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OCC Students Set for Voyage of the Eagle

April 01, 1998|PHIL DAVIS

The varnish is drying in the Alaska Eagle's cozy cabin. The teak is sanded smooth. And if Kevin Mullen is successful, the vessel's compass light will be working by the time it sails out of Newport Harbor on an 11-month trans-Atlantic cruise.

"We'll pretty much be at this until we go," said Mullen, the Orange Coast College sailing instructor who will take the Eagle and dozens of sailing students through the Panama Canal.

The boat departs Saturday on the first leg of its trip, an 800-mile, six-day run down the coast to Cabo San Lucas.

All told, the Alaska Eagle will cover 18,000 miles in the coming months, sailing from Newport Beach to the Netherlands, for a stop in the shipyards where it was built, then back to California.

A new 10-student crew will take over at each stop, and the old crew will fly home.

About 160 Orange Coast sailing students are paying $130 a day to learn the basics of long-distance travel by sailboat.

The Orange Coast staff emphasizes that the trip is not a luxury cruise, though the food is generally pretty good.

Marine Programs Director Brad Avery and his staff screen out folks looking for a vacation. This is a working cruise, they say, designed to teach the basics of deep-sea navigation.

"These people are here to sail," Avery said. "No one is waited on. It's a team effort."

In close quarters with 11 strangers, social skills are crucial.

"The two most important variables that you can't control are the weather and the group you're with," Avery said. "Probably the most surprising thing in 16 years of running this program is how well people get along."

The Alaska Eagle is a world-class racing vessel. In its prime, the boat, then named Flyer, won the 1978 Whitbread Round the World Race.

The boat was donated to Orange Coast College in 1982 and has been used for training new sailors ever since. "She's the flagship of our sailing fleet," Avery said proudly.

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