Endymion: the start of a sea voyage that led to Northport

S-E Reporter

It’s a story worthy of a Hollywood script: how a husband-and-wife sailing team came to put down roots near the Canadian border, north of Colville. Some of the most pivotal moments in that story are laid down in Captain Skip Rowland’s two recently-released books No Return Ticket, about his sailing adventures from California to Australia, and No Return Ticket, Leg Two. The latter chronicles the further mishaps and triumphs -- and near-death adventures -- that shaped life on the Rowland’s yacht, the Endymion.

The couple’s eventual destination was Thailand, where life as they’d known it, and plans for the future, came to an abrupt halt.

Reaching back through time, Skip gives a glimpse of his penchant for living outside the box: nabbed by police for a youthful indiscretion, and caught hiding in the police department’s garage, Skip’s dad told officers to keep him overnight at the jail. There young Skip had the privilege of staying up all night with Sgt. Paul, playing cards and devouring spaghetti.

Yes, he learned, life on the edge can have advantages.

After becoming successful in business, Skip was nagged by a feeling there had to be more to life than endlessly pursuing money. He sold everything and prepared his 43-foot yacht for ocean life. Captain Skip and his crew set sail from California, for points west, in April of 1987.

Being no stranger to life on the water, Skip invested considerable time and effort into being well prepared; if something breaks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a 10-minute drive to the parts store isn’t in the offing. That lesson strikes home in the chapter Poof Goes the Generator.

But a dead generator is nothing compared to the storms one can’t sail away from, storms that shred sails, that tossed the Endymion like it’s a bathtub toy. In the aftermath crew members were exhausted, but also in awe: they somehow had all the right instincts to survive.

Skip spares no detail about 20-foot or taller waves, shrieking winds and deckhands who don’t match their resumes. Most notorious of the wave phenomena is when two towering waves, in wind-whipped chaos, collided and formed a towering pyramid. Joining forces with such a wave can rip a vessel to shreds. Human survival is doubtful.

In the midst of drenching gales and near-submersions at the hands of foul weather, the only assurance the reader has that this will not be curtains for the Endymion is that there are more pages to turn.

Weather is not the only foe. There’s also a prolonged near-miss with a rogue freighter that seems to delight in menacing small craft.

Beyond the misadventures there are fresh-caught fish dinners, vivid descriptions of warm night skies filled with more stars than one can imagine, and beautiful harbors, the stuff of paradise. Readers meet fascinating people on other vessels and on the islands (at one stop a military uprising altered life for a bit). The children on touring yachts particularly fascinate the Endymion crew. They are wise, educated and mature beyond their years.

One night, early in his journey, Skip wrote home to his parents: “…dolphins race alongside often kissing the bow as they roll and go airborne to look up at us…Flying fish play around us all day and night…The heavens are awesome. We know the stars now. They are our friends, guiding and greeting us as they have mariners through all of recorded time…Our bodies are bronzed, our muscles toned and minds sharpened. The routines of the day are simple, but there is no room for mistakes. We’ve made a few and there’s no one here to help us. I have never been so self-sufficient, so gratified or so thankful, and I like it this way. Thank you Mom and Dad, for your wisdom and guidance that are so helping me achieve my goals.”

It was Nov. 1987, after Denise had sufficiently recovered use of her leg and permanently joined the Endymion crew, that they made landfall in Australia. As a nurse, and made of hardy stuff, Denise proved herself repeatedly as essential to the crew’s survival -- whether first aid was needed or climbing 60 feet up the mast in a killer storm.

Mooring in Australia was an emotional victory for the Endymion crew. But the visit got off to a rocky start. Customs officials informed Captain Skip that their food -- canned or not-- had to be relinquished. It would be incinerated, all $1,000 worth of carefully selected seaworthy provisions.

New-found friends, including even the customs officials, made the visit to Australia unforgettable. There was a national celebration with a sailboat race, featuring exceptionally horrifying weather that sidelined most contestants. After finally making it to shore, post-race, Skip relays how he exited a door only to bump squarely into Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Flustered, he mumbled apologies and moved on.

“On” became Skip’s one-month experiment crewing on a shrimp boat. The reader will not take seafood for granted after that.

Denise wrote home: “If I don’t live another day I will have felt the magic. For six days we sailed from one end of Australia to the next in gentle winds that were (yea!) always behind us. We didn’t see land for five days…I am surrounded by love and peace. Remember the guy we saw on the old Indian motorcycle near Monterey, his ponytail and sideburns were blowing in the wind? His jacket said ‘Ain’t Life Grand?’ Well it is! I’m so happy!”

Along the way the Endymion picks up a cherished new crew member, a “total slacker” whose charm compensates for lack of sailing ability: a spaniel puppy.

Leg Two of No Return Ticket relays observations of the well-named komodo dragons, a surprising response to the visit of an open air burial ground, and the continuation of miracles and magic, punctuated by storms from hell.

A teaser: how did the purposefully unarmed Endymion escape the clutches of a fully-armed pirate ship, when a pirate, pistol aimed, ready to fire, jumped ship and landed on their deck? The sailboat’s crew counted four bullet holes in the Endymion.
This short review barely touches the many stories found in both books, stories that will leave one wondering “what could possibly happen next?” It is in the last chapter that the Rowlands’ sailing tour meets an unexpected conclusion.

When they are finally able to leave Thailand, life on Vancouver Island beckons.

In recent years when the Rowlands decided it was again time for a new chapter in life, Skip left it to Denise to choose a new home. She recalled the appeal of a vacation drive through the beautiful Northport-Leadpoint area. And that is how two seafarers came to live inland, miles from the ocean that shaped who they are today.

And how did their time accommodating the often placid, but sometimes angry Pacific Ocean, change them? Skip has no doubt that closely witnessing God, manifest as the beauty of creation, and experiencing so many close calls, has provided an undeniable richness of being that would have escaped them had they chosen to stay ashore, bound by the limitations of “play-it-safe” convention. The Rowlands take nothing for granted, especially each other.