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August 2007

Bob Darr turned out to have a lot of hidden talents, boat builder, teacher, sailor, linguist, humanitarian.

Dear Friends:

The past weeks on Taleisin have definitely reinforced our feeling that people are the bonus of cruising. So in spite of the fact that the sailing, since we left Alameda on the eastern shore of San Francisco bay has been either so-so or downright annoying, we have fond memories of our saunter southwards to Santa Barbara. To recap the sailing briefly, we enjoyed a two-week stay in Sausalito at the Arques Wooden Boat Building school dock, explored the bay for a few days but got tired of the consistently cold damp weather. We then headed out the Golden Gate, beating into 25-knot headwinds until we could turn south.  With westerly winds gusting to 30 knots, low clouds and 50-degree temperatures, the run was fast but cold.  Half Moon Bay offered a wonderful anchorage – probably one of the best on the California coast – lots of room, sandy bottom in 15 feet of water, friendly folks on shore in a really low key old fashioned area with far more fishermen than yachtsmen in the inner harbor.  From there south, as we ran along the coast, the fresh northwesterly winds forecast each day failed to materialize for more than a few hours at a time even though they were definitely pumping offshore. So we had to contend with 8 to 10 foot swells and 5 or 8 knot winds much of the time. Santa Cruz harbor was a lovely stopping spot with a reasonably priced visitors dock, sunshine and a grand classic car rally. Fog added to our discomfort as we worked our way south from there so we did not stop until we were south of point Conception which we rounded in 8 foot seas, six knot breezes and ½ mile visibility between drifting fog patches. We anchored at Coho just east of Conception for the night, just outside the kelp beds then drifted onward. We were delighted to finally drift into Santa Barbara and sunshine with warm, almost caressing weather and a weeklong slumber party.  But that is another story.

When we set sail on Seraffyn back in 1968, the California Pelican was an endangered species.  The  array of pelicans along Half Moon Bays breakwater shows what a bit of human logic and action can do. 

Now about some people we would never have met if we hadn’t been cruising –

Meeting Bob Darr who is the director of the Arques Wooden Boat Center in Sausalito was really interesting from the beginning.  Bob had grown up as crew on board his father’s schooners.  His father, Omar Darr owned and plied big schooners like Te Vega and Wanderer in the waters of French Polynesia.  Omar Darr bought 30 acres of property on Moorea’s most beautiful bay and raised his three children there and afloat.  Bob’s interests were varied, his curiosity encouraged by an ever changing array of tutors. We spent many hours visiting with him on board Taleisin or in the boatyard, discussing boat building, Polynesia, schooner sailing and mutual friends and only a day or so before we were due to set sail did we learn about what we consider the most amazing aspects of his life.  Bob invited us for dinner at his simple apartment and as we looked around at an eclectic array of art we learned of his interest in the Middle East.  Turns out Bob had become fascinated with ancient Afghanistan poetry. So at a young age his tutors helped him learn two Arabic languages (he now speaks five languages fluently).  He translated five books of this poetry, which were then published in English.  Because of his knowledge of the two languages of Afghanistan, he was recruited by the United Nations to help get food to isolated villages when the Russians began withdrawing from the mountains. 

The fishing fleet at Pillar Point, inside Half Moon bay, is definitely doing well.

Bob, who with his dark hair and lean appearance plus excellent lingual skills was able to blend in with the local populace, spent almost 15 years tramping through this rugged mountain region getting food to the people work.  He was captured and tossed into an Afghan prison, held as a potential hostage, met some of the great poets whose work he loved and converted to Sufi Islam. Only a year ago he was urged to publish a book about his experiences as there were so few American or English speaking people who had a true knowledge of the Afghan and Pakistan Islamic view of current affairs. He only agreed to write the book if it could also be available for free on line.  I did not have a chance to read the book until after we left, but wish I had as I would have had a hundred more questions for Bob that evening. As it was, we came away with some new insights we consider as we listen to the news from overseas.  You can look up his book at www.spyoftheheart.com.

Guess you could call this a three way seal of approval. These youngsters are on the floating pontoon of the Half Moon Bay yacht club.

We rowed ashore and landed Cheeky on the sand near Princeton Landing in Half Moon Bay then went for a walk our first evening.  Right in the center of the big parking lot which fronts the inner harbor we noticed an old Monterey style fish boat being rebuilt, covered by a temporary shed.  It’s not often that you see a boat yard set up in a public parking lot so we went over to take a closer look.  A simple display board explained this 70 year old fishboat which had been owned and worked by three generations of a local family, was being restored to serve not only as a learning center for less advantaged youth but to eventually run tours of the harbor and out to the world famous surfing break just half a mile outside the harbor. (Tourism barely exists in Half Moon Bay or Pillar Point) with the goal of earning funds for scholarships for the local fishermen’s children.  We put a donation in the pot, wondered at the fact that timber and tools lay out in the open with no apparent concern for theft or vandalism. Larry put five bucks in the collection box and a man appeared from behind a small shed to say thanks. Half an hour later we were on board Leland and Cecily Parsons 50 foot schooner Frank Edmund sharing stories and coffee. Leland, a builder from San Diego began building his dream boat 29 years before.

Skip took us for a fine lunch at the end of the Capitola pier

Work, eight children and the usual stuff got between him and launching, but two years before we met, Frank Edmund was launched. Cecily and Leland moved on board and began enjoying the cruising life as they headed northward bound for Alaska.  Interesting delays found them in enjoying getting to know the fishermen of Half Moon Bay as summer ended. The old Monterey fishing boat Irene caught Leland’s eye and they two of them decided her restoration and the creation of a the Pillar Point Educational fund would be an interesting winter project. It took Cecily – who had never before been involved in non-profit or fund raising organization – six months to get all the paper work right. Leland had less trouble getting permission to start the physical project and Irene should be sound, looking good and afloat by the end of the summer.  “It will have turned into a two year project but its been a grand part of our cruising life,” Cecily told us.  “Isn’t that what cruising is supposed to be, a complete change from what you did before, a chance to get to know how other folks live?  We’ve had a grand time being in Pillar Point, a real change from what we left behind.”
I was delighted with the cottages along the Capitola waterfront, be a great place to spend a summers week.

We’d heard of Skip Allen from the time Larry and I met in Newport Beach in 1965. Skips skill as a racing sailor was legendary even though he was, at that time, not yet 20years old. Tom Blackaller labeled him the best Star class racer alive.  We didn’t meet Skip back then; he lived in a different world. We did hear complaints of how, at a time when it was illegal to pay crew to race, he was on board all sorts of winning boats and paid a generous salary to deliver them back home.  Windward Passage, Saga, the light weight flyers designed by Tom Wylie.  We finally met Skip at Jack London Square and his first comments were, “I decided I needed an easier way to get the jib down on Wildflower, my Wylie 27 down single-handed. Remembered you wrote about a jib down haul in your book, Self Sufficient Sailor. Your idea worked perfectly.”  The next day he came back with a chart of his home harbor, Santa Cruz.  A month or so later we were secured at a guest slip in Santa Cruz for five days while Skip and his partner Glori acted as host and guides to the local delights. I especially loved listening to the stories of races Skip had gone on, boats that were like legends to us, sailors we’d heard of through the years.  With the last of the elimination races for the America’s Cup in progress during our stay, Skips had lots of insider stories to share.  As we sailed clear of Santa Cruz, we turned to see Skip headed toward us on Wildflower. It was fun to reach southward together for a while, snapping photos, admiring the boats we’d each built for ourselves and talking by cell phone of the next rendezvous.

Skip took almost 5 years to build Wildflower. When she was almost ready he was out of money. Figured if he didn’t put an engine in right away, he could launch a year or two sooner.  “You guys did the same thing didn’t you?” Skip commented.  So he got her launched sooner, sailed her for three years while he earned the money to put an engine in.

Just three of a dozen special folks we met between Sausalito and Point Conception. Add those to the friends we met during our last visits to these ports – plus others we met during our cruising life who now live along the California Coast and you can see how our days and evenings have been filled with delightful human encounters.

Thanks for showing us a grand time Skip and Glori

Here’s to fine sailing wherever you are,

Lin and Larry






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