Marina del Rey boat lettering treasure Sally Curran opens a door to destiny

By Staness Jonekos

Sally Curran at work on the JITTERBUG; the newly painted hull
Photo by Michael Becker

Photography by Michael Becker

Sally Curran escaped middle England in her 20s as a nanny with a dream to unleash her inner artist in the USA. She finally got to Southern California when her second husband moved his business to Venice. Freedom was calling her name again, and after finalizing her second divorce she wanted to secure a way to make a living using her creative skills.

Surrounded by Marina del Rey’s boating community, Sally thought, “Maybe a job boat painting and varnishing would be a good place to start.” Many may remember her fondly as the “boat beauty in a bikini with a paintbrush.”

Sally gravitated to the challenge of boat lettering and met a sign painter who mentored her while attending LA Trade Tech, where she learned “realistic painting” by working with oil paints and applying “tonal values.”

With her flourishing new skills, she launched “Sally’s Sea Signs” and hung her shingle in Marina del Rey.

During the past 30 years, she has worked full-time creating boat lettering and graphics. Originally hand-painted, today she uses vinyl. She also specializes in gold leaf boat lettering and continues hand-painted lettering and design, all based on word-of-mouth referrals.

Weeks ago, Sally came to the rescue of our 2001 Catalina Mark II 36’ sloop named Jitterbug .

My photographer husband, Michael Becker, and I are the third owners, adopting Jitterbug in 2007. I loved the name and playful lettering that gave Jitterbug a unique, one-of-a-kind identity that told the world, “We love adventure and fun!”

Fast forward to 2016, our signature logo had faded after years in the harsh sun, but I could not fathom the idea of replacing our one-of-a-kind hand-painted lettering with an online order using vinyl with typical computer-generated fonts. Four more years later, the Jitterbug lettering was almost completely erased from her hull.

Fortunately, during a recent haul-out to paint the boat bottom, Dennis from S&K Dive Service said, “Hey, I know the lady who painted that boat lettering for Jitterbug!”

Sally remembered Jitterbug and told me 10 years ago she started using vinyl since it lasts longer. She invested in the software and cutting machine so she could continue to execute her artistic vision.

Sally recreated Jitterbug’s cheerful fonts with a classy drop shadow and lively ladybug to add a splash of fun over the first letter.

I finally got to meet her in person the day she applied the boat lettering. It was a dream come true having Sally revive Jitterbug’s identity with custom lettering.

Then this Jitterbug full circle moment got even better!

Twenty years ago, before I got married, I had a dream to buy a boat. It was so vivid, like an angel whispering in my ear, that I got in my car at 5 a.m. and drove to Marina del Rey ready to buy a boat.

Sitting in the parking lot at the Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club off Mindanao Way, I enjoyed the sunrise spilling over the masts.

My mind was racing with questions, “Does a boat cost the same as a car? Where is the best place to keep it? Should I buy new or used?” and then the rude awakening, “I don’t know anything about boats!”

Doubting my dream, I headed back to the car until I heard a deep, raspy woman’s voice over my shoulder asking, “Sail or power?”

I turned and asked, “What?”

She said, “You look like a sailor, not a powerboat person,” with a growing smile that sparked pure joy.

What a funny thing to observe, and for the next hour this weathered spirit rich with life experience shared everything I needed to know about buying a sailboat and sent me back to my car with one final tip: “Learn to sail, charter for experience, then buy a Catalina 36’ … it is the perfect boat for you.”

Her name was Darien Murray, and I later learned she was the first boating columnist hired at The Argonaut and publisher of The Dinghy.

What does this fateful meeting have to do with Sally Curran, our marina boat lettering treasure? Sally and Darien were friends! Two independent women, with the strength to follow their personal passions, had impacted my boating journey at different times.

After this fun realization, Sally told me that they shared an office, and were part of a community group advocating to re-name West Washington Boulevard to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in the late 1980s honoring developer Abbot Kinney who founded Venice in 1905.

Darien died two years after I met her in 2002, so I never had a chance to thank her for her wise words, but meeting Sally gave me an open door to share a destiny that tied all three of us together in one moment, at the exact spot on G Basin where 20 years earlier, Darien planted the seed to buy a Catalina 36’ sailboat named Jitterbug .

When you see a boat in Santa Monica Bay, if the boat lettering has personality and style, it was probably created by Sally Curran, a girl from middle England following her heart to unleash her inner artist in Marina del Rey.

And if you see Jitterbug, know Darien is the wind in our sails and Sally captured the playful spirit that fuels our journeys.

Staness & Michael are members of Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club, home to Michael’s “Westside Jazz Band” where everyone is welcome to do the Jitterbug.

For queries to Sally Curran about boat lettering, email sallysseasigns@gmail.com.

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