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Two brothers and an old boat

As they refurbish their fishing vessel the Sunstar, Doug and Terry Herzik sand, grind, lay down fiberglass — and reaffirm a mostly unspoken bond.

September 16, 2011|By Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times
  • Brothers Doug, left, and Terry Herzik work on their fishing boat the Sunstar, which they're refurbishing in Oxnard. They share something inexpressible in the quiet work on a vessel they spent much of their adult lives on.
Brothers Doug, left, and Terry Herzik work on their fishing boat the Sunstar,… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

The Sunstar is in an Oxnard boatyard, up on screw jacks under a canopy of sun-beaten tarps. The orange wheelhouse is peeling, with scraps of plywood standing in for missing window panes. The blue of the hull is scuffed off along the angles. Spots of fiberglass are coming off in brown lesions.

The Herzik brothers are hunkered down in the hold, sanding the corners of two new gas tanks they built of plywood and fiberglass.

Terry is the captain, 64 years old, solid, broad-shouldered, a bit craggy from the years of sun and sea. Doug is 61, leaner, smoother, with blond-gray hair and hooded, slightly wary eyes.

PHOTOS: Refurbishing the Sunstar

They don't say much. In half a lifetime working on the boat alone together, harvesting sea urchins and sea cucumbers off the coast, they never have.

When they do speak, the words are utilitarian.

"You got another flashlight?" Doug asks.

"Yeah, I do."

"I want to look down in there and see if I can putty."

"OK."

Terry occasionally tries to persuade his younger brother to have surgery to fix his bilateral hernia, which he is treating with a rolled-up sock wedged under his belt.

Larger traumas are left mostly unspoken. They know conversation will not change what happened to their little sister, Robin, or bring meaning to it. They could never fix her with words, just as they couldn't 24 years ago for their little brother, Charlie.

They are the last of their family, at a time of life when they don't need to bicker or compete, when they just appreciate the simple state of being brothers. They share something inexpressible in the quiet work on a boat they spent much of their adult lives on.

The Sunstar they can fix.

::

Their father was an engineer who took jobs around the world; their mother was a housewife. The family lived in Okinawa, Korea, the Philippines and Tokyo.

When Terry went off to Texas A&M, his father's alma mater, the family moved to the San Fernando Valley. At Birmingham High School, Doug found it hard to make friends with people who had grown up with one another.

In Texas, Terry felt stifled at the all-men's university, dropped out and chased a girl to Maryland, where he worked as a mailman. He was quiet and inward in a way, but also restless and ready to explore.

Doug — who didn't appear in his 1968 yearbook because he refused to cut his hair — was classified 1-A for the draft, ready for service. Because he loved the ocean and wanted to be among the best, he enlisted in the Navy and made the cut for the SEALs. He came back after three years with little to say about the experience and ready to jump into the Age of Aquarius.

He moved to Redondo Beach and worked as a commercial diver inspecting pilings in the port. He heard guys were diving for sea urchins and selling them for good money to Japan. He called Terry, who jumped at the idea. He came west and bought in on a boat Doug had purchased.

The two brothers loved the money and the liberation of the open sea.

One day off San Clemente Island, overladen with urchins, a back corner of the boat scooped up water as they frantically shoved the 300-pound bags overboard. They knew the bilge pump was shot, but the auxiliary bilge didn't work, either. Doug jumped down into in the engine compartment, stripped some wires with his teeth and twisted them back together.

The pump sputtered to life and began spitting the water out before the boat could capsize.

Such were the experiences they would share, too many to recall.

But after that day, they would share them on a more stable boat.

Partly with a loan from their parents, they bought the bright orange Sunstar on the docks of Santa Barbara from a hippie ex-cop who owned a commune by the same name near the Oregon border. The low-bow, low-draft Radon boat was built specifically for urchin- and abalone-diving in the local waters.

For the next 28 years, fishermen up and down the coast knew the Herziks were coming when they saw that orange beacon in the distance.

The work was rough — crossing the channel, diving in often murky, cold currents for hours, sleeping nights in a cramped cabin.

They'd argue over boat upkeep, finances, where to dive, whether to risk rough seas.

"Oh, this spot again!" Doug might gripe, emerging to see where Terry was anchoring.

They both appreciated and annoyed each other — knowing each other so well that talking was often redundant. Terry was both more optimistic and more cautious. Doug was more fatalistic, with a cynical streak inculcated by Vietnam.

They got married within a year of each other. Terry wanted to raise a family. Doug never mentioned the topic.

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