Because she could
The notations in italics are from Sharon Adam's book that she authored, "Pacific Lady."
On July 20, 1969, the day that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, a single-handed sailor named Sharon Sites Adams spotted land after a 6,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean from Yokohoma, Japan to San Diego, California.
Adams, who was a slender 115 pounds, battled many hardships to cross the often-violent and unpredictable Pacific Ocean alone. She had to draw on every bit of courage and navigational skill she could muster to overcome sea sickness, exhaustion and loneliness.
She became the first woman to accomplish this incredible feat at age 39. This all took place during a time in history when Adam's accomplishments were considered unconventional at best, and would later be chronicled in her book, "Pacific Lady," that was publiched in 2008.
"I made landfall just as Neil Armstrong took that giant step," recalled Adams in her book.
Adams, who hails from Prineville, Oregon, stood out even in high school. Graduating in 1948, she was more interested in architecture and drafting than she was in home economics.
"I never did a day of home Economics in my life, I spent my time in the woodshop and learning architectural drafting," she pointed out in a recent interview.
At that time in her high school career, she thought she would become an architect. Life had other ideas, however, and immediately upon graduating Adams was married.
She and her husband had a cherry orchard in The Dalles, Oregon. They parted ways several years later, and she went to San Francisco, California, to take dental nurses training. She ended up in Los Angeles, California, managing a clinic for 12 years.
During this time, she was married, and then widowed at 34. Her husband died of cancer just short of his 42nd birthday.
Adams was very self-sufficient and continued to manage the office — where there was talk about a new Marina only a mile from her work. She had never taken an interest in the ocean or the coast, even though she was in close proximity.
"I didn't see the ocean until I was an adult," pointed out Adams.
As serendipity would have it, she decided on a whim to go check out the new Marina del Rey everyone in her office had been talking about.
"The day that I went down there, I sat and watched a little boat out sailing (I didn't know the word was tacking)," indicated Adams. "They got from one end of the main channel to the other, and I wondered how they knew how to do that."
She saw a billboard on her way home for a sailing school. She followed up on the promotion, and took sailing lessons. Eight months later, she was getting ready to sail to Hawaii.
She bought her first sloop, a 25-foot Danish Folk boat. She named it Sea Sharp.
"Most people thought I was joking, until they saw the commitment in my eyes," emphasized Adams.
It was 1965 when she began to ready for her passage to Hawaii. It was to be the first of many trips accross the ocean. She had to pack enough provisions of food, water, sails, surplus gear, life raft, toiletries, cameras, clothes, tool chest, first aid kit, spare parts and kerosene—to sustain her until she reached Hawaii.
She would only take the necessities with her, and the only technology was a World War II Air Force Sextant for navigating, kerosene running lights, two compasses and a Timex watch. She also had her cameras and a transoceanic shortwave radio, but could only receive transmissions. Adams was unable to communicate with the outside world once she was out of sight.
"I heard baseball games and the news of the world, but no one heard from me."
Sometimes she heard gossip about her on the radio. One morning, she heard a talk show host talking about her.
"Have you all heard about the young housewife who is sailing alone in her boat to Hawaii?" came the commentary.
"I'll betcha they never guessed I could hear them, way out there in my housewife's boat," recalled Adams. "I heard them, loud and clear, but they couldn't hear me. No one could."
She didn't know at the time that she was the first woman to be a single hander and sail solo across the Pacific Ocean. Between her passage to Hawaii and her voyage from Yokohama, Japan to San Diego, California, she had put 8,600 miles at sea and 114 days.
"Obviously I did something right," she added. "I learned a lot about sailing while I was out there."
Adams said that there was a lot of speculation of her outcome and chance of success when she was at sea, all alone.
"There is no loneliness wider than single-handed sailors," noted Adams.
Her friends believed in her, and they became her focus when she needed to hold on and survive.
"One man said I would be back in two days. Another man said, "What right did I have to try?"'
She added that she is not and has never been a feminist. She did not sail the Pacific to prove anything about women, but did it because she dared and because she could.
Adams was 35 years old when she successfully made her first voyage across the Pacific to Hawaii. As she approached land, she activated a flare gun to alert those on land of her arrival. The gun malfunctioned and broke her hand. She eventually was able to activate another flare with her good hand, and was escorted to shore.
Amid the fanfare of her return, she also withstood many days at sea that were lonely and riddled with danger. There were nights when the sea was like glass and reflected the heavens and the horizon blurred.
"It was as though our world lay in God's hands like a snow globe. When God shook, the boat and I floated in a mesmerizing swirl of stars."
She travels to Prineville each year to meet with her classmates and friends that she has stayed in close contact with. She stays active on the land she calls home in Portland, Oregon.
Adams humbly accepts many requests to speak at engagements, and has received many awards for her accomplishments.
"People say, why did I do it?" said Adams of a common question asked of her voyages across the Pacific.
She indicated that she always has one sentence in her reply.
"I didn't see what there was about it that I couldn't do."
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)