Driven to sail

Location doesn’t keep central Kenai Peninsula sailors from the sea

Posted: Sunday, August 28, 2005


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  Photo courtesy of Craig Forrest Norm McCall, on the S/V Fjordfinder (center), joins other sailboats on Kachemak Bay.

Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Enjoying blue skies, calm seas and no wind, Larry and Toni Adams motor past the mouth of Sadie Cove.

It might not be the open ocean, but a lake near Larry and Toni Adams’ Sterling home has kept their love of sailing afloat. Norm McCall of Soldotna learned to sail on reservoirs in Utah.

Being a few miles from the sea’s salty air is little inconvenience for inland sailors, but there’s always that unquenchable thirst for a crisp ocean breeze rippling through the sails. As members of the Homer Yacht Club, the Adamses and McCall have found a group of like-minded sailors and opportunities to frequently quench their thirst.

The Adamses bought their first sailboat, a 19-footer, in 1989 after hearing stories of a carefree, adventurous life at sea.

“I met a person who had just come to Alaska after sailing a 47-foot steel sailboat from Australia,” Larry Adams said. “He told me about this lifestyle of being able to go anywhere and take all his belongings with him. It was quite a way of life. And I was interested from that moment.”

It didn’t take long to realize that a 19-foot sailboat was too small for what the Adams eventually wanted to do, but it was perfect for playing on lakes on the central Kenai Peninsula. Then, while visiting in Port Townsend, Wash., they spent five days on a 32-foot sailboat, testing their sea legs before investing in a bigger boat.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

It was a bay full of boats at the 2005 Homer Yacht Club's regatta on Kachemak Bay in June.

In 1992, they attended a sailing class in Seward, spending classroom time learning how to read maps and other essentials for safe boating, followed by a week-long sail. Feeling comfortable with their growing knowledge, in 1994 they purchased a 26-foot sailboat that was kept in the Homer Harbor.

Soon, they were members of the Homer Yacht Club, participating in races, excursions in the Kachemak Bay area and other club events. Nor was it long before they realized that their boat was too small for Larry’s 6-foot 2-inch frame and Toni’s 5-feet 10-inch height.

“I had to stoop down and we couldn’t sleep in the boat without our feet getting tangled up in the berth,” Adams said, explaining the decision behind their purchase of a Crealock 37, a boat which came highly recommended.

However, the sailboat was in Seattle, so with the help of two well-seasoned sailors, Larry sailed it to Homer in April 1998, a 23-day voyage that included a 72-hour stretch with winds hitting 35 knots and 20- to 30-foot rollers.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

The S/V Trinity, owned by Larry and Toni Adams of Sterling, competes in the Homer Yacht Club regatta on Kachemak Bay.

Word of their arrival into Kachemak Bay reached Toni, who was working at Soldotna Elementary School at the time, and she was able to drive to Homer and join other members of the yacht club as they welcomed the Trinity to its new home.

“We have continued to keep our 19-foot sailboat up here on a little lake where we live in Sterling,” Larry said.

Not only does it give a short relief to the need to be on the water, it also reminds him of good times he and Toni have spent sailing with their family.

“We used to sit here at the dinner table and when we’d see the wind come up, all four of us would run down there, forget about dinner getting cold, jump in (the boat) and go down to the other end of the lake. Maybe the wind would stop and we’d have to paddle back, but we’d have a lot of fun.”

When McCall was a teenager, he was invited by a friend’s father to go sailing on a Utah reservoir.


Photo courtesy of Craig Forrest

Norm McCall, on the S/V Fjordfinder (center), joins other sailboats on Kachemak Bay.

“I thought it sounded like fun, but I looked at my buddy and if looks could kill, I would have been dead. It was something he really, really hated, and I thought it was going to destroy the friendship,” McCall said. As it turned out, his presence made the outing enjoyable for his friend. “And I thought it was a blast.”

While serving in the U.S. Army near Pisa, Italy, McCall visited the local harbor, looking for opportunities to crew on sailboats.

“I’d do anything to sail,” he said. “Coil lines. Wash the deck. Whatever it took.”

The Italian sailors took McCall under their wing, teaching them what they knew.

“One guy even tried to teach me celestial navigation,” he said. “When I was first learning how to do that, I had the latitude correct, but, even though we were in the Mediterranean, I had us identified a little north of Cuba. I’ve learned a lot since then.”


By McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Larry Adams of Sterling digs into the mouth-watering rewards of being a Homer Yacht Club member.

As he became known among that community of sailors, McCall was frequently asked by boat owners to sail their boats from one port to another.

“I had an oddball schedule in the Army, with three, four days off so I could do that, move boats here and there,” he said.

After coming to Alaska in 1970, McCall thought his sailing days had come to an end, with the only exceptions during vacations out of state.

“I had developed a group of friends that still contacted me, people needing boats moved,” he said. Working on the North Slope provided a work schedule with enough time off to take them up on their offers. “They’d pay the airplane ticket, so I used to get several trips in a year.”

Sailing in the Mediterranean and moving boats for friends in the Lower 48 have given McCall plenty of sea stories. In one he got caught in the crosshairs of a shirocco, a wind off Africa, and another blowing off Spain and had waves covering the hatch. Then there’s a time off California’s Cape Mendocino where it is not uncommon to encounter waves up to 25 feet and earplugs are needed because of the waves’ roar.

Nine years ago, McCall made what he laughingly described as a “mistake” and bought a 34-foot sailboat, the S/V Fjord Finder, that was in Whittier. He brought it to his home in Soldotna, parked it beside the driveway and spent the next three years working on it. He now keeps it in the Homer Harbor and, like Larry and Toni Adams, is a member of the Homer Yacht Club. A rotating work schedule allows time to sail on Kachemak Bay.

“Last summer, I had six weeks off and of those six weeks, I spent five nights total at home,” he said “The rest was on the boat somewhere — Port Graham, Jakalof, Bear Cove — somewhere.”

The Homer Yacht Club has approximately 50 members, according to Commodore Craig Forrest of Homer. Most of those memberships are families, meaning two or more people. The addresses of club members stretch well beyond the shores of Kachemak Bay, including other Alaska locations, other states and other countries. It even has a sister yacht club in Petropavlask, Russia.

Although a few hour’s drive from Homer, club member and Anchorage filmmaker Brian George Smith heads for the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula as often as possible.

“Sailing is truly great R and R for me,” Smith said. “I work 70-hour weeks and just live right now for my two days away to get out on the water with my very own boat and play and learn.”

The club’s summer season kicks off with a two-day regatta. Weekend races are scheduled throughout the summer with novice sailors invited to participate. And not all of the activities are boat-based. For instance, there’s the annual clam bake originally organized more than 15 years ago by former East Coasters Brendan and Patti Boily, who have lived in Homer for the past 28 years.

“We don’t require people to have boats, only an interest in them and good seamanship,” Forrest said.

“It’s a good bunch that’s fun to do things with,” McCall said. “And having fun — that’s what counts.”

McKibben Jackinsky is a reporter for the Homer News.

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