In the fall of 1983, when he was only 25 years old, John and his crew sailed a Contessa 32 from New York to San Francisco by way of Cape Horn, replicating the route of the nineteenth-century clipper ships. His youth and relative lack of sailing experience proved to be an asset, as he didn't know what he didn't know, or he never would have considered such a crazy adventure. As John wrote to me in an email message last week, "Rereading the galleys I was amazed at my own audacity, what was I thinking?"
The feat gained him and his crew instant fame for sailing the smallest boat to date around the Horn. John states modestly in his afterword that their arrival in San Francisco must have occurred on "a slow news day" based on the grand reception they received from Mayor Dianne Feinstein and the local news media and later from Dan Rather and CBS News. When the commotion died down, John embarked on a career as a delivery captain, which is detailed in his second book, Flirting with Mermaids: The Unpredictable Life of a Sailboat Delivery Skipper.
John and I are the same age, so as I read his book I couldn't help but think about what I was doing with my life while John was sailing around the Horn. All I was doing was trying to get a second degree, in engineering this time, and working part-time at a Milwaukee hospital, where I met my future wife, Nan. My greatest ambitions revolved around planning annual backpacking trips with my friend, Dave Beckwith. It all seems so "small potatoes" compared to what John was doing. Maybe, at an unconscious level, that's why my ambitions now are so, well, ambitious.