“I wanted to see the world, not set any records,” Larry Jacobson said. “I didn’t care if I was the fastest or the youngest or the oldest.”
UCI alumnus Jacobson set sail from San Francisco on Dec. 7, 2001 as an amateur sailor, burned out on two decades of business. With the open sea ahead of him and constant mechanical breakdowns, Jacobson returned a refreshed and proficient sailor and nautical mechanic. On Aug. 4, 2007, he returned with his life partner and countless friends spread along the route of his circumnavigation. In the end, Jacobson actually did break a record. He and his partner, Ken Smith, became the first openly gay couple to circumnavigate the world.
Since his six-year romp around the world, Jacobson has worked on and published a book about his travels and started a new gig as a motivational speaker. Every day of his journey, Jacobson wrote in his journal and sent emails to his landlocked friends and loved ones when he could. With the journals, emails, ship-logs, photographs and videos of his experiences, Jacobson cobbled together 3,000 pages of material. Jacobson’s photos, captain logs, emails and journal entries are pieced together in a creative and adventure-inspiring book. “The Boy Behind the Gate” is now available for purchase.
When Jacobson was 13, he broke his leg in a skiing accident and found himself laid up in a cast. His mother brought home magazines for him to pass his time with. The outdoors and adventure-focused magazines introduced him to sailing. While stuck immobile in his hip-to-toe cast, Jacobson dreamed of boats sailing anywhere the ocean could take him.
“I was just a kid who was laid up, dreaming of moving and doing other things, seeing the world – that’s when the spark was ignited.”
After graduating from high school in 1972, Jacobson set off for UC Irvine, drawn here by the illustrious sailing team. During his two years with the team, the UCI Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association team won first place, third place and boasted four All-American sailing champions.
“But it wasn’t really my thing,” Jacobson said. “The competing; I just liked cruising. But it was a great experience.”
For him, sailing wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about sailing. It was about water, sky, wind, riggings and traveling. It was about the freedom to move. To satisfy his adventurous streak after quitting the team, Jacobson started teaching white-water rafting in 1974. This is the same year Jacobson came out as gay. Jacobson remembers locking the door of his room in Mesa’s Bahia and jamming a chair under the door handle so he could spend time with his boyfriend.
Living during a time of cultural upheaval, social uncertainty and political activism taught Jacobson to be fearless. His experiences at UC Irvine – sailing, white-water rafting, coming out of the closet, working on the campaign trail for presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972 and protesting the Vietnam War shaped him and broadened him.
He graduated from UCI in 1976 with degrees in history and humanities. He attended graduate school at UC Berkeley where he earned teaching credentials.
After he graduated from there, he went straight into business. For the next 20 years, Jacobson’s travel-incentive business took up his time without ever distracting him from the dreams he’d conceived as a 13-year-old boy in a cast.
The day Jacobson sailed out of the San Francisco Bay, he was a newer and much freer man. After staying in Mexico for some time, Jacobson wrote the following in his journal:
“I have to say, it was kind of strange to be sailing away from land and heading out into such a vast body of water. We watched in silence as the last bit of terra firma disappeared behind us; we heard the ‘whoosh’ of the water going by — we were sailing. We were going!”
The next six years were spent between the open waters of the world’s oceans and dropping anchor in bays of pristine South Pacific islands and more familiar but just as exotic locales like New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, Israel, Italy, Spain and Thailand for months at a time. After three years out, Jacobson sold his Berkeley home to afford spending a few more years on the water. Though one friend went home, his partner stayed. Jacobson had originally planned to go back home after six months, not six years.
Jacobson also had friends join and leave him throughout the journey. He took on crew members from the ports he set sail from – people like him who wanted to see more of what the world had to offer and were crazy enough to brave storms, pirates and any number of other nautical mishaps that could befall them. He spent his time on land communing with the people he met, learning all he could about their cultures by participating in them. Jacobson knew from the start that his goal to meander around the world and soak it up in as much time as he wanted was the right one, but with every new country full of new people he found satisfaction beyond what he had expected.
And though his trip had introduced him to the untouched beauty of the world, he also learned something entirely new about fear. When sailing through the Gulf of Aden – also known as “Pirate Alley” – the body of water between Somalia and Yemen that opens up to the Indian Ocean, a boat two days ahead of them was attacked by Somali pirates. The notice came in on the radio, but their course was already set. The only thing Jacobson and his crew could do was to continue on through the Alley and hope for the best. After two tense days at sea, they passed where their seafaring counterparts had been attacked without a single pirate in sight. They made their way through Bab-el-Mandeb, “The Gate of Scars,” and into the Red Sea without incident.
In the middle of the Red Sea, with Somali pirates at their back and Egypt lying ahead, the crew was faced with a new, inhuman danger. A violent storm hit with winds blowing at 55 knots, the strongest gale-force winds as defined by the National Hurricane Center, and 30-foot waves. Everyone was on deck and actively fighting the storm for a full 24 hours before the winds and waves subsided.
“I learned that fear can be an ally,” Jacobson said.
He learned how to harness the fear responses – adrenaline, heightened senses, quickening pulse – to help guide him through. Those same fear responses that helped him through a massive storm and kept him alert through Pirate Alley also helped him outrun Komodo dragons on Rinca Island in Indonesia.
His journey lasted exactly 2,070 days. He started in San Francisco, made his way down to the Long Beach Yacht Club where he first learned to sail, and further down the coast to Mexico. He crossed the Pacific Ocean in 21 days. He’s seen the world at his own pace, he’s found love, and he’s gotten published. Larry Jacobson does indeed do exactly what he wants, and the most he’s ever wanted was to keep the flame of adventure alive.
To find out more, visit http://larryjacobsonauthor.com/.