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'Oz' boat builder shares his life's grand design.

THE Philippines is blessed as a country surrounded and inundated by various bodies of water, with more than 7,000 islands being embraced by the Pacific Ocean, a plethora of seas, as well as a generous dotting of lakes.

In the Southern Tagalog region, the majestic and enthralling Taal Lake is a constant attraction not only for our countrymen, but also for foreign nationals who have chosen to stay in its fringes and take inspiration from this unique wonder of nature.

Nestled in the sleepy town of Mataasnakahoy in Batangas province, non-governmental organization Taal Lake Conservation Center (TLCC)-Pusod Inc. is at the forefront of overseeing the sustainability of the lake's surrounding areas, particularly in its southwestern region. Of the many worthwhile activities to partake there, aside from sailing and hiking to Taal Volcano's island-crater crater, visitors could choose to navigate the lake itself through parasailing and boating.

Docked in TLCC's lakeside are lightweight boats, which might appear peculiar at first glance. They actually follow the blueprint of the Oz Goose, and a quick online search about their build will reveal their other qualities: fast, elegant and family-friendly.

The name of the model itself bears a clue about the nationality of its designer. This author first met the brains behind Oz Goose, Australian Michael Storer, sometime in 2015, and was actually able to have a hand in building one of the said vessels during an activity within TLCC.

On a recent return trip to the site, the former got reacquainted with Storer on a sunny Saturday morning, backdropped by a full view of the world-famous volcano and over warm cups of Batangas barako brew.

It was serendipitous to say the least, as the Aussie was doing some final touches on an Oz Goose with a trusted local. As its designer, he was able to describe the elements that float his boat, quite literally and figuratively.

Storer was actually already into the business of boat building and sales of materials that go into it. But his affinity with the seas and marine vessels started during his formative years where he cut through the bodies of water surrounding his native Sydney 'by any means possible.'

He confessed: 'Since I was 12, sailing and boat building were the core of my life.'

In school, his being 'self-trained' on putting together boats was complimented with sound academics ('I aced Chemistry...') as he specialized in naval engineering ('...which proved to be immensely valuable.') and professionally as an employee of a boat firm.

During those years, he spent time in Adelaide as an apprentice honing his craft, building boats that were lightweight with a minimum requirement on materials. These were the precursors of the Oz Goose, which sailed across water surfaces swiftly.

From overseas to online

HOWEVER, an injury from a bicycle accident in 2003 rendered him unable to perform his regular duties, including lifting heavy stuff. He shared with the BusinessMirror: 'I packed my bags, headed to Asia and tried to discern what I would like to do with my life.

'Back then, I had already created plans for boats, but that wasn't enough to earn me a living. So I decided to turn my passion of boat building into a hobby-business.'

For some reason, Storer found himself in what seemed a crossroads of his life. 'I needed to clear my head for a while then. A friend in Taiwan invited me for tea, which is a huge interest of mine.'

Perhaps, the pacing in this side of the world appealed for a more straightforward, less-hurried lifestyle-not surprising for someone whose life revolved around boats and the waterfront. In the years that followed, he stayed in one location every six months and returned to the Land Down Under for the rest of the year.

This Australian recalled the boom of online activity at that time, and the phenomenon somehow contributed to his drive to carry on with his prospects. The platform became an avenue not only for the availability of sourcing materials and supplies, (this was during the advent of eBay) but also for exchange of ideas.

While his contemporaries were still drafting their designs on paper, he was doing them digitally-on a word processor. That method somehow enabled him to merge his plans with photos. And while others were submitting documents to printers through hard copies, he easily packaged them on PDF files. He was able to write what according to him was a 'boat-building course in a book' for novices and those who want to learn from scratch, complete with instructions and list of materials.

Positive ripple effect

BRINGING a boat to life, for Storer, is a means to an end. His mantra in building them is 'simplicity, simplicity, simplicity-without sacrificing performance, but rather enhancing it.'

But beyond the boats themselves-seeing their creation as raw materials to their finished form-what interests him is the transformation that happens to people when they have 'sufficient support' in putting together one.

Another, he said, is observing people who availed themselves of his plans share his passion by building their own boats page by page, step by step, then enjoying their creations by actually taking them to the water. Their experiences are heightened when friends and others share them online and appreciated, thus increasing the influence. Everything becomes participatory.

The boat builder philosophized, 'In this 'manufactured' world, we just tend to buy things, and the skills level go down. We rely more on experts. In building my boats, people could become experts themselves and in the eyes of the persons around them. It opens up a world of possibilities.'

Digital- and Internet-savvy that he is, he was able to cash-in on the files by selling them online. It helped that he was able to create his web site and down the line, found substantial presence through what we now know as social media.

Storer is careful in labeling his patrons as 'consumers' but looks at them as 'very real persons' as he uses the digital platform to keep in touch with them. And the interactions are palpable.

'The person who, two years ago, was afraid to cut through the first sheet of wood is now giving confident advice to someone on using a jigsaw,' he proudly disclosed. But how does he do it?

He revealed he leverages on his presence on social media, particularly on his Facebook group, where he 'takes care' of his existing client base, who in turn transfers the knowledge and skills to new ones. The interactions emanate from all corners of the globe and in almost every continent where boat building is a possibility.

Consistency is also key, Storer added, to the approach on his designs so that his followers understand his plans clearly. 'And I don't have to be online all the time!'

A different perspective

WITH his blueprints available digitally, isn't he afraid of his intellectual property being copied, cannibalized, compromised and wrongly commercialized?

Aware of the numerous copyrights protection available to him, Storer chose to cruise on a different path-one founded on sharing and collective ownership.

'I saw the spirit and the feeling when something becomes a group effort, and when something is done in a generous way: the whole user base wants to protect it.'

He cited the operating system Linux as an example, where people all over the world contributed to its improvement, kept the discussion going and released regular updates. Another is a famous musician who disseminates digital samples of a newest album for free to generate demand and bolster sales.

'As they say in Australia: A pirate is a lazy bastard.' And he has his faithful followers to champion his cause, openly pointing out similarities of what seemed to be poor imitations of his originals.

His sojourns in this corner of the world might have had a hand with this Zen-like approach to his vocation. Rightfully so, as he intimated to have found a safe harbor in Laurel, Batangas with a Filipina who ably lends him support with his boats, specifically with the manufacturing of their sails.

Like a sailor going back to his original port, Storer is in Australia for the holidays with his family in tow. But Batangas can always look forward to him being back by the New Year, spreading the gospel of sharing through boat building.

If the Philippines is blessed through the element of water, the world is blessed with people like him, an 'Oz' with a big heart.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Dec 24, 2017
Words:1559
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