Sea to Hamburg then down the Ijssel River in Holland and up the Rhine to Dusseldorf.

Starting in April 2010 we took Venture II to Ireland, Scotland, Faroe Islands and circumnavigated Iceland before returning to Southampton for the boat show.

In April 2011, the original Venture was shipped back to the Pacific Northwest from Florida and we cruised to Haida Gwaii  (Queen Charlotte Islands) off the coast of British Columbia.

 
Venture in Haida Gwaii, 2011
 
In spring 2012 I was aboard Venture II cruising from Sweden to Denmark and Stavanger in Norway. In May of the same year we took the original Venture from Vancouver Island to Glacier Bay, Alaska.

 
Venture at Hubbard Glacier, 2013
 
May to August 2013, cruised to Prince William Sound. In September 2013, Venture came down the coast to California. I was not on board. In December we did a short cruise to the Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura. Here we experienced Santa Ana winds of 60 knots.

 
Venture at Death Trap, Prince William Sound, 2013
 
In spring 2014, Venture was shipped to Victoria. In June we cruised the West Coast of Vancouver Island from south to north. We visited the Broughton Islands then and back to Delta Marine Services in Sidney.

Between May to August 2015 we cruised to Dutch Harbor and back. Around 5,000 nm.

In June 2016 we took Venture up the Columbia and Snake Rivers essentially from Vancouver Island and back.

June 2017. We took made a second visit to Prince William Sound. This took about 3 months and covered 3,700 nm.

I have also done a ton of traveling to many interesting places that had nothing to do with Venture or boats at all. For example, I have been to Antarctica three times, the North Pole once (on a nuclear powered Russian icebreaker), Greenland, seen the touchy feely grey whales in Baja California, I have been on the Siberian train from Beijing to St Petersburg, driven across the Sahara by truck and on and on it goes. These particular jaunts are all covered in my videos. 

 
Tony in the Canadian High Arctic 2016
 
Clearly when we spoke you are English, so please tell us Tony, where do you hail from in the UK?

I was born in the county of Suffolk on the east coast of the UK but, as my father was in the RAF, we moved around and by age 16, I had lived in 26 different houses all over England and Scotland

Is there any truth to the rumour you worked as an official with the British Police?

No, there is no truth in this but I was a member of the Kenya Police Reserve when living in Mombasa in 1958

 
Tony Flemings police headshot1958
 
I understand you had a long relationship in the past working for an icon of a boating brand the famous, Grand Banks?

I joined American Marine in June 1962 firstly in HK until 1969 when moved to Singapore. I left Grand Banks in January 1985 and started Fleming Yachts in October of the same year.

What made you decided to leave Grand Banks and start Fleming Yachts?

This is a complicated story which is fully covered in my memoirs. However the underlying reason was that I, as the only person with a technical background in the management team, wanted to move the Grand Banks designs forward but ran into a brick wall of resistance. This led to friction and frustration on both sides. However there is more to it than that and you need to read the memoirs!

What was the hardest thing about getting Fleming Yachts up and running?

Working on my own in a totally unfamiliar environment where I knew nobody and where, initially, only one person in the yard spoke English. There were many obstacles to be overcome which included a drastic change in the exchange rate and introduction of the luxury tax. These tested my patience and tenacity to the limit!

 
Plug construction first boat, 1985
 
Are you still actively involved in the business today?

I have no ownership or management involvement. When I retired in 2008, I had the opportunity to start using my own boat rather than building them for other people. This, in turn, allowed me to enjoy cruising as well as indulge my hobbies of photography and writing. 

How many employees does Fleming Yachts have?

Fleming Yachts subcontracts the actual construction of the yachts to the yard in Taiwan with whom we have worked since the beginning. We have only ever built in that one yard and they build exclusively for Fleming. Boat sales are handled through carefully selected dealers with whom we have worked and co-operated from many years. Fleming Yachts itself handles design, engineering and marketing so we have a total of seven people on the payroll. The yard of course has many more.

 
Tung Hwa yard in Taiwan, 2012
 
Why did you choose a Fleming 65 for you adventure?

When building a new design, the builder is very much indebted to the courageous customers who step forward to order a boat that only exists on paper. This inevitably means that compromises need to be made to meet the legitimate wishes of those pioneering customers. These compromises are not necessarily what the builder would like to incorporate into the new boat but they are a necessary part of the process. In the case of the Fleming 65, for the first time in the history of the company, we did not have to get paid for the first boat in order to pay for the expensive tooling. I decided to hold the first boat back so we could build and decorate it exactly as we wished so we could try out new ideas and carry out extensive testing. One thing led to another and this became my boat and, to this day, continues to be a test bed for new ideas and equipment.

 
Venture pot holders in use!
 
What has been your cruising highlight so far? 

People frequently ask me this question and I never know how to respond. I have been to many places and they are all interesting in their own way. It is not simply the cruise itself but the people you meet and the multifaceted things you find out as a result of being on that cruise. So I guess the highlight is what you learn along the way.

 
Venture at Kicker Rock Galapagos, 2008
 
What training or skillset would you consider a must have prior to buying a boat? 

I dont think its necessary to have any particular training or skillset prior to buying a boat.

A boat can be anything from a coracle to a megayacht and can be sail or power. If you know nothing about boats but just want to go boating and learn as you go then it is essential that you take the advice of someone reliable and knowledgeable who does know. When it comes to more sophisticated vessels – and after you have some experience – it is still a good idea to check if the vessel you have in mind complies with such recognized standards as ABYC, NMMA, CE Ocean Certification etc.

What upgrade do you most wish you could make to your boat? 

Actually, there arent any because they have basically all been made over the past 12 years!

In your past life what did you do or have you always been involved with motor boats? 

Not really. At one point I had a folding kayak and I took sailing lessons – I did not live on the water and boats were never a passion in the early days to be honest.

 
Tony travelling by truck with a group of friends en-route to Africa 1959
 
Tony, if there is one thing folks on the water do that irritates you while underway what would that be? 

I guess it would be people who show lack of consideration for others. Stupid behaviour, loud music and lack of wake awareness.

Onto irritating things, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems? 

It may sound pompous to say so but I cant recall ever running out of anything significant.

What is the shortest trip you have made?

You mean like forgetting to unplug the shore cord? Actually, we have never done this and the shortest trips have usually just been sea trials which dont really qualify as trips

What is the longest passage you have made?

The longest passage would be Galapagos to Panama. I believe that was about 900 nautical miles which took about 4 days.

What have been the tallest seas and strongest winds you have encountered? 

I find it hard to quantify the height of the seas. I would guess they would be about ten feet but they were straight up and down and right on the nose so it was very uncomfortable. This was off the coast of Iceland. They continued for about 16 hours before we reached shelter. For the fishing boats out there, it was just another day at the office. The strongest wind we ever encountered was 60 mph in the Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura, California.

How many crew typically are on board when you head out to sea?

It varies but, typically, it is four.

 
Tony Mt Kenya, 1969
 
I have to ask, who does your videos as they are simply sensational?

I do all the videos myself. I say that I do everything from acquisition to exhibition! With the tools we have available to us today, it is not difficult. It just takes a lot of time which is fine because it is my hobby and allows me to re-live the experience plus I get to expand my knowledge when doing the research on line when writing the narration.

If you didnt own a Fleming, what boat would you own?

Frankly, I doubt that I would own another boat. This is not because I think that Fleming is the only worthwhile boat out there but I rather stumbled into boat ownership as described above and, if that had not happened, I somehow doubt I would be doing what I am doing.

What are the key features of a Fleming that you believe sets it apart?

When I set out to build a boat with my name on it (not my idea by the way), I wanted to build the best cruising boat I knew how. This meant that it had to be stoutly constructed, easy to board and disembark, be a good sea-boat etc etc and it had to look like a proper boat. From the feedback we have had over the years – plus my own practical experience – I believe we have succeeded in building what must be close to the Ultimate Cruising Yacht.  Also I know the incredible effort that goes into each and every decision. I doubt that anybody out there invests as much effort as we do into every aspect of the design and build. We also offer a design which offers flexibility of performance meaning you can get the range of a displacement boat at displacement speed but can run fast when necessary.

Would you describe yourself as more of a hunter or more gather? 

This is a tricky question I have never previously considered! I am certainly not a hunter in the sense of going out and killing something but I am also not one to stay in one environment to gather. I am more of a seeker. I am always looking for a new experience and believe in taking advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. Does that make me a hunter or a gatherer?

Why did you name your vessel Venture? 

The boat is called simply Venture. It is certainly not a unique name but I just woke up one morning with the certainty that this was the most right name. It is appropriate because for us as boat builders it was a new venture. And the dictionary definition of the word means to undertake something or go on a journey that involves a degree of risk. It is also important to keep the name simple for calling on the radio!

What other names did you consider?  

None

What is the one lesson every boater should learn? 

Never allow yourself to be ruled by cast iron schedule. Do not leave port under hazardous conditions just because you or someone on board needs to be at a certain place at a predetermined time. It is always better to be at home wishing you were on your boat than on your boat wishing you were at home.

What is your favourite anchorage and why? 

I really cant think of one particular favourite anchorage. The most spectacular was Castle Bay on the Alaska Peninsula on the way to Dutch Harbor

 
Venture in Castle Bay
 
Biggest surprises with your cost of ownership?

Just how much it is!! I had a hard time crossing over from boat builder to boat owner. In the first case, I was a simple working stiff: in the second I was assumed to be someone with more money than sense and treated accordingly!

What is your favorite activity while aboard?

Simply being on board away from the restrictions of being on land.

What is your favorite Marina and why? 

Its not really a conventional marina but I think I enjoy being at Pierres at Echo Bay which is a Mom and Pop, seasonal, marina/resort in the Broughton Islands just north of Vancouver Island. It is a fun place with interesting cruising boats. They have a pig roast every weekend during the season. It is only accessible by boat or float plane.

 
Pierre’s at Echo Bay 2017
 
 
Pierre’s at Echo Bay sign 2017
 
What is your favourite quote and why? 

There is a tide in the affairs of men. 
Which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune; 
Omitted, all the voyage of their life 
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. 
On such a full sea we are now afloat, 
And we must take the current when it serves, 
Or lose our ventures. 

The reason this is my favourite quote is simply because I have always tried to grab any opportunity that came my way and I thought Shakespeare expressed that rather well. It is why my memoirs are titled Riding the Tide. I never want to be sitting in my rocking chair in my dotage regretting missed opportunities that had come my way.

Whats the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea? 

I have thought hard about this and had difficulty trying to think of anything. I guess it was probably watching someone trying to make bread manually when cruising in Norway on a Fleming 55. You never saw such a mess and the final result was like a brick!

Whats the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water? 

Not being able to remember which side of a cardinal mark to go. In Singapore I went the wrong side and finished up hard aground in my GB42. We dont have Cardinal marks in the US but there are a few in Canada. I now know that a North Cardinal means stay North of me!

What is your most hated boat job? 

Dealing with a blocked toilet. Fortunately this hasnt happened with the Headhunter toilets we have on Venture.

Tell us a little something about Venture? 

It is really hard to tell you a little something as there is so much to tell! Briefly, she is hull #1 of the 65 series. She was awarded Boat of the Year in her class in Cannes (France) in 2006. She has served as a test bed for a very long list of ideas and equipment. This list includes – but is not limited to: engines, generators, steering, controls, thrusters, electrical system, winches, shaft drives. She has cruised in sea water, fresh water, ice and tropical conditions. She now has 60,000 nm under her keel.  She has been up rivers, through many locks and out in the open ocean both the Pacific and the Atlantic.

 
Boat of the Year award 2006 Cannes with my daughter Nicky
 
What is the one thing you are most afraid of? 

Fire on board

Whats your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why? 

This is an impossible question to answer. I do not have one particular favourite there have been so many over the years and video is really my preference anyway.

 
Tony Zodiac Greenland, 2016
 
What would you never leave behind when heading out to sea? 

I guess I would have to say sufficient fuel! I really dont have any special good luck charm or other device.

Tony, tell us something about yourself that nobody knows? 

I am really a very transparent person. What you see is pretty well what you get so I cant think of anything. If I could, I would probably keep it to myself!

 
Tony’s first project in 1954 In 1954 Tony was an apprentice at De Havillands and rebuilt this BMW with a new body. The car still exists today. It is in Germany in concours condition
 
If you were to give one piece of advice to someone thinking of cruising the world, what would it be? 

Make sure you understand that the ocean needs to be treated with respect and is not to be treated lightly.

If you were advising someone, as to the best area of the world to go cruising, where would it be, and why? 

This is hard to do because everybody has different desires and priorities. For example, I like to go to remote places that are hard to reach any way other than by boat or float plane and you cant live in a float plane! Also, I would rather be too cold than too hot because the former is easier to deal with! Other people prefer a warm climate surrounded by bustling life and being able to step off the boat and visit restaurants. I would just say that I see little point in visiting places where there is conflict and you run the risk of being robbed or worse. There are so many wonderful places to visit which are free from human hazards and you are only left with the natural ones. That is why I like the Pacific Northwest.

 
Lituya Bay, 2013
 
And finally, where to next? 

People are always asking me this – usually when I have just stepped off the boat after being away for three months. On those occasions I simply have no idea. I still dont as I write this! There are places I would like to visit such as Greenland but they are just so far away from where the boat is now and when you have cruised there you still have to get back.

 
Tony Lifetime Achievement award 2016
 
Thank you very much for your time, will be watching this years progress closely. 

 
Interested in learning more?
 
To read more about Fleming Yachts please click  HERE.

To watch some incredible videos on Ventures travels please click  HERE.

To visit Tony Flemings personal website please click  HERE.

To watch Tony Flemings personal boating and non-boating videos please click  HERE.

To read more about Tonys incredible life story why not buy a copy of his book which can be found  HERE.

Good luck with your travels!

 
Venture II in northern Iceland, 2010
 
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