Remember trusty boat, beautiful ports and great friends

I took a last stroll around the deck of Alaska Eagle today. Every step, every hand rail felt familiar, as they do after finishing a long voyage.

I was 29 when we first took students aboard from the Orange Coast College docks in October 1982. Now, 31 years later, Alaska Eagle is flying the Dutch flag once again, and in a few days will be loaded onto a ship in Los Angeles bound for Rotterdam.

At a certain point in life you begin to realize that letting go is a skill, and happiness is related to how good you are at it. I have some work to do.

What exactly am I letting go of? Certainly my relationship with this tremendous boat that has taken more than 3,000 students safely across oceans and to some of the most remote and beautiful places in the world. Almost 300,000 miles at sea under OCC's flag, of which I logged about 50,000 miles aboard.

Alaska Eagle never let us down. She delivered us safely to every landfall. When I made a mistake as captain, often unknown to anyone but me, the boat forgave it. On those nights when we were hunkered down crashing through rough weather, the boat was noble, and kept fear at bay.

What about the landfalls that were made? Which were the best? As if you can compare a South Pacific atoll with an ice cliff in Antarctica, or the moorlands of Fair Isle with the Sydney Opera House. The sound of adventure is the racketing of chain chasing an anchor down through clear water, to fall upon a remote island: Pitcairn, Shetlands, Rapa Iti, Great Barrier, Easter, Penrhyn, Fatu Hiva, South Georgia, Suwarrow, Fiji, Nootka, Macquarie, Desolation, Tonga, South Island.

Then there are the friendships. Friendships that lasted the voyage and great ones that continue. Alaska Eagle's voyages were shared adventures with sailors who signed up to cross an ocean aboard a boat most had never seen, with a dozen people they hadn't met. Fortunately, long distance sailing tends to bring out the best in people, and goodwill at sea is contagious. The friendships made aboard Alaska Eagle will always be with me, but I will miss the opportunity for more voyages on a great boat with interesting and adventurous people.

Alaska Eagle's departure also marks the end of an incredible collaborative effort to keep the program going.

Key to the effort was Rich and Sheri Crowe, who co-skippered the boat for most of her miles, and maintained her between voyages. Now retired from offshore sail training, they are headed to a small town in Northern California to build a house. Their dedication to doing things right, keeping people safe and providing a fun learning environment at sea is unequalled. Through three decades, the support of our staff, and Orange Coast College Foundation and administration was unwavering. Most of all, our generous community gave us the inspiration and resources to continue offering an incredible sailing education program. We can all be proud of that.

I'm coming to grips with letting go of youth, adventure, learning, challenge and friendship. It helps to remember Alaska Eagle is simply a great vessel that held these things for short periods of time. Now she is going back to the country where she was built, where she made history, to sailors who will give her another life filled with people and adventure.

It's time to tack toward our next horizon, which holds exciting new boats and programs. We'll be creating and delivering more excellent learning experiences for our students. I'm doing better already.

BRAD AVERY is the director of the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship and a Newport Beach harbor commissioner.

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