By Michael Aushenker
When Capt. Jim Cash returns to Marina del Rey on Saturday to sign copies of his memoir at West Marine, it will have been 12 years since he tied the lines at his former home to end an epic journey. And this time, he won’t be coming through the Panama Canal to get here.
A decade in the making, “First Time Across” recounts Cash’s 2001 journey with three other people on a 35-foot catamaran, the “Kat Atomic,” as they sailed from South Africa across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal before arriving home in Marina del Rey.
“A lot of people put sailing over the horizon on their bucket list,” said Cash. But it’s not all “two months in a life raft or getting attacked by pirates.”
Cash and his crew set sail from South Africa (where they bought the boat) in March 2001 and arrived in August of that year, just before the 9/11 terrorist attacks would have made such a sail less workable due to security concerns. He described the trip as roughly 90% boredom and 10% excitement.
“In reality, if you’ve got the right kind of preparation and know what you’re doing, it’s not scary at all,” Cash said of his sail, often at six miles an hour. “It’s probably more boring than anything else.”
Not that there weren’t harrowing moments. At the tip of Africa, the Kat Atomic faced monumental ocean swells 40- to 50-feet high, with winds gusting at 40 knots.
“It was exhilarating,” Cash said. “It’s like being on top of a mountain and going down a rollercoaster.”
The crew also encountered a leak in the hull that forced an emergency stop in Namibia.
One of Cash’s highlights: St. Helena, a small and remote British island where Napoleon died in exile.
“It’s just an amazing historical spot right out in the middle of nowhere,” said Cash, who found historical markers recording visits by Charles Darwin and astronomer Edmond Halley. “There’s no airport there. You can’t get there any way but by boat.”
Cash said he was fascinated with the people of Helena, known as “Saints,” who are a genetic mix of British sailors, captives from the Zulu wars, Indians who worked for the British and Chinese laborers. Offshore was littered with artifacts of old Dutch ships and even World War I U-boats, he said.
Originally from Redondo Beach, Cash bought a house in Playa del Rey in 1996 before relocating to Marina del Rey about a year before embarking on his adventure.
Now retired and living on Dauphin, a barrier island eight miles off the coast of Mobile, Ala., in the Gulf of Mexico, Cash now enjoys life amid what he called “a very small, close-knit community” brimming with French and Creole culture.
“I wanted a beach house and I couldn’t afford Malibu,” Cash, who will spend the holidays connecting with family and friends in the area, said of why he moved from Marina del Rey in March.
And though his journey 12 years ago was more often tedious than thrilling, Cash said he’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
“Once you make that accomplishment, it’s a heck of an experience,” he said.
Cash signs “First Time Across” between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday at West Marine, 4750 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey. A photo presentation starts at 2 p.m. Call (310) 823-5357. A second signing event takes place from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the West Marine in Hermosa Beach (7 Pacific Coast Hwy.). Call (310) 374-5242 for that location.