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MASTERING THE MAGNIFICENCE OF THE SEA

David Hess and his dog Butch relax at home. ().
David Hess and his dog Butch relax at home. ().

Pilot story by Joseph Friedrichs

Boat photos courtesy of David Hess

David Hess hasn't spent his life in pursuit of fame.

His face has never graced the cover of any magazines.

Yet, as the 77-year-old man slowly took a swig of coffee, he seemed clear that greatness comes from grace; and grace comes from contentment.

"I've been very satisfied with my life," he said. "I don't feel it's been overly dramatic. I've just seen a lot of good things."

The late English novelist Benjamin Disraeli once said: "Man is only truly great when he acts from his passions."

At the very least, for one year of his life in the late 1950s, Hess portrayed greatness under Disraeli's rule.

In June 1959, Hess, along with his wife Jean, set sail on the Pacific Ocean. Their destination was the Hawaiian Islands.

Before the trip began, Hess was working as a personnel administrator for the State Department in California. He had only been on the job for three years.

At this time, Jean was working for a school district in the Sacramento area.

The Hess couple had two children, Craig and Kathy.

In the years leading to the adventure, Hess had been sailing more often, including races on a wooden vessel he built.

"I've always been involved with boats in one way or another," he said.

As a child, Hess had dreams of moving to Alaska and making his fortune fishing on his own boat. He grew up near Puget Sound, and his passion was always the sea.

In 1959, Hess had come to terms with the fact his career was not going to be fishing. He had competed in races on his boats. The family had even purchased a larger vessel and spent time sailing near San Francisco.

But the itch remained.

"All that time, I was thinking and talking about how nice it would be to go cruising."

Hess and his wife started reading books on sailing the open seas. They researched the logistics of traveling via small watercraft to Hawaii on their own.

By early June of that year, Hess made the choice that nothing could stop his mission.

Both he and Jean took a year's leave of absence from their jobs. They sold their home. A new boat, the Chrenya, was purchased to be used for the expedition.

Without ever once stopping to look back, the couple found themselves sailing down the Pacific Coast, into the unknown.

Their first night on the water was one of the worst, Hess said.

A terrible storm seemed to come from nowhere. The duo was just north of Santa Barbara. Huge waves generated from 60- to 70-mph winds were crashing onto the boat.

"It was a terribly scary experience," Hess said.

Eventually, the storm would pass and both the Chrenya and its passengers escaped relatively unharmed.

"Jean and I promised each other that we would only keep going if it was fun," Hess said.

In the days following that first storm, there would be heavy fog, rough and cold waters and little sunlight.

After reaching a harbor in Long Beach, Hess decided to stop and rest for a while. They enjoyed the area so much, they spent the rest of the summer there.

During their stay in Long Beach, they learned from other groups that had sailed the Pacific.

They also met a man named "Frosty" with similar ambitions to sail to Hawaii.

In November 1959, the Hesses, along with Frosty, returned to the ocean.

The addition of an extra person on board proved to make the journey much more enjoyable. Lookout shifts were shorter, workloads less and navigation became easier.

Hess admits that when the trip started, no one on board really knew how to sail properly.

"We were literally navigating with a sextants in one hand and a book on how to use them in the other," he said.

After 21 days of relatively smooth sailing, the trio arrived in Hilo, Hawaii.

After Frosty went his own way, perhaps because of "friendly encouragement" from Hess and his wife, the next few months were spent exploring the Hawaiian Islands.

Jean decided that it would best if she flew home to Sacramento and had the couple's son come in her stead. Hess' friend Rich also flew in for the return voyage.

The journey home took 26 days. Their average distance covered approximately 100 miles per day, which is average for vessel the size of the Chrenya.

Hess' passion for the ocean continues to this day. He looks back on his trip to Hawaii as a chance, not to seek fortune or fame, but rather to find contentment with the waters.

He spent the years after his epic journey working for the state department until he retired in 1982. That same year, Jean died in an automobile accident.

He kept the Chrenya until 1985, the same year he married his current wife Ora.

The couple now lives in Brookings, a place they have always loved.

Each are active members of the community and their church. Ora writes and plays music. She also dedicates a lot of time to the garden outside their home.

"I think of David in very glowing terms," she said. "He's incredibly respectful of everyone."

Hess now suffers from Parkinson's Syndrome and the ailments of back surgery. His hearing is failing him, but his mind is sharp.

In 77 years, he never won a Nobel Prize or captured a Super Bowl Ring.

But for that one year he spent on the open seas, he followed his passion for the Pacific.

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