Surf and Turf

| April 07, 2005

It’s his home. It’s his passion. Owner-operator Gregg Ruch aboard his 34-foot sailboat in Federal Way, Wash.

When Gregg Ruch is not living in the sleeper of his Freightliner, his home is not only not on wheels, it’s not even on land.

Ruch is a sailor/trucker whose home is a sailboat moored at the Federal Way marina near Tacoma, Wash. His backyard is one of America’s most spectacular sailing playgrounds, the Puget Sound.

Home is a 34-foot Catalina, a single hulled boat with a traditional sloop rig.

“When I was in junior high school my parents got a subscription to Yachting magazine. I really hadn’t any interest in boats before that,” says Ruch, 45, an owner-operator leased to Crete. “I’d take those magazines and spend hours looking at all the photographs, and I started dreaming about sailing around the world.”

Ruch joined the Air Force after attending Oregon State University and moved to Tacoma from his family home in Salem, Ore., for his first permanent duty assignment. “After I moved there I was looking through the classified ads for no particular reason when I saw two whole columns of used sailboats. And it struck me then that they didn’t all cost millions of dollars. I had always thought they did, and it never occurred to me before that day that I would ever be able to afford one.”

It wasn’t long before he bought one. Ruch’s first boat was a 27-foot Catalina he bought in 1985.

“I nearly sank that boat quite a few times,” he recalls. “That first boat was a watershed. I had a lot of time on my hands, and I started looking at them. The economy was depressed back then, so I made a low ball offer. To my surprise the guy took it. But I’d never even been on a sailboat,” says Ruch. “The deal was we’d go out in it, and if I wanted to withdraw the offer I could. I loved it, of course.

“So I bought it and it came with eight hours of sailing lessons, and then they cut me loose. After the lessons I had to sail it from Seattle to Gig Harbor, a day’s sail. So off I go. That day was the best day you could want to sail, clear and cold with a following sea and wind. But more things went wrong on that first day than I think ever went wrong again.”

All of his sailing friends were busy that day, but Ruch couldn’t wait to take his boat out on the water, so he went alone. “I motored for an hour, but then the wind picked up so I raised the biggest sail I had aboard. The wind was at my back, so I could sail easily and set her up pretty much any way I wanted. I was just surfing along,” he says.

“As I got close to Gig Harbor, all of a sudden, I felt this impact and the whole boat shuddered. I had no idea what I’d hit. I was so scared. I was thinking, ‘That’s it, I’ve holed her, I’m going to sink, and I haven’t even got the boat home yet, I haven’t completed my first sail in her.’ Then out from underneath the boat came the biggest tree stump I’ve ever seen. It had to be more than three feet across and five feet from the roots to the top.”

When Ruch calmed down, he kept sailing. When he finally got to inspect the boat, he found to his astonishment virtually no damage at all. But that first day wasn’t over yet. When he got to Gig Harbor he had to come around into the wind so that the boat would stop moving, the sails would relax and he could take them down.

“I did everything I’d been taught in those few lessons and started to come around. But I had not given the sails any slack, so when she came around, instead of blowing loosely, the sails were set tight. It was as if they were aluminum and fixed in place. Halfway through that turn the wind was coming broadside, and it hit the sails and pushed the boat over so she was leaning over at 45 degrees. When that happened, two other things happened. I was convinced she was going to keep going over and capsize and sink, and I lost all rudder control.

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