Stretching their sea legs

The longest sailing trip Dylan Gill-Vallance has ever taken was from Los Angeles to Morro Bay.

Soon he and a friend will embark on a 6,000-mile journey to Australia, far exceeding their time or experience at sea - combined.

The 34-foot blue and white sail boat, moored in Morro Bay, is almost ready for the voyage, and the men will slip away as soon as the weather is right.

Gill-Vallance, a native of Australia, met Jim Loucks, who lives in San Luis Obispo, through a mutual friend eight months ago.

He came to California to visit longtime family friends and buy the Bali High-- the 1968 Cal34 sailboat that will make the journey he had been dreaming of for years.

Loucks quit his job at Mountain Air Sports in San Luis Obispo to join Gill-Vallance on the voyage.

He has traveled a little, to Canada and Hawaii as well as a brief trip to Australia, but nothing like this.

"Everything about this is exciting," Loucks said. "I've learned more in the last few weeks getting ready for the trip than I ever knew about sailing. It is a new experience every day."

The trip's length -- it will last longer than the two men have known each other -- doesn't faze them.

Gill-Vallance is excited to have company and an extra hand in case something goes wrong. Loucks, meanwhile, said he was ready for an adventure.

The men expect the trip to take about nine months -- allowing for visits to the Channel Islands, San Diego, and Ensenada and Zihuatanejo in Mexico before setting off for the main leg of the journey. That will be a 4,500-mile, open-water stretch to French Polynesia, the farthest group of islands from North America.

Gill-Vallance was with his father when he sailed from Los Angeles to Morro Bay. And Loucks has only been out on the open water a few times. But both men say they're ready for the challenge ahead.

"I'm not worried about the sea," said Gill-Vallance, who has a degree in marine biology and grew up surfing. "It is land that puts holes in boats."

Gill-Vallance estimates they will spend up to 25 days at sea once they set out from Mexico-- with no land in sight --before reaching the Marquesa Islands.

"That is the big crossing," he said. "You prepare for 40 days and make sure you have two of everything that can break." Most of the storage space on the boat is dedicated to necessities -- more than 100 gallons of fresh water, engine parts, propane for the stove, emergency equipment (such as an inflatable dingy), fishing gear and some nonperishable food and tools.

Few extras will make the trip -- except for five surf boards, which can be considered a necessity, said a smiling Gill-Vallance.

Gill-Vallance has lived and worked on the boat for the past eight months, equipping it with amenities such as solar power, a freshwater collection system and a maritime modem to stay connected with friends and family along the way. Loucks recently began learning how to do repairs as the two get the boat ready.

"Sailing will be the easy part, compared to actually getting it ready," Loucks said.

Rick Gelber is docked next to the men in Morro Bay and has watched them gear up for the journey.

"I am so jealous I can barely handle it," he said.

Gelber, who took a solo trip to Hawaii eight years ago, said it's the things that you can't prepare for that test your skills while sailing -- such as back-to-back gales.

"You do your best," he said, adding that he is confident both Gill-Vallance and Loucks are ready for the voyage.

"The ocean is amazing," Gill-Vallance said. "When you motor out of the harbor, throw up the sails, kill the engine -- it is silent."

Once they arrive, Loucks plans to travel for a while before heading back. Gill-Vallance, who is from a small town near Melbourne, said he'll have to work to cover the debt he's accrued to make the journey happen. He's also contemplating selling the boat.

"If it sells for a good price," he said, "I might buy a bigger one and do it all over again."

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