Retrieving a treasure
Fifty-five years ago, a single-handed sailor named Sharon Sites Adams made history as the first woman to sail solo from the mainland of the United States to Hawaii on a 25-foot Danish Folk boat called the Sea Sharp.
Four years later, Adams successfully made a 6,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean from Yokohoma, Japan, to San Diego, California, in her Mariner 31 ketch, Sea Sharp II.
Adams was a slender 115 pounds and 39 years old when she crossed the Pacific Ocean and had to draw on every bit of courage and navigational skill she could muster.
This took place in a time of history when her accomplishments were considered unconventional at best, and her adventures and hardships were later chronicled in her book, "Pacific Lady," which was published in 2008.
"One man said I would be back in two days," Adams recalled about her first passage on her own. "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.
"I didn't see what there was about it that I couldn't do," she emphasized when asked in an earlier interview about why she chose to make the voyages.
Adams has settled into a community outside of Portland, Oregon. Growing up, she lived and attended school in Prineville, graduating in 1948. She was most interested in architecture and drafting in high school, and even at that time did not gravitate to conventional subjects like home economics.
At the end of 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 became interested in sailing shortly after she was widowed. She began taking sailing lessons and became quite astute as a single-handed sailor. 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, now 90 years young, travels to Prineville every summer to attend a class reunion with her classmates and visits her Prineville friends. It is a yearly venture she looks forward to with fervor. She recently made her voyage over the mountain to spend time with her friends Van and Carol Moore, as she and her classmates marked their 72nd class reunion.
Approximately five years ago, Adams received an email from a man who managed a marina in an estuary in Oakland, California.
"Sea Sharp II was in that Estuary," Adams said of the email.
She noted that she immediately called her good friend Carol from Hayden Island, Oregon, to tell her the news.
"Two days later, she was in Oakland looking at the boat, and it was Sea Sharp II," said Adams. "I was surprised, I didn't know she was going, and she came back and told me about the boat."
Adams noted that Carol had also tried to get the title to the boat, and despite their efforts to talk to the owner of Sea Sharp II, they were not successful.
"The agreement with the man who built it for me — the owner of the boat — was that I could have it for four months. Then he took it back and kept it for about one-year-and-a half," explained Adams.
She said after that, it changed hands several times and she lost track of where it went. She did not know until she received the call from the Oakland marina of the fate of the Sea Sharp II. Her friend Carol had taken photos, however Adams did not want to see them, as the boat had not been kept up and was in poor condition.
"The owner apparently bought the boat a number of years ago in the dock where it was, and never sailed it. He was a hoarder and he simply used it for storage and he never took care of it, so it wasn't pretty to look at," commented Adams of the condition of the Sea Sharp II.
Approximately one year ago, the boat sank as a result of disrepair. Sea Sharp II drifted under a dock and need to be attended to.
"The marina hired a diver, and the diver went down to try and move this messy sailboat," indicated Adams.
When the diver, whose name was John, came back up, he told a group of onlookers on the dock the name of the boat (Sea Sharp II) and noted that it was a Mariner 31 ketch and it had a broken glass bubble.
"That was the key word — bubble, of course," she exclaimed.
The Sea Sharp II was unique in this design and coupled with the name of the boat — it became clear that this was indeed her old Mariner 31 ketch.
"Someone in the group said to the diver, "Oh, that's Sharon's boat." He didn't know what that meant,"' she added.
John got on the internet to learn more about Sharon's story and the famous boat and found a story that had been written about Adams. Sharon's friend, Lili (last name withheld at Adams request) shared many stories on social media about Sharon. He contacted Lili about the story and began to understand why this boat meant so much, and its fascinating history. He went back to the location of Sea Sharp II and found the helm and brought it back up to the surface.
The diver called back Lili and asked if she and Carol would be interested in having the helm of the Sea Sharp II. They excitedly said yes, and it was shipped to Hayden Island where Carol lived.
The first part of July, Adams got a phone call from Carol at Hayden Island inviting her for lunch at her house. She said that she and Lili had a surprise for her.
"I like surprises," Adams replied.
When they got to the house, there was a large brown box that was 3-feet square and 4 inches high, tied with rope. Each of her friends picked up a corner of the box and set it in front of Adams on the couch.
"They stood at angles, each of them standing there with their phones waiting for me to open the box and waiting for me to come apart. I opened it and I knew instantly, and I did come apart," she recalled with heavy emotion.
Adams said that her friends had saved the helm of the Sea Sharp II, knowing how much it would mean to her. Even though they had not been able to get the title to the boat to bring it back to Portland, they got an important memory for Adams.
She spent several hours with a small brush cleaning the helm and applying some coats of oil. Her face, as she reflects on the experience and looks at the photo her friends captured the moment she opened the package tells a thousand words.
With a faraway look in her eyes and a wistful smile, she quietly concluded, "That's the end of Sea Sharp II."
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