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Eight Years Later, Ojai Couple Sail on a Dream : Leisure: The pair cap a building venture with the launch of their 44-foot boat. Now, they’ll see the world.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ever since they took a two-week voyage through Puget Sound 15 years ago, Dugan and Janet Essick have been in love with sailing. The Ojai couple dreamed of building their own vessel and sailing to the South Pacific.

On Saturday, after eight years of carving and crafting a 44-foot sailboat in a shed on their family’s citrus ranch, the Essicks launched their sleek blue-and-white vessel in Channel Islands Harbor.

And later this year, the 44-year-old carpenter and his wife plan to hoist the sails and head south for the winter.

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“I always wanted to build a whole boat from scratch,” Essick said last week while scrambling to put the final touches on the vessel before the launching.

Not the type to settle for a cheap do-it-yourself kit boat, the couple sold their home in the Bay Area in 1986 and started to build their dream boat.

“We liked (sailing),” Essick said with a shrug. “We decided to sell our house, and it’s been downhill ever since.”

The couple, who have been married for 25 years, moved onto the Essick family’s 65-acre ranch, anticipating a four-year construction project.

As four years turned into eight, Dugan Essick said his love-hate relationship with the boat grew.

“You love it so much you want it done, and you hate it so much you want it done,” he said. “You just keep going.”

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The couple lived on a smaller, 32-foot sailboat for three years before embarking on their 8-year boat-building adventure. It was then that Essick decided he wanted to build a vessel tailored to his own tastes and needs.

He started by erecting a temporary shed on the ranch and making a sketch of the boat--from five perspectives.

Beginning with a wooden skeleton, Essick carved and crafted the sailboat, which was built upside down, and then carefully turned it over once the exterior work was completed.

The vessel’s compact interior is adorned with an intermixing of African mahogany, birch, maple, and cherry woodwork, showing off Essick’s carpentry skills.

And the boat’s cabin is slightly taller than most to accommodate its skipper’s 6-foot-3-inch frame.

“When you build it for yourself, you just make it as you want it,” Essick said. “You can make everything fit your stuff.”

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The carpenter-turned-sailor declined to reveal the costs associated with building his customized sailboat, saying only: “It’s a cheap house.” A Ventura County yacht broker estimated the base price for a boat like the Essicks’ at $400,000.

The couple named their new home Jeekers , after an English friend’s slang expression.

“It was kind of a prerequisite for a boat name,” 45-year-old Janet Essick explained. “It had to be something not serious.”

Indeed, the vessel’s name is symbolic of its owners’ nonchalance toward their impending voyage.

“The plan is just to leave and have a vague idea about where we’re going,” Dugan Essick said. “It’s not real important. There’s lots of nice places.”

Places like the lush and tropical Marquesas, the Tonga Islands, Fiji, Tahiti, and New Zealand for starters. During the six-month-long hurricane season, the couple plan to stay in New Zealand, “which is a nice place to be stranded,” Dugan Essick said.

But before they sail south for the winter, the couple intend to take the boat out for test runs to the Channel Islands and other less exotic venues.

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To occupy themselves during the doldrums of their oceanic journey, the Essicks plan to read and dive, and simply enjoy the serenity of the seas, they said.

With no children and no pets, the couple plan to travel for easily a year or two, and are making no concrete plans for the future.

“Janet likes the traveling,” Dugan Essick said. “But I just love the sailing part and how the boat works.

“We like the lifestyle,” he continued. “You’re on your own, you’re independent.”

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