I was chatting with a friend of mine recently and he mentioned that he was expecting a visit from a compatriot the following week.
Through a network of Frenchmen, J.T. was asked to give a hand to a young fellow named Pierre Gerin once he arrived in Los Angeles. J.T., who owns Euromarine in Marina del Rey, is more than handy around boats, and that’s good because Pierre was planning on spending as little as possible on a small sailboat and then sail with his wife and three young children to Peru.
“Do you know anyone who is selling a boat cheap?” J.T. asked me.
“Maybe, what’s up?” I replied.
“A guy is coming from France with his wife and three kids and is looking for a boat between three and five thousand dollars that he wants to buy and sail to Peru,” J.T. explained.
“Three to five thousand dollars? Sail to Peru?,” I thought.
J.T. explained that as far as he knew, Pierre knew very little about sailing and his wife had never sailed at all, but their plan was to come to Los Angeles, procure this boat and get to the business of open ocean travel.
A few weeks later I met Pierre on his Catalina 30, circa 1975, where he proudly showed me around. He didn’t keep his budget, but for about $10,000 he found a very well equipped and maintained boat with a new rig and some cruising gear.
Meeting Pierre, it all made a bit more sense. A handsome 31 year old with a mischievous grin and a background of grassroots travel, the adventurous Frenchman seems the classic confident optimist.
“We wanted to visit my wife’s family in Peru and with three girls, it’s very expensive to fly,” Gerin explained in a thick French accent with a smile. “And I like nature, and I want to show that to the kids.”
Originally, J.T. had informed me that Pierre nor his wife Patrice had any experience on the water, but as it turns out, it’s not completely accurate, although true enough for concern. While Gerin has made some passages crewing on a similar sized boat in South America and has solid navigation skills as a licensed aircraft pilot, his wife is a complete neophyte with zero boating experience and an admitted fear of the sea.
“I’m not really worried,” Gerin said of the experience issue. “We will be well prepared. We have a good boat, but we don’t have much experience, so we’ll start slowly with short jumps in the beginning as we head down south.”
As we spoke, J.T. had the windows popped out and lying on the dock of Burton Chace Park to fix any potential leaks while six-year-old Susana ran around with her three-year-old sister Andrea. Gerin’s youngest, one-year-old Silvana, slept amid the bustle.
Looking at this healthy young family in the safety of the Marina del Rey harbor, I thought of the many others I have met who were poised for a life-changing adventure — some possessing vast experience and others hardly any at all. In all of them I recognize a similar trepidation housed in a shell of boundless curiosity. I met them all as they were about to make the jump and nothing would stop them — for better or worse, they were going to head out into the ocean and find their way.
In this situation, an aging Catalina-30, a solid boat, but a coastal cruiser, will need to carry a young family of five on a journey that will span over 4,000 miles. They will see hard weather, breakage, and be tested along the way and, like all the others, will come out different for the experience on the other side.