The Adventures of the Firebird

Firebird Crew
The Firebird crew (from left to right): Dr. Sam, Captain Bob, Tom Harabee and Bill Crawford (B.C.), Seychelles, March 1977.

Throughout the Double X journey, I thought it would be fun to share highlights of my earlier sailing sabbatical aboard the Firebird over 40 years ago. I’m categorizing these posts under “Blast from the Past.” As luck would have it, Captain Bob, the skipper for the Firebird journey, is also the skipper for the Double X journey.

The rocky road to adventure

To say the Firebird journey had a rocky start is an understatement. I originally envisioned traveling with a family, thinking a family dynamic was the best option for boat life, with other family and friends joining us on various segments of the journey. We started out as such, but lessons learned along the way (and a little luck) brought together crew members that not only helped make this an adventure to tell the grandkids, but the adventure of a lifetime.

It took about a year of planning before we officially set sail from Southern California in the summer of 1975. I had my work cut out for me with finding a suitable boat and the more arduous task of preparing it for a long ocean voyage. I took special photography courses so I could properly document the journey. Finally, I had to find a skipper and crew qualified to handle the Firebird under ocean conditions.

Experience is good, passion is better

The skipper that I originally signed on was extremely experienced. His experience certainly instilled confidence, but looking back, it was also a big reason why he only lasted six months into our adventure. Perhaps because he had already made the journey (twice), he wasn’t able to share in our wide-eyed wonder for all our first-timer experiences. I remember traveling down to Baja California, when our boat was engulfed with thousands of porpoises. They were coming at us from all directions, playfully squeaking and bouncing against the boat, doing barrel flips, back flips and rollovers. Through all the excitement, the skipper sat calmly in his chair and said, “If you’ve seen one dolphin, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

More importantly, the skipper’s style was to take full control of the boat. He didn’t want anyone helping or, worse, asking questions. For me, a huge part of this trip was about learning how to operate and run the boat. And, I wanted to ask thousands of questions. It quickly became clear that we were as far apart philosophically as two people could be. So, we parted ways in La Paz, Mexico, and I think he was actually relieved.

Captain Bob to the rescueSFC Blog 3

I eventually signed on Captain Bob Bucknell. Bob had a passion for the sea that was infectious. We hit it off immediately. He had been working on and skippering boats for the previous 20 years. He had been to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, but had yet to go to the South Seas. We met over dinner, he said he was interested in skippering the Firebird, and I said okay. It was just that fast of a deal.

Meanwhile, the family that started with us decided that the sailing life wasn’t for them. They were homesick and wanted to get back to Hawaii. So by the time we reached the Marquesas, we were short crew members. But, as luck would have it, we met two young men who were interested in being part of the crew. Tom Harrowby a native of Corona Del Mar, California, who we met in Tahiti, as well as a fellow by the name of B.C. (Bill Crawford) who showed up at the shipyard in Papeete asking if there was any work. Captain Bob and I had become good friends with B.C. whom we met in Moorea where he was working on the Tatoosh (Peter Fonda’s 80-foot ketch). So he, too, joined the crew and, with his sailing and fishing experience, we were ready for anything.

The new crew: four bachelors at sea

The new Firebird crew was complete. We were now four bachelors at sea, and we were all eager to meet new people, discover new lands and learn about different ways of life around the world.

Throughout our 3-year journey, we had family and friends join us aboard the Firebird from time to time to get a taste of sailing life including my daughter Lisa and son Rod. It was wonderful to be able to spend quality time with my kids. Sometimes life can get so busy, but out on the water with distractions at a minimum, I got to know them very well. It was pure pleasure. 

Lessons learned

The Firebird adventure was a life-changing experience that taught me so much about people and the world around me. Having an experienced crew aboard was important, but having an experienced crew exited about the new adventures ahead made all the difference in the world.

It will be interesting to see how different our adventure aboard the Double X will be as Captain Bob and I visit many of those same places 40 years later.


Dr. Sam Signature



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