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A Heartwarming Sailing Story We Just Have to Share

We received this fun and, yes, heartwarming story from a local sailor and Latitude reader. While we haven’t met either the storyteller or the heroine, we felt drawn to both as we realized we just had to share this true-life tale.

John Fredericks lives in Oakland Marina aboard his 1973 Bill Garden Porpoise ketch, Horizons. Like most liveaboard sailors, John is in a position to witness and often partner in salty tales of all kinds. But how often can a sailor say they have touched nautical history or connected with the heroes and heroines of sailing’s chronicles?

John’s story is the tale of a historic boat long abandoned, but not forgotten, and its journey back into the life of its history-making owner:

He begins:

“Would you like to hear a heartwarming story? Well, have a seat near the proverbial fire and lend me your ear.

“Over the winter, a boat sank at our marina. I had been told it was a famous boat but I really never paid it any mind. After doing a bit of research, I realized that this particular boat was the first ever to cross the Pacific, singlehanded by a woman. The event occurred in 1969. The woman’s name is Sharon Sites Adams and she is still among us at 90 years old!”

Adams & Sea Sharp ll Historic
Adams and Sea Sharp ll as they appeared in the late 60s. Sharon had her first sailing lesson in 1964. She was 34. On turning 90 in May this year, Sharon was quoted as saying, “Can you believe the life I had? All that, just because I owned a little boat once.”
© 2020 Sharon Sites Adams

“Being the local diver, I was hired to partially float the sunken boat in order to get it out from underneath our dock. It took several days and many truck tire inner tubes, but we were finally able to move the boat to her final resting place.

Sea Sharp ll mostly submerged and cover in weeds
It’s hard to envisage this unfortunate vessel once crossing the Pacific.
© 2020 John Fredericks

“The boat was basically abandoned at my marina and little by little she was scavenged. One item that remained attached to the boat was the helm. Everyone in our village (marina) tried their hand at removing the wheel, but none were successful. Never a stranger to a challenge, I decided to give it a try. I grasped the relic with both of my hands, and with all my might pulled with the strength of 100 horses until the wheel came free in my hands. (Actually, I used a small sledgehammer in the most delicate way possible but . . .). That’s basically how I became ‘Shing Arthur.’ Now it’s time for me to cross the Pacific myself, on my boat, Camelot. Sorry, I may have let my imagination run away with me there.” [John is in the process of refitting a 1962 Chesapeake 32, aboard which he plans to go cruising.]

“After removing the wheel, I knew who should have it — the very woman who grasped its spokes in her hands as she sailed alone across the Pacific, nearly 50 years ago. So, I wrapped it in bubble wrap, put it in a box, and shipped it to Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t until today that it was presented to her. [July 1, 2020.]

“We spoke on the phone and she was so delighted. She told me in her own words about when she was five days out from San Diego, listening to the moon-landing live on the radio. The first man on the moon and the first woman to cross the Pacific were happening simultaneously.

“She said, ‘I was looking up at the moon and wondering if Neil Armstrong would want to trade places with me.’

“It brings tears to my eyes to have been able to play a small part in this story and bring some joy to an amazing woman whom I have never met. In exchange for my good deed, she told me she would send me a copy of her book, which I have yet to read. She told me that she expects a book report, and I don’t want to disappoint her.”


The boat featured in John’s story above is Sea Sharp ll, a Mariner 31. Sea Sharp ll was built for Adams, but she never owned the vessel. Despite this, Adams and many of her friends had spent years trying to locate and buy the sailboat. The recent events have put to rest Adams’ longing and search for a significant piece of her own history.

Sailor Lilli Matzke from the Island Sailing Club in Portland, OR, and Adams’ longtime friend Carol Baker prepared to deliver the wheel to its unsuspecting recipient.

“She had no idea,” Lilli said. “She didn’t want to open the box right away. But we started talking about the unfortunate news about Sea Sharp, and as soon as I said the word retrieve she really wanted to open that box.”

With shaking hands Sharon removed the wrapping to discover the wheel that had guided her across the ocean so many years ago.

“She started crying. ‘I can’t believe this day, I can’t believe this day,’ she kept saying.”

Sharon Sites Adams unwraps Sea Sharp ll's wheel
Adams’ face tells us all we need to know about the joy this gift has brought her.
© 2020 LIlli Matzke

“We were worried that she was going to donate it. Most of what she had from the boat and her journey she’d donated to a museum. Above and beyond everything we wished it to be for her.

“The next day Sharon called me. She’d decided to hang the wheel in her house, above her bed. She was starting to believe it, just a little.”

Sharon Sites Adams was featured in a story we wrote about international and historic women sailors in March this year.


  1. Sherri Wilkinson 4 years ago

    Wonderful story..What a joy for her 90th birthday . The helm brought her life full circle. Thank you John!

  2. Rev Dr Malama 4 years ago

    Awesome story and good work on completing the return of a relic to the Rightful Sailor…. as it should be!

  3. Dennis Bailey 4 years ago

    Great tale and the Mariner 31 is a mod from my Far East yachts build of Rosy, a wooden Herreshoff 28 ketch with a staysail(35’ from bowsprit to mizzen boom), but a tiller(praise be).

  4. Memo Gidley 4 years ago

    What a great thing the wheel is back with this women! What an experience she must have had and love to hear people chasing a passion! Somebody needs to get her back out sailing!

  5. Noreen Light 4 years ago

    Sharon was a guest speaker at our South Sound Sailing Society meeting in February. She is a lively storyteller, and what a story to tell! It’s a delight to see this photo of her.

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