Leaving the “OC”… but real locals never call it the OC.

I myself had never really traveled. Hawaii, Mexico and the occasional holiday with my family, I was quite content to stay in Southern California forever. And then a job opportunity changed my life.

My father has been building sailboats since 1958. A pioneer in the construction of fiberglass boats, his companies, Columbia, Lancer and Mediterranean Yachts are known throughout the world. In 1984 a Lancer 65′ was being delivered from Newport Beach to a client in Hong Kong. A delivery crew was hired, one of whom was my brother and another being my future husband. The boat still needed a cook and I briefly entertained the idea until I realized that at 19 years old, I would be the only girl on board with three guys. I decided to take a pass and continued my studies at Orange Coast College and working at a retail art supply store.

I went to the boat to say goodbye to my brother, he would be at sea a long time. Their plan was to sail to Hawaii, Guam and then Hong Kong. I met the rest of the crew, the captain and his 17-year-old son and an English guy named Peter who had been travelling the world. I kept in touch with my brother through radio and phone calls when they reached each leg of the trip. They saw blue whales, had some bad weather and some mechanical problems but all in all the trip was fine. He had made friends with Peter and they had planned to do some travelling in Asia when they arrived in Hong Kong.

Several months later when my brother returned, I listened to his tales of the electrical panel shorting out and how they cooked their food on the engine block (my husband’s idea) as all the appliances on the boat were electric! How they would pick up the flying fish that landed on the deck and fry them up for a midnight snack. His travels in Hong Kong and Thailand sounded amazing. He said that Peter was still travelling but that he invited him to stay on his boat in Newport Harbor when he was travelling back through California on his way to the Caribbean in a few months.

In November, I got a call from my brother to meet him and Peter. Peter’s background is in hotel catering and management. He has worked in hotels all over the world as well as managing yacht charter companies and marinas in the Caribbean. The Caribbean is where he learned to sail, and he was going back to a job he had lined up as a charter yacht captain. Peter was looking for a cook to run the boat with him. He needed an American on board, as the boat was a documented vessel. This all has to do with the Jones Act. If a vessel is documented it means that in the time of war, the military can call up the vessel for military use. Thus, the captain has to have the same nationality of the boat. Otherwise, you could have an American vessel with an English captain fighting against England (like that will ever happen). I am sure this is way too much information and not really relevant…

So my brother recommended me for the job, “Ya, she can cook, ya, she knows how to sail”. The job was for six months in the British Virgin Islands on a 52′ sailboat, $500 a month. Of course, I said no. I could not possibly leave Newport Beach, I had to stay! I had a crappy job and was going to community college, why on earth would I want to go to the Caribbean? My sister and her husband took me to dinner that night and told me I was an idiot. “Some of the best sailing in the world is there, “are you stupid? Go!” So, I talked to my dad and explained that I was going half way around the world to meet up with some guy we really didn’t know (although my brother vouched for him- a month at sea is a long time!) to go sailing. To my surprise my father was all for it. He was probably thinking,  I won’t have to feed her or help her with her car payment anymore. But more so I think it was because it was something he always wanted to do. Sail the world. He never had the chance. He had his own company and six kids by the time he was 30. His sailing was limited to racing with clients and taking his family to Catalina.

So, on December 23, 1985 we had a going away party of sorts at the Blue Beet. And the next day, wearing my topsiders and carrying my Land’s End bag, my friends accompanied me in a limo (my sister owned a Limousine company at the time and it was the 80’s!) to LAX and I flew through Puerto Rico to a place called Beef Island, Tortola.

The boat was called “Turn Me Loose”


Finding a farmhouse

It didn’t look like this when we bought it!

In the summer of 1989, we had just got off a race boat we’d been working on for almost a year. A 53-foot sloop, based in the Caribbean in the winter and the Mediterranean in the summer. We had been chartering and racing for months and needed a break. When you work as yacht crew, you cannot really take a vacation so you quit, travel, and then look for another job. During our “hiatus”, we decided to visit my husband’s parents on the Isle of Wight in the south of England. We had some cash and were looking to buy a house.

England proved to be too dreary, too expensive and maybe just too close to the in-laws for my liking. We decided to look for a place in France instead. We got the name of a realtor in France who worked with an agency we knew in England and headed for the cross-channel ferry.

When we arrived at the agency in France, they were closed, so we headed into the village to have something to eat at the cafe. We sat down and upon seeing the menu was in English, decided to go look for a property somewhere else. Now there is nothing wrong with the English, I married one, but we came to France to be with the French, eat, drink and speak French and we could not envisage ourselves doing so with so many English neighbors.

We drove about 60 miles and stopped in the town of Fougeres. Fougeres boast the biggest château in all of France and is quite impressive. We located a real estate agency and walked in off the street. Monsieur Blanche was happy to take us to see several properties and after viewing about 20, we bought the first place we saw.

A good size granite farmhouse with a slate roof and 1/4 of a hectare, we thought we could do something with the place. The property also had a stable and a large hangar/ garage. The house was just 10 kilometers from Fougeres. It was located in a small hamlet called La Boyere, just outside of the small village of St. Sauveur des Landes. The villasge consisted of a boulangerie, a bar, a post office and of course a church. It was perfect, close to “town” but in the country. There were other homes in the same hamlet, three or four inhabited by families that had been there for generations. Our closest neighbor’s home was actually attached by one wall to ours. At one time, it was all one house, but 200 years ago, times were tough and they had to sell part of the house off to make end meet.

Our neighbor Joseph lived there with his mother, a widow whose husband died when Joseph was 8. Joseph had to quit school and help run the farm with his two older sisters. The French custom is for the youngest child to care for the parents when they are elderly so that being the case, Joseph never got married. He has lived at La Boyere his entire life except for a short stint in the French military, which was mandatory at the time. Upon meeting Joseph, his first question to us, in French of course, was if we were going to chop down the pear tree, which was on the border of our two properties. He had heard of all the English coming and buying up French farmhouses, renovating them and building fences. We assured him that our intention was to live with the French, not just in France, there would be no fences, and the pear tree would stay.

We continued our conversation with the owner, Monsieur Lode, who was eighty years old and he explained that his mother, who was 98, had been living there the past few years on her own. His children were not interested in the property and it was for sale. We made a deal, shook hands and opened a bottle of white wine that he found in the cupboard to toast the occasion.

We exchanged contracts over the next few months by fax as we were then employed elsewhere on another boat in another country, and by January, we became the owners of our first home. It was some time before we could return to start the renovations. We landed a job on a 52-foot yacht that was going from Florida, south to Panama, through the canal and back up to the west coast.  We left Brittany with plans for a new roof, the addition of hot water of course a toilet when we returned.