Transcript of Nathan Zahrt Vivian Vuong Interview From Ultima


NOTE: This is the transcript. You can watch the video HERE.

SV Ultima Interview-Final

Vivian: Hi everybody. I’m Vivian Vuong and this is my husband Nathan Zahrt. And we’re #HowNotToSailers.

Bradford: Screwing up is part of cruising. Let me show you how. Yarrrr!

Vivian: Cheers everybody!

Bradford: I might have gotten some on the camera there. But you know, that’s how it goes.

Hey, #HowNotToSailers! Bradford here. And I am tickled stinkless that you could join us today because we got Nathan and Vivian for, with us from SV Ultima.

It is Captain’s Hour, as you may have noticed. And we’re going to talk How Not To Sail, how not to operate a drone from a boat, maybe. And, uh, how Not To Refit Your Boat. And whatever else we feel like.

How To Get Hitched

First of all, I should ask you guys, how did you meet?

Vivian: We met at a bar in Albuquerque.

Nathan: I had just returned from the Peace Corps working in West Africa for two years. And while I was away, Vivian had become friends with a lot of my friends .And I met her the day that I got back and as we all went out to a bar for a reunion.

Vivian: And we were friends for about three years.

And a couple of our other friends who were also together at the time asked us if we wanted to move to Florida. And at the time Nathan and I were platonic roommates, and we went home that night and were like, we’re moving? You want to, do you want to go to Florida and learn to sail? And we said–we decided to go, and two weeks later we got hitched in Vegas and sold everything, and about four months later we drove from New Mexico to Florida and learned how to sail–or How Not To Sail.

Bradford: That’s worthy of a house hunters international or something.

How Not To Sail

Nathan: We started sailing about six years ago now.

Bradford: Wow. Okay.

Vivian: We were from the desert. Nathan lived in Ghana for two years. I had backpacked by myself, uh, through Southeast Asia for a whole summer, and when the idea of sailing came up, we were like, wow, we can travel and take our home with us? That’s cool.

Nathan: Growing up, I did a lot of whitewater rafting and stuff like that, but being from New Mexico, I had really no idea how to get into sailing or where to start.

Bradford: Right.

Nathan: So it took until our friends just invited us to move to Florida and buy a boat.

Vivian: Four of us living on a 37-foot boat in Melbourne, Florida.

We are still a friends. We used the boat as a floating apartment, really. We would take her out on weekends, but with the four of us, our schedules would always mix up and we didn’t want to take the boat out and then one of us would come home from work and our house wasn’t there. So we all enrolled in US Power Squadron courses.

And we met really cool people out on the space coast. Uh, one of which, Ken Peters, is one of our sailing mentors. He’s now 88 years old, and Nathan actually helped him, uh, during hurricane Matthew in the Indian River, uh, keep his boat safe.


Nathan: Ultima’s a Compass 47. Uh, she was built in South Africa. In 1981 we bought Ultima in Cambridge, Maryland, where she had been sitting probably for about 10 years, more or less untouched.

Refitting’s always a challenge, especially with a boat–an older boat, and one that’s been neglected.

Vivian: Especially when you’re living aboard while refitting. It’s really hard to completely take out all the paneling and sand and clean with chemicals and then also make dinner and sleep that night.

Boat Yard vs D.I.Y.

Nathan: There’s always that dilemma of: do you tackle a job yourself or do you hire somebody else to do it?

Bradford: Right.

Nathan: Um, obviously, you know, money is probably the biggest deciding factor in that. So we opted to do most of the work on Ultima ourselves. There were certain things that we did hire the yard for, but they don’t know all the injuries– idiosyncrasies of your boat.

Bradford: That sounds like a chapter that should be in my book. Wait It is!

I’ll spare you all the last place I went, but, uh, they were quite interesting.

There was a sign in the boatyard that used to say “no alcohol consumption allowed on premises,” and somehow it had mysteriously worn off just to say “consumption allowed on premises.”

They were a very colorful bunch.

How Not To Refit

Nathan: We pulled all the headliners out of our boat .And we actually didn’t put new headliners back in until we had sailed down to Florida. And it was in part just to kind of see if we had any leaks in the actual overhead of the cabin top.

Vivian: We wanted to see how the boat flexed without the headliners on while we were underway.

So by the time we got to Florida, we were on anchor and we hadn’t bought an outboard engine for our dinghy. We were rowing back and forth with giant pieces of PVC sheets. I also wish that we had sanded everything down when we were in the yard. Now that we’re on the boat, when we sand it just gets everywhere.

Nathan: The toe rails on our boat were in rough shape and I wasn’t exactly sure what we were going to do with them. I was maybe hoping we could replace them, but I also didn’t know what was underneath them. But I pulled them off and they stayed off for, uh, four months. And we even just carried them down on deck, lashed together, um, until we put them back on and finally put them back on in Florida.

Vivian: I don’t think I’d ever varnish outside again. I would just on our boat now, we use teak oil.

Bradford: Amen.

Vivian: Which is, yeah, you have to apply it once a month or if it starts to go a little gray.

Bradford: As you can tell by the camera shot, I’m okay with gray. That’s not a problem.

Vivian: It’s a nice look.

Bradford: Somebody’s laughing at me right now.

Nathan: So right now we are sitting in Palm Beach. We had to postpone two of our training passages, I guess more like three now. And we’re writing, um, Vivian’s always doing photography.

Vivian: So our plan was we start our training passage business this spring. We were headed to The Bahamas for a week long trip and about two days before we were planning to leave, uh, shelter in place restrictions were starting to come up. And we were just kind of waiting day to day and talking to our clients and saying, hey, you know that there might be a chance where we might have to postpone or reschedule.

And the next day we read on the Facebook group Liveaboard Cruisers that Bahamas weren’t allowing incoming yachtsmen and inter Island travel, and so we thought maybe we do a “sail to nowhere” passage where we just pick a spot and then go and then turn around or follow the wind. But then we figured also, what if we needed fuel or– We have a refrigerator, but our cooling system doesn’t work.

Unless we’re powered to a dock. So right now we’re just using–

Nathan: Fridge only works on 110, not on 12 volts. So–

Vivian: So we’re just using ice.

John Kretschmer

Nathan: I had been reading John Kretschmer books pretty much since we bought our first boat and were learning how to sail, and I absolutely loved them.

Vivian: Before we had met them, we saw on his website, um, that he offered everything from training passages to workshops, and we were like, oh man, we can only afford to take his celestial navigation course one day in the future.

Nathan: So I was off doing a couple of deliveries. I do have my US Coast Guard 50-ton license. And I also have my RYA Yacht Master Offshore. And Vivian met Taji, John’s wife, um, and they became friends. And then when I got back from the deliveries, we all got together around Christmas time.

Vivian: Over the course of a year, we talked more about the philosophy of training passages and the business of sailing.

Nathan: When they were thinking about expanding their business, they, uh, thought of us.

Vivian: We couldn’t believe it. We’re like, us? Really?

Bob Bitchin

Bradford: That reminds me since I’m senile, I forget. Uh, Vivian, how did you run across me? Maybe Bob Bitchin was involved or something, I don’t know, or…

Vivian: I followed Lats & Atts’ Instagram page. Maybe it was Cruising Outpost then. And they had posted about you and so I listened to your podcast–or no, you hadn’t launched your podcast. I saw that you were about to launch a podcast, and I was telling Nathan about it. And we listened to the whole thing and I was like, oh, this is awesome.

It’s great, by the way.

Bradford: And you can find it at There’s my plug.

So yeah, Bob was kind enough to put me with Pyrate Radio. And he ruined my life. He’s responsible for my cruising problem.

Vivian: So Bob took you in and John took us in, and it’s funny because John and Bob have a friendship too. And John told us this story where one of his daughters was with Bob and–

Nathan: They were in Bermuda and, uh, rented motorcycles.

And John’s daughter goes out with, went out with Bob on the motorcycle one day riding around Bermuda. And when she got back, she started asking John all kinds of questions like, what “does don’t tread on me” mean? She had just been reading Bob’s tattoos.


Vivian: I learned photography through cinematography, when, about–over 10 years ago now, my second cousin married a filmmaker. And I had dropped out of college and didn’t really know what to do with my life. And I took my grandmother on a road trip from Northern California to Las Vegas. And I just fell in love with taking pictures on that trip.

And so my second cousin said, hey, we’re moving to Switzerland. Do you want to help make a documentary? And so her husband Peter mentored me and we made a full length documentary about the Swiss Alps. The plan for it was to make a little theater and use it for promoting tourism to Switzerland. And so through cinematography, I learned how to use a camera.

When I came back from Switzerland, I started a photography business. And then Nathan and I started sailing and I started doing a little bit of both. And now I’m really happy to combine my two passions together.

Bradford: By the way, I think, uh, you are giving a photography course coming up, or are you not?

Vivian: I am. June 16, I’ll be hosting a Photography And Film Underway webinar from the boat.

John and I launched webinars, uh, after talking about how fun it is to do more video stuff. Really it all came from the virus happening. And we figured more people would be at home dreaming about sailing and hoping to get back on the water.

Bradford: And by the way, it’s Beer Two.

How Not To Drone

What do you find is the biggest challenge on photography? On the water?

Nathan: I think it’s catching the drone. While the boat’s moving. But I’ll let Vivian answer that question.

Vivian: So before we bought Ultima, we delivered and worked on different boats for five years. And I think the hardest for me was the weight of camera equipment plus my sailing gear, and lugging it in and out of sail– random sailboats.

There was one time where I left all of my camera gear in a drawer in a sailboat.

I would have to agree with Nathan, too. Catching drones is really hard underway. And making sure that your gear stays dry. I also hate mold. It just seems to grow in places that you don’t want them to.

Bradford: How do you catch a drone from a boat?

Because I seem to– I have this Mavic Mini. I thought I turned off the collision avoidance, but when it gets near the shrouds and stuff of the sailboat, right on the side deck where I’m trying to grab it, it’s like, no, I’m not going to land here.

Vivian: So my trick is I put it on sports mode.

Bradford: Okay. Okay.

Vivian: So when I put it on sports mode, it deactivates the collision sensors and you’ll be able to get it closer to objects without it flying away from it.

Bradford: And Nathan still has the same number of fingers he had originally, right?

Nathan: I do, but I think in the future I’ll probably be wearing a nice thick leather glove to catch the drone.

Bradford: And you guys have the Mavic Pro? Or the Phantom? Or the–

Vivian: We have the Phantom 4, so it’s really easy to catch by just grabbing the legs.

Bradford: And do you use ND filters?

Vivian: I do. I have all…all of them. And you know, it just– Depending on how bright it is, I switch them out. I always, always use a ND filter. The quality of the picture just looks so much better, and even if the highlights are blown out, they don’t look that bad.

And do you film in raw? If you film in raw, then you’ll be able to edit it better without compressing the colors.

Bradford: I’m not sure if that’s an option on the Mini or not. And I have to put a, because of white boats and things in the Tampa Bay area sun, I– I have to put like, I think it’s 128 ND on there.

Vivian: Then I would suggest shooting when the sun is a little bit lower and the reflection off the white boats isn’t as harsh. And you get that really beautiful, dreamy, uh, orangy color too, which is prettier.

And now that it’s, you know, now that it’s getting later in the season, we have sun well into seven, eight o’clock now.

Bradford: I’m pulling my hair out with color matching too, with different times a day. The trailer for the How Not To Sail YouTube channel, the little kicker at the end is like, I am orange. But it is what it is.

Vivian: It’s just your Florida tan.

Bradford: That’s it. Yeah.

Vivian: It’s natural

Bradford: Spray tan on top of tan.

How To Find Vivian and Nathan

Well, now where– Where can people find you if they want to check out the photography, the webinar coming up, or check out the cruising schedule?

Vivian: So you can find our business Ocean Passages. It’s just at OceanPassages on Instagram and Facebook, and my film and photography stuff is at Vizamedia. That’s V-I-Z-A media

Nathan: And our sailing schedule and, uh, just about us and about the boat, and some articles we’ve written are all on John

Bradford: Right.

Vivian: And all of his books…

Nathan: Yeah, as well as all of John’s books and his schedule.

Bradford: You just saw it onscreen, I’m sure, but I’m going to put it also in the description below here… So if anybody wants to check it out, everything we’ve been talking about, uh, that has any link to anything, I’m going to put in the description here.

And I’ll– I’m pointing up, pointing up above now. I’ll have also a little YouTube linky-dink to the book– Seven books you have to read, uh, which includes one of John’s. And one of Bob’s.

So check that out for sure. I want to thank you guys for joining me. We’ll go hoist a beverage and then I’m going to go put the SD card in my computer and then cry because I didn’t record anything, probably. Cause that’s– that’s how I usually roll.

Vivian: Oh, I didn’t focus.

Bradford: Oh, you’re supposed to do that, are you?

Well, I’ll catch you guys soon. And thanks so much for being on How Not To Sail on the YouTubes and, uh, looking forward to seeing y’all in real life soon.

Vivian: Cheers.

Bradford: How Not To Sail. Screwing up is part of cruising. Let me show you how.

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Next articleEpisode 13: Back Toward Marathon
Bradford Rogers
Producer. Performer. Sailor. Multimedia Ninja. Author of How Not To Sail, host of the How Not To Sail podcast and YouTube channel.


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