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OCC is losing its sailing symbol

Alaska Eagle, donated to the college in 1982 for its seamanship program, is now flying the Dutch flag after sale.

January 07, 2014|By Hannah Fry
  • Gerard Schootstra, the ship's new skipper, secures rope to the Alaska Eagle's 90-foot tall mast at Newport Harbor Shipyard in Newport Beach early Tuesday morning. Orange Coast College sold the Alaska Eagle, a yacht to a Dutch foundation for $350,000.
Gerard Schootstra, the ship's new skipper, secures… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

The Alaska Eagle has proudly displayed the Orange Coast College flag on its stern for 32 years and more than 290,000 miles.

But Tuesday morning, as crew members worked to disassemble the 90-foot mast, OCC's flag had been replaced with the red, white and blue-striped symbol of the Netherlands.

The change represents the School of Sailing & Seamanship's farewell to the 65-foot sloop. The college in Costa Mesa sold the Alaska Eagle earlier this month to Diederik Nolten, a Dutch sailor and businessman, for $350,000.

"It's very bittersweet," said Coast Community College Trustee David Grant. "It choked me up to see the Dutch flag on the stern this morning."

The college decided nearly a year ago to sell the boat after Richard and Sheri Crowe, who have co-skippered Alaska Eagle since it was donated to the college in 1982, announced their retirement.

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The Alaska Eagle has a special place in Sheri Crowe's personal history, since she has worked on the boat with her husband since she was 23.

"We built our lives around the boat for 30 years," she said. "I grew up on the boat in a lot of ways."

The School of Sailing & Seamanship is moving away from an emphasis on sailing, instead placing a higher importance on training students in its professional mariner program, said director Brad Avery.

The funds from the boat's sale will go back into the sailing program.

"It's a different world than it was 32 years ago, when we acquired the boat," Avery said. "We've gone from a sailing program to a much more comprehensive naval training program. It requires a different mix of boats."

Alaska Eagle, which has room for 12 people, appears minuscule compared to the luxury yachts it sits next to in Newport Harbor, but it represents a large part of OCC's sailing history.

Alaskan businessman Neil Bergt gave the sloop to OCC following the 1981-82 Whitbread Round the World Race. While Bergt did not win the race that year, the Alaska Eagle had been victorious under different leadership in the 1977-78 race.

After hearing that Bergt was planning to donate the boat to the U. S. Naval Academy, Grant, who was OCC's dean of students at the time, wrote to him in hopes that he would donate Alaska Eagle to the college instead.

"I wrote to him over and over again, and he never said anything back," Grant recalled. "Then one day we got the call that he had decided to give it to us."

The college was intrigued by the boat because of its unique design and sailing capabilities, Grant said.

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