Monday, August 31, 2015

My father's dream...fueling my dreams today.

Just before launch in 1979

When I was in high school in the late 1970s my family took a trip to Hawaii during the Christmas holidays.  While there my parents went for an afternoon "lunch cruise" on a 40' foot sailboat. Neither of my parents had ever been on a sailboat before and after returning my dad couldn't talk about anything else. Wheels were in motion in his brain that could not be halted and by the time they got back home to southern Oregon he announced to the family and his close friends that he was going to build a boat and sail around the world.  To which the common responses were "Crazy talk"! "That Mike Mitchell, he's a dreamer"! Everyone including my mom pretty much just ignored his crazy talk, because that's all it was to them, figuring it would pass soon enough. However, his mind was made up.

Not long after coming home my dad subscribed to every sailing, boating, and ocean magazine he could find.  If there was a picture of water on the cover, he subscribed to it.  The articles in those magazines were his education.  If he was going to have a sailing vessel built to carry his family around the world he needed to know what kind of boat and why. Within a few short months he had several binders that contained clipped out articles from the magazines on everything from keel types, sail plans, marine engines, generators, electrical gadgets, safety equipment and more.  If memory serves me right he had 5-7 of those binders, all filling up fast, all categorized, labeled and easily accessible to be used in his decision on what boat to buy.

After several months he had gathered enough information to know what kind of boat he wanted to have built.  His base premise for a boat to take his family around the world in was sea worthiness.  A heavy weather, go anywhere boat and the manufacturer that best fit his dream boat was Westsail out of Costa Mesa California.  He liked everything about the Westsail except for the available floor plans for the 42' yawl rig that he wanted.  He made a trip to the factory in Costa Mesa and met with the owner and asked him if Westsail would be willing to custom build the interior to his specifications. The answer was a quick and easy "NO".  "I am sorry Mike but we don't do custom builds and we never will".  Before leaving the Westsail corporate offices he managed to get a blueprint of the hull and then flew back to southern Oregon.

After several months of designing what he considered to be a far superior interior for the 42' hull, he flew back down to Costa Mesa to meet with the powers that be.  Before they even sat down they reminded him that they did not do any custom interiors nor would they consider it.  After a little pleading they did, however, agree to humor him by looking at his drawings. After considerable time mulling over his custom plans not only did they agree to build his boat but later offered his interior design plans as on option on all 42' Westsail hulls.

At the factory in Costa Mesa

Mom and dad christening the Liahona before the virgin launch

Fast forward a year and a half and many, many trips down to SoCal to see the progress of his dream, the Liahona was completed and ready to be launched.  She was launched in the Newport harbor in March of 1979, my junior year of high school.  During the building process plans were made to make the maiden  voyage of the Liahona down the Mexican coastline and up into the Sea of Cortez during the summer of 1979.  Keep in mind that as of that time nobody aboard the Liahona even knew how to sail.  After the boat was launched my dad hired an "old salt" named Al Adams to take us out for the afternoon and teach us how to sail.  All told, maybe 6 hours or so of sailing lessons that afternoon, a few days later we tossed off the dock lines and pointed the bow south of the US border toward Cabo San Lucas. Trials and errors were our teachers and with a fair amount of luck added in we enjoyed a great 3 months in the Sea of Cortez.

 Mark Skillman (on left) and me showing off our bounty. Escondido Bay. BCS

Mom looking on at the Liahona from a friend's boat. Mark and me on the bow sprit. Isla San Francisco. BCS.

The Liahona returned to our home port in Newport Beach at the end of that summer and we made preparations for a year long trip going south via Central America, through the Panama Canal and up the mainland side of the Caribbean. The journey was to begin as soon as I graduated from high school in 1980. Without going into the wondrous details of that life changing trip, we arrived in Galveston Texas about 14 months after setting off.

As to my father's dream to sail around the world, that never materialized.  In 1983 at the end of a long day riding horseback tending to projects on our ranch east of Ashland Oregon, his horse spooked, bucked and my dad hit the ground head first and spent the next several weeks in a coma.  That one event changed much for my family and one of those things was his dream to sail around the world. Although he never actually circumnavigated he pushed forward with his dream in the face of laughter, gossip and disbelief.  It was HIS dream and NOTHING dissuaded him.  The partial fulfillment of his dream was realized by pure determination to follow his heart and ignore the naysayers. It changed our lives, and in particular, my life, forever.

35 years later I sit onboard my own Liahona and follow a path that was forged by him. I love you dad.  Thank you for being the forerunner of my life aboard and the Johnny Appleseed of my cruising dream.  I am ever grateful!


  1. Beautiful I am glad you are enjoying this journey

  2. First, love the perm. You should consider bringing it back. Second, never knew It all started with a lunch cruise on a family trip to Hawaii. I know this story so well but it's the first I heard the very beginning.

  3. Replies
    1. Always great to see pics of you traveling the world Petra. Tarren always asks about you and you have inspired her to do the same.

  4. Great reading, Bret! I remember following your trip via a local ham operator, and then hoping desperately to join your second leg across the Pacific after high school but that terrible accident with your dad changed so much for all of you. He had to relearn so much. Remember the many phone calls and high phone bills after he was back home? Glad he's recovered well! Enjoying your blog very much. This time I went years back instead of just reading the more recent entries. Thanks for the good blog!