Adventures in Sailing, Part 3 – A Valley Dude Goes to the Beach

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Adventures in Sailing, part 3

Eleven students signed up to sail to Hawaii from Ventura, California on a 42-foot trimaran for $800.00 apiece in 1979 money. That’s more than $2700 in 2019 monies. Actually, only 10 students signed up as the the captain’s daughter was also coming along and presumably didn’t need to pay. That $8000.00 would be enough to completely strip the boat, de-mast it, de-rig it, pull the boat from the water for 6–8 months, and completely reassemble it with all new hardware, paint, safety equipment, and sails. And other than the necessity for the boat be hauled at a boatyard, the captain arranged for all of us to do the work, one weekend a month, from October to our cruising date of June 1980. Somebody thought this through!

But first, Captain Mathias had 10 people who knew little to nothing about sailing or boat maintenance, so the time was short and the learning curve steep. We all had to contribute without fail as part of our commitment to the adventure. This boat, Columba, would be our home for the entire summer, June through August 1980. What better way for us to get to know it than to completely tear it apart and rebuild it.

The captain put together committees to tackle some basics: sailing lessons, first-aid and CPR certification, food and galley prep, and foul weather gear and equipment. We were asked about our own particular skills and boating experiences (some lake and river boating and a little sailing and some deep sea fishing, but mostly motion sickness chum provider for me). Finally, we were provided a costly list of items that we would need for the trip, which was in addition to the $800 fee. Included on that list were items such as an emergency kit with space blanket, snake bite, life vest with attached whistle and shackle, warm woolen clothes, wool blanket, snacks, games, cards, books, inflatable dinghy, toiletries and much more. The list was complete and personal gear must be weighed and not exceed a certain volume.

We all took sailing lessons. These book-and-classroom lessons emphasized the basics of sailing, the aerodynamics, the right of way rules, the vocabulary (port, starboard, leeward, windward, sail, block, bowline, reef, etc.), and all the culture connected with sailing and sailboats.

We took Red Cross certified courses in first aid and CPR. Our first mate, the blond German named Cloud, set out to find the best price for foul weather gear. In one of our monthly meetings just as we were getting started, he told a funny story in his German accent. “I called several stores to ask about the price of foul-weather gear. They asked my name, and I said ‘Cloud.’ One guy said, “Funny!” and hung up on me.” You can’t make this stuff up.

One of the three Mormans on the boat in addition to the captain and his daughter, Andrea was in charge of the food and the galley. As an Amway salesperson, she did her best to also sell us products to help her business. Three of us were high school students. Andrea was a bit older than the rest of us and a church friend of the Mathias family, but she was still on the younger side, perhaps in her mid-20s. Christy, the captain’s daughter, was in her senior year of high school. She was actually late graduating because the family had cruised in the Marquesas islands for a couple of years, so we knew the captain and she at least had some experience in the open ocean. Gary was a year behind me in 10th grade. I was in 11th grade. I believe that all the rest of the crew were 1st or 2nd year college students and/or family friends of the captain. Cloud was the 1st mate, and Dave was 2nd mate. Don, Sue, Karen, Linda, and Tonya rounded out the rest of the crew. More about all of them later.

One weekend a month, we made the drive from the San Fernando Valley where we all lived to Ventura, a sleepy coastal community where the boat was kept, about an hour’s drive north from Los Angeles. Sometimes we carpooled, but mostly we drove separately. I got my driver’s license in November 1979, and I got used to making the drive by myself to Ventura. We slept in sleeping bags on the boat, even when it was on a stand in the boatyard. They pulled the boat out of the water and then we took the boat apart — down to the bare bones. The engine was removed and all the shrouds and stays and lines, and the boat was demasted.

Once we had a clean hull to work with, we started the dirty work. We sanded. And we sanded some more. We sanded with handheld sanders and with bricks wrapped with sandpaper. And then we painted everything, white and baby blue. We applied no-skid surface to the boat deck, basically a kind of sand that is applied with an adhesive to certain panels on the deck and then painted over. It feels like walking on rough sandpaper, so in general, we didn’t walk around barefoot. That’s what boat shoes and flip flops are for. We installed safety lines and shrouds and stays. We threaded line through the mast to connect to the sails.

And then we did the bright work, which is another way for saying we polished anything that was metal. With the boat sitting near the ocean in Ventura, it didn’t take long for the brightwork to become dull from oxidation. So we spent a good amount of time polishing metal. Amway has (or had) a great metal polisher. When we were sailing, it was a common chore to spend an hour or so every day doing the bright work.

It took a good 6 months or more to remake the boat in its own image. It looked exactly the same, but it entailed replacing or refurbishing each part, buying a backup, and putting it all back together. The captain went up every weekend, while the rest of us were only required to go to Ventura once a month. However, there was always work to do, and I’m sure the captain got help from Cloud or Dave or both on off weekends. They had to pull the engine, and then reinstall it, including installing the propeller shaft and propeller. And we had to raise the mast and reinstall it. Much of that work required using hoists from the boatyard, which meant scheduling yard time. When it was almost complete, except for the interior cushions and the homey features such as curtains and decorations, we put the boat back in the water.

Once we knew all the components worked, we had a sense of pride in Columba from all the work we put in to our summer home.We were one step closer to taking off for the high seas. But first we had to learn to apply what we had learned in the classroom. We had to learn how to sail.

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