Cruising sailors exist in all parts of the world and come from all walks of life. So who are some of these people and where did they come from, or more importantly, how did they find their passion and become seafaring adventurers?
Imagine this - you’re cruising on your sailboat somewhere in the Caribbean, or the South Pacific, or even Greece, and you drop anchor alongside a boat named “Lost Soul”. Dimpled into a bean bag on the decks you find a lovely lady basking in the sunshine, reading a good book. Elsewhere aboard is her husband, a ‘larger than life’ figure who’s tattooed arms and grizzled beard give you the impression you’re more likely to find him tearing up the highway on a Harley Davidson, than enjoying the laid back pleasures of the cruising lifestyle. Meet Jody Lipkin and Bob Bitchin, the energetic couple who not only live the adventures of sailing and cruising, but have harnessed the lifestyle’s essence and channel it through their successful sailing magazine, Cruising Outpost.
Bob is no stranger to publishing. His first forays into the magazine world were in the 70s and early 80s when he created Biker Magazine and Tattoo Magazine. Now the penny drops. You knew there had to be motorbikes in his life somewhere along the line, right? At the same time, Bob was also writing and editing for several other publications including Forbes, Penthouse and New Look. Do any of these ring a bell? However these activities were just the tip of the iceberg for this literary biker who appears to have an abundance of energy.
Throughout the 70s while Bob was busy writing, editing, publishing and exploring the U.S. and Europe on his motorcycle, he was also engaged in founding organizations such as the Motorcycle Press Association and A.B.A.T.E. (a national organization of motorcyclists), and co-creating the very first Toy Run, a charitable event which now takes place annually in thousands of cities around the world. On top of all these pursuits, Bob’s thirst for adventure led him to discover sailing.
In one of life’s many mysterious twists, Bob met a sailboat captain, Alan Olson. You might know of Alan as the project manager for the construction of the Matthew Turner - a 132’ traditional wooden tall ship currently being built in Sausalito, CA. However back in the early 70s, Capt. Alan was running the Green Peace flag-ship "Stone Witch", out of San Francisco. Bob signed on for a 3-month passage to Guatemala aboard the 74’ square rigged topsail schooner. Having no previous idea of whether he was cut out for the sailing life, his experience aboard the vessel, which had no engine, sported kerosene running lights and carried four 21’ oars for propulsion, changed Bob’s life. Upon returning home Bob’s motorcycle-cruising days were now shared with buying, repairing and living aboard various sailboats in the lead up to over thirty years of cruising the Pacific and Central America.
Meanwhile in another spot on the map, Jody Lipkin was also experiencing her first taste of the sailing life aboard her father’s steel-hulled yacht in George Town, Exuma, in the Bahamas.
‘I was 27ish and never realized that a wonderful life on boats was indeed a way of life I wanted. That was the beginning of the discovery.’
The two weeks spent on board was enough for Jody to get a good idea of how much there was to learn about sailing, and after returning to the U.S., she immediately moved to Redondo Beach, CA, where her work at the Portofino Hotel and Yacht club allowed her to spend her free time sailing to and from Catalina Island. Jody was hooked, she loved everything about boating.
What happened next in the lives Jody and Bob depends, I imagine, on which one of the couple you ask. According to Bob, who by now had sold his magazines and was a full-time sailor, he kidnapped Jody from her post at the Portofino Hotel and together they explored the South Pacific aboard Bob’s 56’ Formosa Ketch, "Lost Soul".
‘We knew each other for years but never dated, until 1991,’ Bob said. He asked Jody if she wanted to go to the islands. ‘She thought I meant Catalina. I meant Tahiti.’
Their first voyage together extended through the Panama Canal and on to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and countless other places many of us only ever dream about. Upon ending their world voyage and returning to the Portofino YC, they were married aboard "Lost Soul" and from there continued to enjoy numerous seafaring adventures together.
Bob Bitchin and Jody Lipkin in the BVI.
Bob aboard Lost Soul.
However Bob is obviously not one to sit still for too long and in 1996 he created his first sailing magazine, Latitudes and Attitudes. It became one of the largest sailing and cruising publications and was followed in 2005 by a television show of the same name - the first and only nationally televised, sailing lifestyle show. Bob also created Cruising Radio - a station with tunes and information for cruising sailors.
Unfortunately not all good things last forever, and Latitudes and Attitudes was lost, and their home of many years, "Lost Soul" along with it. However Bob and Jody had built a solid reputation and strong following through their publication, and with the support of loyal subscribers and a staff member, the Bitchin’s were able to bounce back and create Cruising Outpost.
Today the couple continues to publish Cruising Outpost, and remains involved with the global sailing community through their magazine, Bob’s writing, and sailing-seminars. Bob and Jody also give back to the community which has been a cornerstone of their lives for so many years by donating prizes and providing publicity for Yacht Clubs, and events such as Summer Sailstice.
So how do they still find time to sail?
Jody said she and Bob are currently working on finishing their 52’ Shannon sailboat. In the meantime, their sailing adventures take place OPB - aboard other people’s boats.
I asked Jody what it was about sailing that made her set sail and lead the lifestyle that she and Bob so obviously love.
‘Night watch on an ocean crossing with no moon, clear skies, a zillion stars and dolphins breaking the water along side your vessel. Being at sea for extended days and first sighting land. Bean Bags on deck with the wind 120 degrees off your bow, sunshine and a good book. Meeting likeminded people when you get to your destination and making new friends,’ was her first response. But later, after letting the question sink in a little more, Jody said that taking her home to different place and meeting the locals was also part of the pleasure, adding ‘…all the food you get to try in all the different cultures, I think these we’ve gotta put on the list.’
And how about Bob, the man who thought he was, ‘…going to die,’ while trying to find his sea legs on the way to Guatemala?
‘100,000 miles and 35 years later, I still get excited when I head out to sea.’
Bob continues to publish, write, present sailing-seminars, cruise the world, and ride his Harley. The former traveling companion and bodyguard to the famous motorcycle stuntman Evil Knievel, and one-time gym buddy of Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong) who incidentally gave Bob Lipkin the ‘Bitchin’ title, also finds time to enjoy the company of their six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
So if you’ve ever looked at the boats anchored or docked alongside you, and have wondered how the people aboard came to be there, stop wondering. Go and ask them. You might find their sailing stories are just as interesting as this one, and just as interesting as your own.
Bob at the helm sailing in the Bahamas.
Bob and Jody - Sucia, 2011.