Cruisers Soak Up Salty Stories : Orange County sailors will socialize and gather facts at a Catalina rendezvous to prepare for the season.

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Forget summer. Fall is the time that serious cruisers set sail for Mexico and points south. Just ask Doug Owen. For four years he's been putting together a combination send-off party and cruising seminar for southbound sailors who have been biding their time, sitting out the Mexican hurricane season, which occurs between June and October.

No one, including Owen, knows how large the cruising class of 1993-94 will be, but last year 350 people aboard more than 150 boats attended Owen's Cruiser's Catalina Weekend. This year's rendezvous will take place Oct. 15-17 at the isthmus on Santa Catalina Island.

Most participants come from the Orange County and Los Angeles area, but as Owen points out: "We've had boats from British Columbia, Portland and the San Francisco Bay area. All the cruising boats are headed south because the hurricane season is ending," says Owen, 54, a cruiser whose boat is docked in Panama.

"Nov. 1 is the traditional departure date," he says, "and as a result a number of parties have sprung up along the coast." Owen, who lives and works on Catalina during the summer and cruises aboard his 31-foot sailboat the rest of the year, decided to carry the idea of a send-off party one step further.

During the cruiser's weekend, boaters can socialize, swap sea stories and get matched with others who have similar destinations, as well as attend a number of free seminars. Owen says one of the most popular ones is the "Ask the Doctor" program, presented each year by a physician.

"Most people don't have a great deal of (medical) knowledge," he says, "and when you're hundreds of miles from shore with no medical help available, it is a serious consideration. And unfortunately, accidents still happen."

In addition to the medical seminar, the weekend will also include information on cruising with pets, operating a ham radio and using a life raft. There will also be a demonstration on how to recover someone who falls overboard and a forum for women only.

For information on the cruising conference, call the Catalina Island Harbor Department at (310) 510-2683.

On Oct. 16, Owen will present a slide show called "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," about his eight years of cruising more than 15,000 miles in North, Central and South America. Except for the slide show, all events are free. Owen points out that program appeals to boaters who are getting ready to depart and to "armchair" boaters who dream of setting sail.

Orange County sailors Dave and Diane Johnson of Laguna Hills are two dreamers who attended last year's gathering. Since they wed 14 years ago, the Johnsons have been working toward buying a boat and going cruising. They've got the boat--a Fuji 35 named Odyssey--and Dave Johnson says, "This year we are getting truly close to going."

The Johnsons, who hope to depart some time during the next year, will attend this year's conference and are looking forward to rubbing elbows with experienced cruisers who can tell them what to expect.

"It is a great opportunity to meet people and to learn about their experience," Dave Johnson says. "Last year we were sitting at a picnic bench, and here was this guy who had cruised 50,000 miles. When you get people like that together, there is a great exchange of information."

In addition to experienced boaters, the Johnsons also met sailors who were less experienced than they are, and that was good, too, says Diane. "It was a whole range of people. People who were thinking about getting a boat, people in the initial stages and people like myself and Dave, who have sailed Southern California extensively and who are in the process of equipping the boat."

One inexperienced sailor looking forward to this year's program is Louise Wade, 43, an interior designer from Laguna Beach. Wade will accompany Owen this season when he resumes his cruising lifestyle.

"I have done a very small amount of sailing," she says, "but this is all new. Doug is in the top 1% of sailors; I'm in the bottom 1%. I just fell in love with someone who happened to be a sailor."

The two met this summer while Owen was working driving a harbor patrol boat in Catalina. Wade, who is self-employed, says she didn't have to think very hard before deciding to take a four-month leave of absence and sail away with Owen.

"I feel like I woke up in the middle of someone else's life," she says. "It is a great adventure, and I have skipped the first 25 steps that people take to get there. But I have a son who is 22 and he says, 'Go for it.' "

Wade admits that she is concerned about the safety issues, and that is one reason she is excited about attending the cruising conference.

"I have so little experience, I don't know what to expect," she says. "I look forward to talking to people, to hear from all these people who have done it and everyone has survived."

Owen says Wade has already done the hardest part. "Making the decision to go and then doing it is the hardest," says Owen, a former San Francisco law enforcement officer. "Most people are intelligent, and few go off on poorly founded boats. And they do take advantage of so much information that is being disseminated now by so many sources."

But there is only so much you can learn from books and conferences, Owen points out. Eventually you have to cast off and try things on your own. Once underway, Owen says that most boaters find it is "simpler than they thought before they left."

Still, living day-to-day in a small boat while voyaging long distances is not for everyone, he concedes. "Many view it as a very romantic concept," he says. "But there are no pathways on the ocean. It is one of the last opportunities for independent, self-motivated success that exists today, I think. And you always know if you did a good job. You don't need anyone to tell you. You'll know by your own navigation."

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Multihulls. Sailing and racing multihull boats will be the subject of two seminars being offered this month by the Orange Coast College Sailing Center, 1801 W. Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Beach.

Both programs will be presented by Gino Morrelli and Pete Melvin, designers and sailors of some of today's fastest multihulls, including 1988 America's Cup winner Stars and Stripes. The first program will be from 7 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 15 and will serve as an introduction to multihull sailing. The second program, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 20, will concentrate on racing. Fee is $33 for each program, or $49 for both. For information, call (714) 645-9412.

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Boat show. The 25th Annual Long Beach Boat Show will be held Oct. 20 through 24 in the Long Beach Convention Center and Downtown Marina. The show is produced by the Southern California Marine Assn. in Orange. And members of the association hope more Southern Californians will be out shopping for new boats now that the luxury tax on yachts has been repealed.

"The repeal of the luxury tax on yachts could be just the shot in the arm our industry desperately needs," says Barry Lieberman, president of the association. The 10% tax on new boats costing more than $100,000 virtually killed sales on boats in that price range in 1991 and 1992, he says.

Sales in that price category declined 70% in 1992, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Assn., which reported that all new boat sales were off 40% in 1992.

Spike Harvey, executive director of the Southern California Marine Assn., expects attendance at the boat show will be up this year. Show hours are 1 to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. For information, call (714) 633-7581.

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