Hitting the high seas

Thursday, August 4th, 2011
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North Hawaii News

To say that Stan Gollaher had a memorable 60th birthday may be a bit of an understatement.

After all, he spent it sailing across the Pacific Ocean with one of his closest friends of more than 30 years as well as his son who had only heard stories of his father’s adventures on the high seas.

“It doesn’t get much better than that,” said Stan of his milestone birthday.

Stan, his son Joel and friend Andy Butler set sail from San Francisco on July 13 en route for Hilo — nearly 2,200 miles away. By their calculations it would take 14 and a half days to complete the journey. Their calculations were right on the money as they arrived in Hilo the afternoon of July 28.

“I think for my dad it was kind of a now or never type of thing,” said Joel. “That’s why Andy told him, ‘let’s just do it.’ My dad and I are real close so it was great to see him out there having fun on the ocean.”

After more than three decades away from sailing, Stan decided now was a good time to pick up where he left off. So, he began searching for a sailboat on the Internet earlier this summer. His searches led him to one located in the Bay Area. Thanks to Butler’s keen negotiating skills, they were able to get the boat’s owner to drop the asking price by $40,000.

The 44-foot long, 32,000-pound sailboat was built in 1976 and ‘looked great’ in the photos. It has two bathrooms and a kitchen while all three had plenty of sleeping space.

“We were told it was like a condo on the water,” Joel said. “It’s very nice and very roomy.”

Joel said it had a sturdy hull but that there was a lot of work that needed to be done. In all, they spent six weeks and $20,000 getting it ready to sail.

“It got to the point where we felt confident taking it across the ocean,” he said. “I had quite a bit of apprehension before I saw the boat. There was a lot wrong with it and there was no way to get assistance once we were out at sea. But after all the time we spent working on it, any apprehension I may have had went away.”

Joel wasn’t the only one with some doubts.

“To say I was rusty having not sailed for 30 years would be an understatement — I was corroded,” Stan said, laughing. “But it comes back to you. So in that way, it is kind of like riding a bike.

“The thing I noticed — and it was this way for Andy as well — we just can’t do the stuff we used to be able to do. We’re not 25 any more. That’s why it was great having Joel there, he’s agile and able to do the stuff we couldn’t do.”

In 1970, Stan built a 46-foot sailboat which took him more than three years to complete. He and his wife, Kathy, sailed to Tahiti where they crashed the boat. But it may have been a blessing in disguise. They built a small thatch house and lived there for the next nine years. A year after their daughter Lisa was born, they moved to the mainland and for the last 20 years have lived on the Big Island where he’s made custom koa furniture for a living.

“I’ve been wanting a sailboat for years,” Stan said. “We had a small fishing boat for about 10 years but I always wanted to sail again. It was great being able to do this with Joel. It was a good experience for both of us.”

Stan said this trip was not only special to he and Joel but Butler as well. At the age of 19, Butler sailed solo from California to Hawaii — ironically stopping in Hilo. He then went onto Tahiti which is where he and the Gollahers met. And, that was the last time Butler made an ocean crossing.

“Because of all of that, Andy had tears in his eyes as we approached Hilo,” he said. “To come full circle like that meant a lot to him.”

Joel said growing up, he had heard his dad’s fond memories of sailing which helped fuel his passion for the sport as well. He had done some sailing prior to this trip but nothing close to this distance. He said it was a bit of an eye-opening experience.

“The boat is very demanding,” he said. “I brought several books and thought I’d have time to read them and write in my journal — none of that happened. Basically my time was spent on watch, sleeping and eating.

“It’s had to expect something when you’ve never done it before. I expected the ocean to be a lot nastier but some days it was like glass. We got pretty lucky when it came to the weather. I’d always heard these stories about huge storms but that wasn’t the case.”

That calm weather led to one of Joel’s favorite moments of the trip about 800 miles from Hilo.

“The boat was just skating over the surf and you could see the stars in every direction,” he aid. “It was insanely beautiful. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.”

While they were lucky with the weather, they weren’t so lucky when it came to the boat’s motor. They lost power halfway through the trip. It turns out that fresh water was leaking into the engine oil which caused it to cease.

Stan said the plan in the near future is to take shorter trips around the islands but eventually they want to again sail to Tahiti.

“I love to sail,” he said. “I look forward to sharing good times on the boat with the kids and grandkids.”

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