As I was saying…

 

I

 have a tendency to go broke.  I have a tendency to seek out change; it’s been good to me.  I have a tendency to believe in the actions of crazy people like Jack London, Earnest Hemmingway and Paul Theroux.  Which means, I have a tendency to sell everything, quit everything, and take off for the horizon; it’s also been good to me.

It started shortly after I graduated from UC Irvine in 1990.  I packed two surfboards and a few pairs of boardshorts, gave away the little else I owned, and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand via Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia.  There wasn’t much I wanted to see in Thailand – there’s no surf and I don’t do drugs – but it was the only country that didn’t require I have a plane ticket out.

Unfortunately, my father passed away in early 1991 and I had to cut my trip short after four months, three of them in Australia. Oh, but you won’t find any photos of this adventure here – I had heard that Tahiti was crazy expensive, so cans of tuna took the space in my backpack reserved for a camera.

When I returned, I moved to L.A. and landed a job at Movieline, an irreverent national magazine covering the movie industry.  My title was Editorial Assistant/Promotions Coordinator.  Like everything in Hollywood, the title was bullshit.  What it should have read was Editorial Go-for/Promotions Lackey.  As the promotions guy I did everything from set up chairs to bartend B-list celebrity parties.

I gladly did it, though, because the other half of my job was spent in editorial.  On this side of the magazine I did research for writers (and drove it to their homes), chose photos for stories (and drove to pick them up) and fact-checked important articles (how many people can boast that they’ve received a two-minute lecture on privacy by Tom Cruise’s publicist for asking what kind of ice cream he eats?).

At night, I’d hunch over a computer in the one-bedroom Sunset Boulevard apartment I shared with my future wife, Gayl, and write truly terrible fiction that no one would publish (this seems to be a lifelong trend, by the way).  Yes, it was all glamour.

But there was one thing missing from my life: the ocean.  I had grown up on the water on Balboa Island in Newport Beach and spent every day I could at the beach.  In college I had lived at the beach – not the best thing for spring semester grades – and I had just come back from spending four months in a tent on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  I have never been a great waterman, but the ocean is where my passion gets its inspiration.  In short, the asphalt-laden grind of L.A. started to get me down.

So I quit, and Gayl and I took off.  We had about $5,000 saved, plenty for three months in Australia, including plane fare.  We landed in Sydney, bought a little Nissan we named Simon for $900, stuffed our tent and gear in the trunk, strapped my surfboard on top and took off north.

It was a great trip.  Australians are all outdoorsmen and Australia is a land of natural marvels.  Everything seems bigger and wilder in Australia, from the perfect waves that peel off rocky points in front of virtually every East Coast town to the towering koala bear-filled Eucalyptus trees, saltwater crocodiles and big red ‘roos.

The highlight of our trip was a four-day sail through the Whitsunday Islands aboard a nineteenth century schooner replica.  Unknown to Gayl or myself at the time, this planted the seeds for what would be our biggest adventure.

During the final month of this trip I was tracked down by the editors at Movieline.  The position of Assistant Editor was opening up and if I wanted it, they’d hold it for me.  The pay wasn’t great but it was a bona fide editorial position.  I didn’t like the idea of moving back to the sooty city, but career-wise, it seemed a mistake to pass it up.

So back to the office I went.  But not for long.  The people at Movieline were great and I had a position for which we got a dozen hopeful applicants a week, but as I hunched over copy in a drab air-conditioned L.A. office, I could feel my scales drying up again.

Then something happened that pulled everything back into perspective:  A good college friend, a great athlete in top shape, died of cancer at age 28.  It was a brutal reminder that tomorrow is truly promised to no one, and suddenly that office got a lot smaller, the future less sure.  Gayl and I couldn’t afford to take off again, yet, but we had to get closer to the ocean.

I took an editor/writer position with a regional called Coast magazine.  I did get to do more writing, but the subjects – local politics, human interest stories, development updates – wasn’t nearly as flashy.  But I surfed a lot more and Gayl and I were able to go to the beach on weekends.  This was 1994.

And again, everything would change.

In November of 1995, Gayl and I bought what we called a Newport Beach fixer-upper, but what seasoned homebuyers would label a no-hope-for.  (You can read about our laborious times there in the story Home is Where I Hang My Toolbelt.)  But we had blinders on – or at least Gayl did.  She was determined to make this spot our oasis, no matter how loud the neighbor’s dog, how bad the plumbing, or how helpless I was with power tools.

Finally, in our second year of toil, with lackluster results, something happened that would change our lives forever.  A brochure for the Orange Coast College Sailing Center, a seamanship school on the bay three blocks from our house, came across my desk.  I decided to do a story on the place and on a sunny summer day I visited a dinghy class in session.  There were mothers, kids, businessman and college students, all learning how to sail a 14-foot Lido.  I approached a bearded skinny guy.

After about 30 seconds I decided he was totally nuts.  Another 10 seconds and I decided that I was just like him.  As he worked to untangle a bad knot he had tied, he told me Lidos were just the first step in his grand scheme to some day buy a 30-foot boat and sail into the horizon.  “I read Cruising World,” he said.  “A lot of people are doing it.  If they can, I can.”  His plan was to take every class the Sailing Center offered, then buy an old boat and set off, destination unknown.

That night, it took a few more words of persuasion to convince Gayl of the plan.  After all, it meant selling the house, quitting our jobs and postponing the start of a family.  Oh, and neither one of us knew how to sail, let alone take a star sight.  But those star-filled nights in the Whitsundays played like romantic old movies through our minds and soon we were in a dinghy together learning the wind and dreaming of far off lands.

Finally, after four years of classes – from celestial navigation to diesel maintenance – selling the house and buying and fixing up a 1976 cutter named Tamarac II, we literally sailed into the sunset, bound for the South Seas.

Things didn’t exactly work out the way we planned and we had a pretty rough introduction to the cruising life (read about our maiden voyage in Still Shaking).  We landed 800 miles south of the U.S. border in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

But from there, life only got better.  Gayl and I sailed the Sea of Cortez and Mainland Mexico’s west coast for a year, spearfishing our dinners and finding new friends, then spent 25 days at sea on a crossing from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific.

We then cruised all of French Polynesia, including the Tuamotu Atolls (my favorite spot on earth) and all the islands of Tahiti (my second favorite spot on earth). Check out photos in Snapshots.

It was always our intention to start a family after a few years on the sea and things could not have worked out better.  Gayl and I flew back from Tahiti in November of 2001 four months pregnant with a little girl we had already named Leila.  (Not having brought a baby name book with us, we assumed Leila was Polynesian; turns out it’s Arabic for dark starry night, which is pretty cool, too.)

So we were back, homeless, jobless, and pregnant.  You’d think I’d be nervous.  You’d be right.

We sold Tamarac, I got some freelance writing work and we found a modest rental in Costa Mesa.

Then Leila came into the world in March of 2001 and everything changed.  (Read my thoughts on fatherhood in Paradise Found and Adventures in Fatherhood: The First Year.)

Now, I make my living as Staff Writer for Coast.  We do still travel; I write about four travel pieces a year, most of them with an ocean theme.  In fact, so far Leila has been on two sailing adventures through the Caribbean – on chartered boats.  But that’s only temporary, because as soon as Leila is able to hold a ship’s wheel and steer by a star I have a feeling everything will change once again. ž

 

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