Time away from land, stress

Nine Orange Coast College students will board the Alaska Eagle Saturday morning, embarking on the first leg of an eight-month trip from Newport Beach to South America.

The 65-foot sloop will make its first stop at Easter Island, and then a new crew of sailors will come aboard for the next leg, to Puerto Montt, Chile. From there the trip will continue to Cape Horn, Argentina, South Georgia Island, Uruguay and Brazil.

The Alaska Eagle was obtained by the college in 1982 and has notched more than 500,000 miles with OCC's School of Sailing and Seamanship. The voyages are all funded by the students themselves and the costs average about $300 a day.

The captain, Karen Prioleau, is no rookie when it comes to circumnavigating the globe by sea. The 73-year-old skipper did her first ocean crossing as a captain for OCC in 1996. Ever since, she's been doing at least one open ocean voyage a year. However, this trip will be her longest.

She eagerly awaits the first leg with no qualms about the lack of dry land.

"You become your own small floating city. [There is] something special, absolutely," she said. "It's the immediacy. Your life is boiled down to very simple terms."

The first leg will be one of the most challenging because it will take 24 days to reach one of the world's most remote and mysterious locales off the coast of Chile.

Gary Ige, an engineer with Boeing, needs the time to disconnect from the land — physically and mentally.

"It's time to get away from civilization," he said. "You get so wrapped up with work. It's good to do something different sometimes."

The sailor is no novice and will be tallying his seventh trip on the Alaska Eagle, his eighth with OCC and his second alongside Prioleau. Although he's no stranger to the high seas, it'll be his first time on the island. He said the "whole mystery of it" attracted him to the leg.

Some sailors aren't as serious about the ocean crossing.

Steve Snider and Gil Greenwood came from Tulsa, Okla., for the trip. At 62, Snider has three trips on the Eagle under his belt, but this will be Greenwood's first.

"I had to listen to this guy talk about all his great adventures on the Alaska Eagle," Greenwood said about his fishing buddy. "When this leg came advertised, it just seemed like the thing to do."

Snider originally heard about OCC's trips through an advertisement in a magazine, which he showed to his wife.

"I said 'That looks like fun' and before you know it, we were here," he said.

Snider's wife, who has accompanied him on prior voyages, is skipping out on this journey. However, she's meeting them at Easter Island. This means the two pals will be going solo.

"He's going to stay on his side of the boat and I'm going to stay on my side of the boat," Snider chuckled.

However, the trip isn't just fun and games. Prioleau tells her sailors, most of whom are middle-aged, to physically prepare themselves for the voyage. Responsibilities include trimming the sail, navigation, keeping track of their location and walking the deck. Fatigue is a big problem, Prioleau said, because the ship is running 24 hours a day so she encourages all the sailors to rest whenever they're not working. However, they're always on call.

Sailing student Jean Marie Scott takes the advice, working on her upper body strength to handle the three-week trek to Easter Island.

Up north, Scott might be better known as the associate vice chancellor of university housing at UC Santa Cruz, but this weekend she'll be enjoying her fifth trip on the ship.

"My goal is 10 trips in 10 years," she said. "I'm trying to get as much time offshore as possible because I love it … and I want to get my skippers license."

She admitted it was hard to leave her daughter behind. At 9, she is starting to understand the implications of a trip such as this.

"This time she actually asked me about the safety and what if I died," she said. "She's more aware of the conditions and started taking sailing lessons herself."

Her goals reflect those she has for her daughter.

"I want her to be a very independent woman," she said. "I think sailing in particular is a great venue for [children] to grow confidence, competence and a sense of adventure."

The sailors will begin their expedition across the equator at 11 a.m. Prioleau hopes her sailors have all their matters settled before they jump on deck. Remember, there's no stopping.

"There's no 7-Eleven on the way," she joked.

After stops in the South Pacific, the Alaska Eagle will head back to Newport's harbor in mid-June.

By The Numbers

8 months long

60 students

8 legs

18,000 miles

No land for the first 3 weeks

8 to 10 students on each leg

$300 a day

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