Teacher sailing duo retires after decades at sea

A day on the job for Richard and Sheri Crowe might include climbing a smoke-spewing volcano, watching Antarctic icebergs cave in, or guiding student sailors through rough seas to remote destinations.

But now, after 30 years as captains of the Alaska Eagle, the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship's 65-foot training vessel, the Crowes have retired.

"It was way easier to say, 'Hey, I'm ready to retire,' than to say, 'I'm ready to stop running this boat,'" Sheri, 52, said while onboard the school's flagship sailboat in Newport Harbor on Monday morning.

The Crowes' retirement coincided with a shift toward the new Professional Mariner Program, said Brad Avery, director of OCC's marine programs.

The college is looking to sell the Newport-based sloop and put more resources into its program that's entering its third year.


Educational program

The program prepares full-time students for a variety of maritime careers, such as becoming a deckhand on a private yacht, cruise ship, commercial fishing vessel or tugboat. Some students transfer to the four-year California Maritime Academy for more advanced training.

Students learn the mariner's arts, such as tying knots and celestial navigation, Richard said.

"We really enjoy giving people the chance to do it and watching their confidence go up," Sheri said.

Though the emphasis has changed, the sailing program will go on without the Eagle. The capstone class, which gives intermediate sailing students hands-on experience, will be smaller and contained to Hawaii, Avery said. He called it "a whole new adventure."

The Crowes are also ready for a new adventure.

But knowing the Eagle will be sold is bittersweet, said Richard, 62.

The Newport Beach residents have shepherded students throughout the South Pacific, North Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and Baltic. The Eagle has served students on more than 40 Pacific and three Atlantic crossings.

The Eagle sailed to French Polynesia, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and, most recently, it took its students on a seven-leg trip around Cape Horn to the subantarctic island of South Georgia.

"It was always so fresh and new, and that's what kept us coming back," Richard said.

Excursions from here to Chile and from Hawaii to California were once-in-a-lifetime trips for former student Robi Dalrymple.

The Crowes didn't just lead, but were cheerleaders for their students, encouraging them not to miss out on a minute of their trip, he said.

Their intelligence, hard work and competency made the program what it is, Dalrymple said.

"It's amazing what they do," he said. "They're humble about [it]. I don't think they realize what they've given to so many people."


Eagle history

In 1982, Neil Bergt donated the Alaska Eagle to OCC. The Crowes, who were dating at the time, brought it home.

Sheri, then 22, and Richard, then 32, went to England to sail the Eagle back to California.

Three months later, they got engaged. They have spent half their lives on the boat, Sheri said, adding that they learned to work next to and respect each other's strengths.

But the two aren't leaving OCC just yet.

Richard is staying on as the project manager of the Nordic Star, a $2-million, 92-foot luxury power yacht donated last year to OCC.

After that, they are selling their own boat and leaving for Sonoma.

But they aren't done with sailing.

They want to fly to destinations and charter boats. At the top of the list are Indonesia, Greece and Croatia.

"It's been a good run," Richard said. "I'm looking forward to the next adventure."


Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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