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Couple Sail Off, Leave 'This Rat Race Forever'

February 26, 1987|TERRY SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

It is a good thing Kay and Howard Kirkwood are still in love after 28 years of marriage. For the next several years they are going to be seeing a lot of each other.

A whole lot.

The Kirkwoods, along with their cat, Stacy, left Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro this month on a sailing cruise to Mexico, French Polynesia and parts unknown.

"We hope we can leave this rat race forever," Kay Kirkwood said in an interview before leaving, adding that they do not consider it an unrealistic goal. A couple they once worked with sailed away in the early 1960s, came back briefly about five years later, then departed again and have yet to return, she said.

The Kirkwoods began planning their trip seven years ago when they bought their 32-foot cruiser. The couple, who met while working on a banana freighter, have owned 13 other boats. They moved onto the sailboat three years ago, quit their most recent jobs three months ago (she was a secretary, he was in purchasing) and sold most of their possessions.

"It's a lot of hard work to get ready for something like this," Howard Kirkwood said. "Friends who invited us over for a farewell dinner were disappointed when we told them we couldn't do it. They don't understand that the preparations don't give us the time to socialize."

Safety Features Added

Preparations included the addition of several safety features, such as a special harness that allows for more mobility than the traditional sailboat tether.

Storage space was added inside the cabin, which measures 25 square feet--about the amount of living space in a medium-sized recreational vehicle.

The Kirkwoods put away a year's worth of food, mostly canned and dried, 42 rolls of paper towels, 35 pounds of cat food and 96 rolls of toilet paper. They will have to go ashore every six to eight weeks to refill their butane tanks for cooking. Although each is a smoker, they did not take any cigarettes along--they hope to use this as an opportunity to quit.

They also plan to do plenty of fishing, although Howard professes a profound dislike for the bounty of the deep.

"I'll learn to like it," he said, "although I wish I could teach cows to swim."

The Kirkwoods say they do not understand all the fuss that was being made over them. More than 100 people attended a bon voyage party for them last month.

"A lot of people do this type of thing," Kay said.

Risk Is Minimal

But a spokesman for the Los Angeles Yacht Club said that it is unusual for anybody to plan such a trip for more than a year.

While both believe that the risk they will encounter during their voyage is minimal, it is nevertheless there.

"Sailing is 99% pleasure punctuated by moments of stark terror," Kay said.

While at sea, one of them must be awake at all times to watch for freighters and other hazards. The boat is equipped with two radios, including a shortwave, plus a depth finder, a barometer, an automatic steering device and a satellite navigational device, among other features. Although they hope to avoid using it, the boat is also equipped with an engine.

The trip is being financed on a shoestring--"a frayed one"--according to her husband. Although the Kirkwoods have paid for their $100,000 boat, they have no income and only a small savings account, and it will be seven years before Howard, 55, becomes eligible for Social Security.

"We hope to write a book, sell pictures and that type of thing," he said. "You can't work when you're in foreign countries, so we're going to have to be very frugal."

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