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Not exactly a three-hour tour

Eclectic group of sailors return to Newport Beach from a yearlong, 20,000-mile journey to New Zealand and back.

August 11, 2008|By Alan Blank

A pirate-clad ukulele player and a septuagenarian celestial navigation buff sit down at a dinner table. What do they talk about? How do they pass an entire night together?

It’s almost a rhetorical question given the improbability of this pairing, but about a dozen people now know the answer thanks to a transpacific sailing expedition that recently ended in Newport Beach.

The Alaska Eagle, a 65-foot aluminum sailboat that just returned from a yearlong, 20,000-mile trip to New Zealand and back, was staffed by a motley crew of sailors, and they didn’t just eat one meal together. They ate, slept, breathed and worked together — never more than 20 yards away from each other — for weeks at a time. The majority of crew members for the voyage were not professional sailors or even experts, but they were selected from a pool of applicants based on their personality traits, as well as their sailing abilities. This rigorous process helps ensure there are no major conflicts, said Captain Sheri Crowe, who has piloted the boat along with her husband, Rich, for a quarter century.

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Still, a multiweek stint, without sight of land with a group of 12 strangers, is a daunting proposition.

“On day three I was about ready to throw myself overboard,” said David Heaslip, a 43-year-old crew member and Costa Mesa family man who describes himself as an inexperienced sailor.

Heaslip sailed what coordinators called one of the most difficult legs of the journey, from New Zealand to Tahiti, and although it took him some time to become acclimated, he loved the experience.

It served as preparation for a two-year, round-the-world sailing trip he wants to take with his family in the future, but first he wanted to make sure he was prepared to handle all the challenges the ocean could throw at him.

“It’s easy to get a good-weather sailing experience, but if you’re going to go out on a long expedition, you need to know what it’s like to be in bad weather in the middle of the ocean, unreachable,” Heaslip said.

There were no hurricanes or 20-foot seas on his portion of the trip, but he did run into some strong winds and big waves, he said, and the instruction from the captains was invaluable.

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