As early as I can remember I wanted to be either in, on, or by the water. Undoubtedly I inherited this from my father. We never had a boat, but Dad had quite a few friends with boats and he took every opportunity to get out on the ocean.
One of Dad’s friends was Ralph Larrabee, owner of the 161-foot schooner Goodwill, and I recall Dad taking many trips aboard her. For me and my brothers, the idea of going out on the ocean on a big sailboat captured our imaginations, and fueled by Gardner McKay and Adventures in Paradise, we begged to go sailing on the Goodwill. Finally an opportunity came up, and I was beyond excited when our whole family was going to sail to Catalina Island aboard her. I fantasized about our grand sailing adventure for weeks. Then someone chartered the Goodwill for the same time period and our trip was cancelled. I think I was six or seven, and it was the first huge disappointment of my life.
As time went on, more trips aboard the Goodwill came up, but not for me. They were all “guy trips.” I was “too young,” and I was “a girl.” My brothers, four and five years older than me, got to go with Dad. I got to stay home with overly protective Mom and Grandma, and when they got back I had to listen to all the fun and adventures they had. I wanted to go so bad.
I remember when my Dad and brothers left on one particular trip to Catalina on the Goodwill, Mom and Grandma felt bad for me so they took me to Disneyland as consolation. I had fun, but it just wasn’t the same. My big adventure was getting stuck on Dumbo in a downpour. My brothers caught flying fish, rented bicycles to ride all over the hills of Avalon, and experienced a real adventure.
They did bring me back a souvenir – a small tiki head carved out of wood with sparkley green glass eyes that hung from a leather cord I could wear around my neck. It probably cost all of 25 cents back then, but I loved that thing and wore it everywhere, even to Sunday School with the frilly dresses I hated. It represented the exotic island I was dying to see and the sailing adventures I wasn’t allowed to go on because I was “too young” and I was “a girl.”
Grandma took pity on me and one fog-soaked Saturday morning we boarded the Big White Steamer for Catalina. I remember how excited I was watching the mainland disappear behind us. I loved being out on the ocean even though we couldn’t see where we were going for most of the trip. As we closed in on the island the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. I finally got to see what I’d heard so much about and I wasn’t disappointed. We walked around town, took a couple of tours, and way too soon boarded the Big White Steamer back to the mainland. It fueled my desire to go back, but I wanted to sail there on the Goodwill.
My fantasy of the grand sailing adventure was shipwrecked when I was around 13. Ralph Larrabee called Dad and asked him to fly down to Cabo San Lucas and help him bring the Goodwill back up the coast. Apparently there had been a falling out; his professional captain had quit and he needed experienced crew. Dad couldn’t get the time away from work and had to decline. From what we understood later, Ralph rounded up some inexperienced crew in Cabo and headed out. The Goodwill ran aground on the Sacramento Reef and was destroyed. There were no survivors. Weather was not an issue and since Ralph was known to “tip a few,” speculation was that the cause was too much partying and not enough attention to course and proper watch keeping. Whatever the case, my dad felt guilty about it. Always the responsible type, he believed that if he’d been aboard it wouldn’t have happened. Of course, we had the scary thought that if he had been aboard, we might have lost him to the Sacramento Reef too. In hindsight, that would have been preferable to the horrors of Alzheimer’s that set in a few years later. I know Dad would have preferred it.
Fast forward about 10 years: I was no longer “too young,” being a girl was definitely not a liability and I lived a block from the ocean. I found myself getting jealous hearing about a friend’s frequent sailing adventures. She worked for a huge aerospace company which sponsored numerous clubs for their employees, one being the sailing club she belonged to. When I commented on how much fun it sounded, she said words that changed the course of my life: “You don’t have to work for TRW, anyone can join.” Okay, so that doesn’t sound very profound, but it opened a door at just the right moment. Thank you Rosanne. I was at the next meeting and signed up for their basic sailing class. A week or so later I met a guy in a bar and we hit it off. He thought sailing lessons sounded fun. We learned together, and several years later we got married (yes Virginia, you can meet your future husband in a bar) and moved aboard our own sailboat with the intention of eventually going cruising.
That was 31 years ago. I’ve been making up for being “too young” and “a girl” ever since. It’s been 31 years of sailing adventures, some grand, some not so much, but almost all of them a hell of a lot of fun. I can’t begin to count the number of sails to Catalina Island which I’ll never grow tired of. We crossed a big chunk of the Pacific with friends and I got to see real Polynesian tikis. We did the Baja bash and I listened for waves crashing on the Sacramento Reef as we passed during a night watch, my mind wandering back to Dad and the Goodwill.
We are now doing the final (?) refit on our boat, a 1965 Cheoy Lee yawl named Because, in preparation for THE grand sailing adventure. When we cut the docklines it will be for good, with no schedule and no return date. It’s taking a lot longer than we anticipated and we still have another year+ to go. In the future I will be updating you on our projects: what we’ve done and what we’re working on, what we wish we’d done different, and the misadventures along the way (there’s always a few ;^) .