How a self-taught sailor made his dream trip a reality
By Tyler Fox
Of adventure, Yvon Chouinard, the co-founder of Patagonia, once said, “Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.”
Shane Berry knows the meaning of real adventure. He also knows what it’s like to lose it all.
In 2007, the die-hard Pleasure Point local was raking it in as a large-scale construction manager. A six-figure income, multiple homes—life was grand. Little did he know the Great Recession of 2008 was looming on the horizon like a tidal wave. When it crashed, it would leave more than 8 million Americans jobless, Berry included. Fast forward to 2010. Desperation matched with a multitude of bad decisions had done him in. He was now homeless with mere pennies to his name, and his hope was waning. He knew he had to escape the Santa Cruz vortex before it sucked him into the darkness.
Then, on one fateful October afternoon, he was invited to check out a sailboat for sale off the Santa Cruz Wharf. Upon motoring out to the old, weathered vessel, an idea hit him: This could be his way out. He had nothing left to lose, and the thought of harnessing the wind’s power and sailing off into the horizon seemed like the escape he’d been waiting for.
At $500, this boat was out of his price range, but the idea was stuck and there was no going back. The next eight months were filled with wanderlust, sailboats and sailing life. Berry’s every move, every thought, had some nuance of sailing to it. He spent hours riding his bike around the Santa Cruz Harbor studying the boats, with all of their different attributes and characteristics. Hal Roth’s How to Sail Around the World was one of his favorite books, and he studied every page with childlike wonder.
As luck would have it, his best friend Travis soon stumbled upon a sailboat listed for $1 on Craigslist. The 1959 Lapworth sailboat, named Clover, was moored (barely) off the Santa Cruz Wharf and in bad shape, close to coming undone and meeting its fate on the bottom of the ocean. The electrical was shot. It had a 1956 flat-top engine inside and a 1972 outboard, both of which were totally seized and non operational. Much of the wooden boat was rotten and would need to be repaired. Fixing it would be a monumental task, but Berry didn’t care. It was love at first sight. Travis helped him tow the boat down to Capitola, where it sat moored off the Capitola Wharf for the next six months as he spent every hour of every day repairing the old gal, by hand. He slept in a mix of sawdust and fiberglass, braving cold, wet nights with open windows. His only companion his newly adopted black cat named Bear.
After months on end of backbreaking monotony, Clover was finally ready to get hoisted out of the water to have her underbelly inspected. To the surprise of no one, she was also a mossy mess and needed to be totally re-sanded and painted. Berry’s dad chipped in to help and, a few months and multiple cans of paint later, she was finally seaworthy. Once back in the water, she was a thing of beauty: Classic in her lines with solid mahogany, and both engines totally rebuilt and now purring like a panther. She was ready.
On Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011 at 12:01 (it’s bad luck to leave on a Friday), Berry, Bear and Clover slipped out into the darkness. Besides a handful of outings with friends, this was his Berry’s first time sailing solo. The knowledge gained from hundreds of hours studying books by candlelight was about to be tested. With $300, no credit cards, no GPS, and no computer or phone, Berry’s fate now rested with the winds and the tides as he made his way down the California coast en route for Baja.
I recently caught up with Berry here in Santa Cruz to go through some images from his four-and-a-half-year voyage. I was in awe of the magnitude of his endurance and inspired beyond measure. I enthusiastically suggested that he write a book about the adventure. He smiled and replied back with, “Yeah, maybe one day I will.” In the meantime, here are a few snippets from that life-changing journey.