When the Alaska Eagle was donated to Orange Coast College's sailing center in 1982, the school's staff was not sure what to do with a 65-foot yacht built to travel around the world. But they quickly came up with a plan: Use it as a seagoing classroom.
"If you always thought of sailing across the ocean and you know you can't take your own boat, this is an opportunity to sign on and sail to someplace like the Marquesas," said Brad Avery, director of OCC's Sailing Center.
The sloop cast off Saturday for a 10-part voyage that will take it as far as New Zealand. Different crews will join the ship at South Pacific ports in the Marquesas, the Tuamotu Archipelago, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Fiji, for stints of 12 to 24 days.
Sailors do not have to be enrolled at OCC to sign on for the program. They pay fees that vary with the length and route of the voyage but average $125 a day.
In the past decade, the OCC program has attracted hundreds of amateur sailors from around the globe. Though most have been from Orange County, participants have come from across the United States and from other countries.
The program allows crew members to learn all aspects of sailing a ship, from standing watch to maintenance and galley duty. It has become so popular that the center now has three boats besides the Alaska Eagle.
This year, one boat will sail to Hawaii and Alaska; another to the San Juan Islands, off Washington, and the coast of Canada; and the third to Antarctica.