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There and back again
by Roger Brigham

Sell the car. Let your home go. Tell friends and family, "Adios." Sink your life savings into a floating box that runs on a series of gears and wires and pipes and small black boxes with little understanding of how they work and even less of how to fix them. Then push off the dock to go round the world – and pray you make it safely home again.

That's what Larry Jacobson and Ken Smith did a decade ago, setting off from their Emeryville home in 2001 aboard their 50-foot yacht, Julia , to sail around the world. (See August 9, 2007 column Proudly flying a rainbow flag from their mast through lands of paradise and lands of war, they cavorted with sea snakes, fled Komodo dragons, bribed officials, made friends on land and at sea, struggled to jerry-rig and bully the boat's mechanical systems – and lived to tell the tale.

Which is what Jacobson is doing now. He's written a book, The Boy Behind the Gate, due to be published this month. Cobbled together from e-mails, the ship's log, his personal journal, and post-adventure reflections, it is a story of chasing a dream and embracing the unpredictable during the five year, eight month voyage.

"I want to share the message of the dream," Jacobson, 56, told the Bay Area Reporter. "I've never considered not fulfilling my dream. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't get there."

To get there, Jacobson had to leave here. The familiar. The secure.

"For me, the hardest thing was the decision to go," he said. "To leave my partner, to leave my business, to leave my identity. To go into an unknown world."

At sea, Jacobson had to contend with a harsh reality for many men of our generation: We export risk and import talent. Our fathers could handle the mysteries of electrical wiring, plumbing, and engine mechanics with ease. We hire somebody. But at two in the morning in the middle of the Pacific?

"Once the trip had actually started," Jacobson said, "the hardest things to overcome were the mechanical breakdowns. I was fixing things with beer can shims and pieces of wire in the middle of the night.

"My father was an aircraft mechanic and inventor. He could fix anything. I got a bicycle once and he put it together without even reading the instructions. He just put it together. I couldn't do that. I didn't take the shop class he wanted me to. I was student body president instead."

The zen of auto pilot maintenance was not the only repair challenge facing Smith and Jacobson. Circumnavigating the globe was Jacobson's dream, but shortly after the cruise began, Smith returned home. It was a planned departure, but they were unsure where the relationship of eight years was headed.

What was unplanned was Smith's return a few weeks later. They were now voyagers together, this time for keeps.

"It gave us a bond not unlike soldiers in the field get," Jacobson said of tackling the sail as a couple. "There was the common goal we were working together to achieve. We each had our own strengths and weaknesses.

"There was a time in Spain when we were having mechanical problems – again – and Ken was flipping out. I wanted to cry also. But I couldn't because there was never enough time for us both to lose it at the same time."

The problem with fulfilling a dream is that once you've caught it, it melts and you are left with the intimidating reality of, "What's next?"

Late in his book, Jacobson writes, "Once your dream is fulfilled, it will all be over, and then what? What are we without our dreams? What guides us? What keeps us going? I find myself asking, 'What's next for me; what will keep me going?'"

What is next for Jacobson, who formerly helped companies build through marketing and sales incentive programs, is a public speaking career, for which he hopes the book is a springboard.

"For me there is a next," he said. "It's like a perpetual seeking of achievement for myself. That's what makes me feel good. I'm not just content to have done something and sit on my laurels. I thought if first I write the book, it would be a first step to speaking. That's my favorite medium."

And though they are indeed home again, they see the formerly familiar with different eyes. A rolling stone gathers no moss, but it does gather a lot of nicks and cracks, acquiring a more rugged character.

"It makes me feel less of an American and more of a citizen of the world," Jacobson said of his adventure. "It makes me feel less nationalistic. I still love this country, but it makes me aware there is a whole rest of the world out there that the United States is not the center of."


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