My wife Ruth and I retired from Saudi Aramco in 1995. Ruth worked for Aramco as a British nurse starting in 1974. I joined the company in 1975 and we were married in 1980. I was an engineer from California and had the good fortune to work on all 5 of Saudi Aramco sulfur plants at Shedgum, Uthmaniyah, Berri, Ras Tanura, and Jubail. This required a lot of moving. We often spent two years in places like London, Houston or Tokyo while designing and purchasing the plant, then two years back in Arabia building. A wonderful life!
As a result of living on the beach in Ras Tanura, we developed a love for sailing. In 1998, we flew to France and moved aboard our 44 ft. catamaran. With very little ocean sailing experience, the first several months were exciting, to say the least. This first summer we sailed the Mediterranean visiting France, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy Sicily, Greece, Malta, Tunisia, and Spain. It was fantastic but sometimes terrifying. High winds called Mistrals, often come roaring off the land. With weather reports in a foreign language, we were often surprised. While anchored in a bay at the Island of Pakos, a low pressure system passed directly over us at 2 AM. We dragged two heavy anchors out to sea in howling 40 knot winds with plenty of lightning and rain. Luckily we missed hitting other boats and the many rocks. We also had some wonderful experiences and met some great people.
In December 1998, with the help of a couple of Aramco friends (Tom Tirrell and Steve Wann), we sailed past Gibraltar and out into the Atlantic. A five day sail took us down to the Canary Islands where we provisioned for the crossing. Sailing 3000 miles across the Atlantic was mostly pleasant with warm days and star filled skies at night. The waves were a bit big and we had our share of squalls. The autopilot steered most of the way and we each stood 4 hour watches around the clock while the others slept, lazed, read or fished. We did catch plenty of fish, some big and ugly. Squalls or problems seemed to happen mostly during Ruth's watch, usually in the wee dark hours. The spinnaker halyard chaffed thru and we ran over the spinnaker at 2 AM one dark and windy night. Twenty days later we arrived in Barbados with a feeling of accomplishment. It was great to be able to sleep all night.
We spent the next 6 months cruising the islands of the Caribbean, arriving in Florida in June. The Caribbean Islands were delightful, each with a different flair. History lessons everywhere. The French, British, Dutch, USA, Spanish, Pirates and others colonized and fought over the Islands for many years. After so many battles over the Island of St. Martin (about the size of San Francisco) they drew a wavy line across the island and today half of the island is Dutch and half is French. It is a great place to provision with French wine and Dutch cheese.
Summer '99 was spent cruising north along the Atlantic US, coast visiting The Chesapeake, New York, Long Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, while heading south in October, Ruth broke a wrist in New York and we left the boat at City Island for the winter and returned to our home in California. The next summer we headed north again to visit Maine where we had a delightful summer of cruising and eating lobster. In the fall we again headed south visiting places we missed before. One highlight we would be happy to have missed was Hurricane Floyd. We were anchored peacefully at Nantucket when we received word that Floyd would continue up the coast. We headed for the mainland and hid behind the huge breakwater at New Haven. When Floyd reached us it was downgraded from hurricane force to tropical storm, but winds peaked at 72 Knots, and sounded like a jet airplane all night. A pleasant highlight was sailing down the East River thru New York City under the bridges, past Wall Street, along Ellis Island and beside the Statue of Liberty! We continued down the coast past Cape May, up the Delaware and into Chesapeake Bay. We left the boat near Baltimore for the winter to spend time with ailing parents.
This last year we visited the south coast USA, Hilton Head, Charleston, Savannah, and St.Augustine before sailing into Ft. Lauderdale. We spent the 2001/02 winter cruising the Florida Keys, Cuba, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. Our boat is now safely moored in Guatemala for the 2002 hurricane season while we are in California visiting family and handling some important business. We hope to return to Guatemala in October to continue our cruise, maybe to Panama and into the Pacific? Several Aramco friends have flown in to visit and sail with us and we have visited Aramco friends along the way. We try to keep in touch by E-mail and like to hear from friends and former workmates and can be reached by e-mailing Marvin Stark or visit our website: stark.cncdsl.com. If you are thinking of cruising, get a large, safe, ocean-going catamaran and go for it!