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Going the Distance : OCC Students Sign on for One Leg of 750-Mile Voyage to or From Cabo San Lucas


As an airline captain, Jill Leenerts is used to flying passenger jets cross country, but she's not used to sailing a boat offshore.

So, after finding out she had been accepted as a crew member aboard Orange Coast College's Alaska Eagle for a 750-mile voyage to Cabo San Lucas, she says: "I've been so excited I've hardly slept."

For Leenerts and other students from the college Sailing Center, the trip is a chance to practice many of the skills they've learned in the classroom, according to Brad Avery, director of marine programs at the Costa Mesa college. "People want to see what it is like to be at sea for five days, standing watches and doing all the things that go on on a boat 24 hours a day. These people are all sailors, but the majority of them have not taken long trips."

Leenerts and nine other crew members from the Sailing Center left Newport Beach Saturday and are expected to arrive Friday at Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula.

On the trip south, the Alaska Eagle will serve as escort and communications vessel for the Newport Harbor Yacht Club 1993 Cabo San Lucas yacht race. Once the Eagle arrives in Cabo, the students will fly home while a new crew will fly down to Mexico to return the boat to Newport Beach.

Sailing north up the Baja coast is a rough journey, Avery points out. Head winds and big seas are the norm--which will make the return trip excellent training for students such as Dave Candey, who are interested in rugged sailing. "An upwind passage can be difficult," Candey says. "And this may be a test to see if I have the mettle to do it."

Candey, a Placentia quality management and systems engineering consultant, hopes to do some long-distance cruising. He sees the journey as an introduction to some serious sailing. "My wife and I would like to cruise someday, and this is my first offshore passage, my first upwind experience. I want to see if I can handle it."

The Alaska Eagle will depart Cabo San Lucas on Sunday and will spend six days working its way up the coast. Although the trip south is nonstop, the trip north will include stops in Bahia Santa Maria, Turtle Bay and Cedros Island. The boat is expected to arrive in Newport Beach on April 3.

The cost for participating in each leg of the trip is $795 per student. Some sailors who have made the rough journey back from Baja were surprised that students were willing to pay that much to subject themselves to so much discomfort, Avery says.

"We've had people who have said, 'You mean you'd pay to come up from Baja?' " he says. "But we had as many people interested in coming up the coast as going down. They want some rugged sailing. In our area here in Newport Beach and Southern California, it is rare to get a couple of days of rugged sailing, so lots of people want to go out in some rough stuff, rather than wait until it hits them. They want to go out and see what it is all about."

"The big difference is the force of the elements," he explains. "Going against the wind, it is a whole different world. Water is leaking in the hatches, people aren't feeling well. But if you went downwind all your life, you wouldn't be a very good sailor. You have to go upwind to know what it is like."

On both legs of the journey, students will be expected to stand watches and participate fully in all aspects of navigation and sail handling, Avery says.

"It is an ongoing process, and people will be getting up at 2 a.m. trimming sails and steering," he says. "We also practice celestial navigation, so many bring their own sextants. They've taken our classes, and this is a way for them to put classroom knowledge to practical experience."

For most students, on either the downwind or upwind leg, the Baja trip will marks their first major ocean voyage. For Leenerts, who owns a 20-foot sailboat she keeps near her home in Dana Point, it's a chance to get some offshore experience in a much larger vessel.

"This is my only ocean passage and my biggest trip," said Leenerts, who points out that there are many similarities between flying and sailing. "In both you have air foils, the creation of lifts, and you're working with the elements, with Mother Nature, changing seas and atmospheric conditions."

Like Candey, Leenerts says she'd like to do some long-distance cruising one day, perhaps sailing all the way to Tahiti. The experience she gains on the Baja trip will be one step in that direction, she says.

Both Candey and Leenerts think that the classes they've taken at the OCC Sailing Center have prepared them well for this cruise. But Candey says he is worried about one thing: "I'm a little nervous about getting seasick."


More cruises. Applications are being accepted for Alaska Eagle's 1993 Pacific Sail Training Cruise, which will take students to Alaska, Canada and Hawaii. The cruise is scheduled to run from July through October and will be sailed in eight legs, each lasting between two and three weeks.

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