that happened years ago when we were preparing to depart on our first cruise aboard Discovery…
It was early spring and we were living aboard in King Harbor, in Redondo
Beach, California. Several bachelor acquaintances had already approached us about coming
along as crew. Bob and I had discussed taking an extra hand aboard and decided the ideal
person would be our friend, Joe Inch, who we first met when racing on the sailboat Dorothy
From the moment we met Joe we formed an instant friendship and we spent a lot of time
together on land and at sea. Best of all, Robbie and Sharri liked him, so he was our first choice.
But we weren’t his.
“I don’t want to sail around the world in a rain cloud,” said Joe, joking that Bob was the
Li’l Abner character Joe Btfsplk, the world’s biggest jinx.
There were others hoping for a berth. A freelance photographer and surfing contest
announcer we barely knew offered to photograph our odyssey. We said we’d consider taking
him along, but while we were deliberating he made arrangements of his own. Aware of
our plans to approach equipment sponsors, magazines and newspapers to write about the trip,
he showed up one day with reams of letterhead stationery and envelopes printed to resemble a
yellowed treasure map. Inscribed in the upper left-hand corner was the name Discovery. Next to
it was a blackened hole burned in the paper. Near the hole was a motto: A Worldwide Adventure
in Living and underneath that were our names, his name, and my parent’s address.
He hadn’t asked if we wanted stationery, and we were unaware it was being printed until
he handed us an exorbitant bill. He was soon out of our lives, and we stored the unwanted
stationery in my parent’s garage. For the rest of his life my father wrote every letter to us on that
stationery –– but not before crossing off our friend’s name with a big red X.
Another potential crew member, a high school friend of Bob’s, eventually made us an
offer: If he could come along as crew he would deposit $3,000 into our bank account prior to
departure. If he didn’t work out and only sailed with us for a few months, we could still keep the
cash. I didn’t know him at all and was hesitant, but the cash sounded good. I’d read that if you
want to know whether someone will be a good crew member or not, sail with them on your
boat and you’ll soon find out. We decided to give him a try.
It was the end of April, the sailing weather was fine, and so we invited him on a
weekend trip to Catalina Island. More trips followed, and with each one he became more
overbearing. He ordered everyone around, and the children didn’t like him one bit. I rationalized
that he was effective because he made them mind me.
On his sixth weekend with us we’d only been anchored a short time when he began
teasing Robbie, threatening to throw him into the water. He chased Robbie around the deck and
eventually caught him, then lifted him into the air to throw him overboard. Robbie grabbed the
shrouds, holding on to the rigging with a death grip.
“He’s trying to kill me,” Robbie screamed.
“Let Robbie go,” I growled, an unmistakable “or else” in my voice. I wanted to kick our erstwhile
crew off then and there, but Bob advocated patience. We were anchored in an isolated harbor
on an island twenty-six miles from the Mainland.
Early next morning I awoke to the sudden sound of the engine revving up, followed by the
rattling of the anchor chain being hauled in. Strange, I thought, Bob hadn’t mentioned leaving
early. By mid-morning we were halfway across the busy Catalina shipping channel ––
surrounded by an impenetrable fog with no visibility beyond the bow. At the helm, Bob steered
silently with clenched jaw, maintaining our compass position and constantly checking the depth.
I rang the ships bell every few seconds and Robbie blew the air horn at designated intervals.
Nearby, our aspiring crew member sat doing nothing, growing more anxious by the minute.
“We’re lost. Radio the Coast Guard!” he pleaded frantically. Bob just stared ahead into
the fog. A few hours later we were safely tied up in our slip.
“Man, you came real close to losing the boat out there, you know?” our almost
crew member observed.
“No. We didn’t come close at all,” answered Bob, through closed lips. “We. Just.
Couldn’t. See. Anything.” Relieved, I knew this guy would never be asked back.
Later, in a letter to my brother I wrote: “There can only be one captain on a boat, and it
was hard to tell who the captain of Discovery actually was. That really got to Bob.”
Truth be told, we didn’t want anyone else on board except the four of us, and in the
end we learned sometimes it’s better to go it alone. We never regretted our decision.