Alan Chin Interviews Larry Jacobson, author of The Boy Behind The Gate
Several months ago, I reviewed a travel memoir of a gay man who had flown around the world, stopping at a few dozen noteworthy destinations. Shortly after I published my glowing review, I received an email from Larry Jacobson, telling me that if I was impressed by that book, I simply had to read his upcoming book, The Boy Behind The Gate, the memoirs of a gay couple’s six year sail around the globe. Larry boldly told me that his adventures would blow me away.
Well I did read the book, and I was blown away. Sailing the world has long been a dream of mine, and this read fired up my imagination. Still, I walked away with several questions unanswered, so I asked Larry to do an interview with me so I could get my questions answered. The following is the result of that interview. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Q: You spent six years sailing around the world. When did you get the idea for circumnavigating the globe, and how long did it take you to prepare for the trip?
A: Not to sound too cliché, but I had been preparing for this trip nearly all my life. To be specific, since I was 13 years old. That’s when I had the skiing accident that laid me up in a cast for three months from hip to toe. On an even more specific basis, I worked hard in business with the thought at the back of my mind that someday I would go sailing. When we left San Francisco to go cruising, I thought I was going for a couple of years, and didn’t think that was enough to circumnavigate, but as the trip went on, and I found out I liked it, I decided to keep going. I had to sell my house to do that.
Q: Was there someone in your family, a teacher, or perhaps a favorite book, that inspired you to sail and seek adventure?
A: When I was a kid, Robin-Lee-Graham was my hero. He was 16 when he started to sail around the world and it took him five years to complete his journey. I didn’t see why I couldn’t be just like him and sail around the world. My high school history teacher, C.A. Derivas was a great inspiration. He taught me to sail big boats, he taught me the importance of discipline aboard, and he encouraged me to continue sailing.
Q: I know the name of your boat, Julia, has special meaning for you. Can you share that meaning?
A: I wanted a name that represented the strongest person I knew. Someone who had endured the roughest that life could throw at you. I wanted the boat named after the person who has inspired me the most to keep going when things are tough, and from whom I could draw strength when my crew was looking to me to be strong. My mother’s name is Julia, and she is that person.
Q: Can you tell us how your book’s title, The Boy Behind The Gate, relates to sailing around the world?
A: The title came to me after I wrote the book. It comes from when I was a kid growing up in Long Beach, California. Here I think I’ll quote from the book itself: “In the late summer afternoons, I would ride over to the marina where the big boats were docked. The gangways were always locked. I stood behind the gate staring at the yachts, imagining what it would be like to stand at the wheel, to back out of the slip, head up the channel, turn south, and keep going. Even then I didn’t want to be the boy behind the gate. I wanted to be at the helm calling, “Cast off the bow, we’re headed to sea.” Thirty years later on our way out to go cruising, we pulled into Long Beach and ended up docking at the exact same berth I used to stare at from behind the gate. It was an amazing experience to realize I had indeed moved through that gate and was indeed the one standing at the helm.
Q: You claim in your book to be the first gay man to circumnavigating the globe on your own boat, but you were not alone. Can you tell us about the romance that went on during those moonlit nights?
A: I claim in the book to be the first openly gay couple to circumnavigate so I was not alone. My partner Ken Smith sailed with me all the way around the world, my friend Patrik Hendrickson sailed with us the first two years and then re-joined for the Atlantic crossing, and we had a couple of crewmembers when crossing the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. I hate to dash your high hopes of warm, calm, balmy naked evenings. When Ken and I were alone, which was most of the time, we had three-hour watches. That meant I was on watch for three hours while Ken slept and then we changed…every three hours for as long as the passage took. We were lucky we had a meal together once a day, and were usually pretty tired. The boat sapped nearly all of our strength. We were constantly working to keep the boat in good working order, safe, and traveling in the right direction while avoiding bad weather. It was a full time job and honestly, physical romance dropped to the low priority list rather quickly. On the other hand, we bonded closer than ever.
Q: Having read your book, I know there were several times you were in grave danger. Can you describe the point on your trip that you were most frightened?
A: There were many times I was frightened. The time we lost our forestay, the cable that holds up the mast in a big storm on the way to Australia was terrifying. We had lost our autopilot too, and were hand-steering in a storm for 36 hours before we reached our landfall.
Another very big storm in the Red Sea with 55-knot winds and 30-foot waves was incredibly frightening.
I think the one I remember the most though, is leaving the dock on a cold morning, December 7, 2001, headed out under the Golden Gate Bridge headed for places unknown. I didn’t know when, or if I would be returning and I was leaving my entire life behind. That was scary.
Q: What is the hardest part of living aboard ship for so long a time?
A: It’s like camping all the time. Even though we had plenty of space on board, plenty of electricity, food, water, and other needs and wants, it’s still like camping. The gas goes out in the stove, the water needs to be de-salinated, the holding tank needs to be emptied, the food goes bad in the tropical heat quickly. You have a tiny closet for your rolled up t-shirts and shorts, and it’s hot…very hot. Otherwise, it’s fabulous!
Q: Of all the destinations you visited on your voyage, if you had to choose one to live out the rest of your life, which place would it be, and why?
A: San Francisco. We had a short list of other great destinations, but as it turns out, when you sail west, you eventually end up back where you started, and that’s here at the city by the bay. Our list of other places we considered moving consisted of: Auckland, NZ; Sydney, Australia; Phuket, Thailand; Tel Aviv, Israel; Barcelona, Spain; Lausanne, Switzerland; and Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Our families are here in California, and though we have friends all over the world now, this is still home.
Q: Your book, The Boy Behind The Gate, has garnered several excellent reviews. Can you tell us about it?
A: It’s a universally inspiring story about a boy who has a dream of sailing around the world. He works hard, plans, and then takes a huge risk to live his dream. Lots of emotion, lots of personal revelation, and very easy for the reader to relate to their own lives. It resonates with a lot of different people.
Q: It took you several years to write and publish The Boy Behind The Gate. Why did it take so long, and what was the most frustrating thing about publishing your own book?
A: It took so long because I started with nearly 2,000 pages of Emails, journal notes, ship’s logs, videos, photos, and souvenirs to sift through. My editors kept saying, “Cut!” and I kept replying, “The world is round, which part do you suggest I cut?!” But cut we did, and now it’s very readable.
I enjoyed publishing my own book. I couldn’t see myself conforming to the norms of the traditional publishing industry so I started my own company, Buoy Press. When you see the quality of The Boy Behind the Gate, you’ll see that every last detail is done to perfection. From the paper weight and color to the hand-drawn maps, to the color photo selection, and the cover, the book is stunning and would make any big publishing house envious.
Q: I know your book is a stepping-stone into a new career. Can you tell us what lessons your experiences on the high seas has given you to cope with a career change at this point in your life?
A: I am a motivational speaker now and I have a lot to say from my lessons learned at sea. I’ve come up with the 10 Keys to Living Your Unstoppable Life. Looking back, I sorted through the various things I have done in my life that make people think I’ve lived an Unstoppable Life. I’ve turned those into talks, seminars, and videos I’m going to share with my listeners.
Q: Are you planning another book anytime soon?
A: Yes, there are others in the works. The 10 Keys to Living Your Unstoppable Life will most likely be a series of e-books. Then there’s the children’s version of The Boy Behind the Gate, and I’d also like to try my hand at fiction where I can let my mind make a character anything I want. In a non-fiction story, the characters are who they are and you can’t change them.
Q: If you could offer one tidbit of advice for new writers looking to self-publish their story, what would it be?
A: Don’t be daunted by sound of the word, “publishing.” Figure out your reason and method, and go for it. I recently wrote an article about my self-publishing success and it can be seen on my blog.
Q: What, more than anything else, fills you with rage?
A: Intolerance. I find myself quite intolerant of intolerance. Be who you want to be and I’ll be me. Why anyone cares what anyone else does is beyond me.
Q: Can you tell us something about the place you call home?
A: We live in a beautiful top floor apartment overlooking San Francisco Bay, about 100 yards from the marina we originally sailed out of. I wander the docks, meet people, help get them ready for their cruising, and am quite satisfied, knowing I’ve done something as incredible as sailing around the world.
Q: Would you consider sailing the globe again?
A: If I hadn’t done it, then I’d consider it. But, having done it once, as you read in the book, is a really tough, exhausting, challenge. My next challenge is going to be inspiring other people to live their dreams. I like that idea.
Q: Where can readers find your book?
A: Everywhere. My site sells through my distributor, Atlas Books. Just go to: http://larryjacobson.com Pretty cool that I got that name for my website I think!
Or, go to amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982878796?tag=larrjaco-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0982878796&adid=0P44560H669JJAQ78YN0&
Or, barnes & noble.com, and many other online bookstores. Since it’s a “real book,” it’s also easily ordered by any bookstore anywhere in the world.
Readers can be added to my mailing list simply by sending me an email at: [email protected]
Soon, there’ll be a sign-in on my website, but I haven’t got to it yet because of the book publicity. It’s kind of a catch-22 that way!
Thank you so much, Larry, for spending the time to answer these questions, and for sharing your wonderful adventures with all of us. Best of luck with your book and your new career.