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Lodi man has a passion for 19th-century sailing ships

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Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2009 10:00 pm

John Borja's dream is to build boats in an East Coast shipyard, but he knows that will never happen.

Instead, he makes detailed models of sailboats that stormed the seas in the 19th century. They adorn his frontand backyards, along with most every room in his house in northeastern Lodi.

Borja, 54, has enjoyed sailing since he was in the Boy Scouts, but it wasn't until he broke his back while racing a dirt bike in 2000 that he began building model boats. He had to keep himself occupied one way or another.

He's built an estimated 20 model boats in nearly a decade, some by wood, some made of plastic and some made by fiberglass. And he's constructing two more at the moment.

Borja's largest boat is an elaborate wooden replica of an 1851 ship that sailed from New York City to England, sailing against some British ships. It was the beginning of the America's Cup contests. It's 11 feet, 6 inches long and 9 feet high.

"I'm fascinated with the 1800s," he said.

The boat has steering pedals that he can ride in Lodi Lake, plus some small anchors and a miniature boat his grandson, Raul Lopez, created.

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Borja completed the wooden boat in 2004 after about a year of work, off and on. He used table saws, lathes, hand sanders, belt sanders, drills, screws and nails. And he sews his own sails. Some parts are purchased, while others are handmade.

His smaller sailboats range from 8 inches to 79 inches long.

Borja and his wife, Julie, explore the coast looking for older boats to give him an idea on what to try next. They've been to virtually every coastal town from Monterey to Crescent City, and they collect miniature lighthouses wherever they go.

"I think it's fabulous," Julie Borja said. "You see the boats and sailboats - there's history. Who doesn't like being in the water?"

The couple sailed last year in Rancho Seco Lake and hopes to sail this year at New Hogan Reservoir in Tuolumne County.

The Borjas probably have one of the more interesting bathrooms in Lodi. It's filled with nautical memorabilia on the walls, cabinets, even the light fixtures.

John Borja at a glance

Born: Lodi.
Raised: Thornton. Attended New Hope School and Galt High, graduating in 1971. Attended San Joaquin Delta College for three years.
Career: Canning industry full time from 1969 to 2006 in Thornton (Cal Can and Tri-Valley Growers), Lodi and Woodland. Now builds machinery from Redding to Madera - whoever will hire him. He's now working in Madera and occasionally works part-time at local canneries.
Family: Wife Julie, grown daughters Marie and Natalie, three grandchildren.
Source: John Borja

"I'm always making something," he said.

And his backyard has an elaborate log cabin tree house that his grandchildren can go inside and play.

Borja said he enjoys making his sailboats to get children interested in something besides video games. His grandson, Raul, helps him with smaller sailboats.

"Everybody in this world has some kind of creativity," Borja said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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  • posted at 2:36 pm on Mon, Feb 9, 2009.


    Awesome ship, John. Well done.

  • posted at 4:00 am on Mon, Feb 9, 2009.


    ...to get children interested in something besides video games... Great job, John!

  • posted at 2:07 am on Mon, Feb 9, 2009.


    "There is Nothing so fun as simply messing about in boats". Amen to that!!!!....Nice going, John. Keep up the good work.

  • posted at 1:50 am on Mon, Feb 9, 2009.


    Nice work John, I would love to watch her sail. My Dad would take my brother and I to Golden Gate park in the early 70's to watch these beautiful hand made ships move through the water.



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