Both feet in the water: Deborah O'Connor plunged into a new adventure when she took up sailing


Boater profile: Deborah O'Connor

The view of the sunset from Volunteer Park in Seattle, Washington, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014.Deborah O'Connor sails on her 29-foot sloop. Deborah O'Connor sails on her 29-foot sloop, August 28, 2013 in Bellingham Bay.


All 62-year-old Deborah O'Connor needed was one glimpse of Bellingham Bay and the retired software engineer knew she had found her next challenge.

O'Connor, who moved to Bellingham from Colorado in 2006, grew up in Ohio by Lake Erie. The daughter of a marine engineer, boats were always around during her childhood.

But despite growing up engulfed in boating culture, O'Connor hadn't been on the water for roughly 35 years before her move west. That quickly changed once she arrived in Whatcom County.

"When I moved here I didn't have anything to do," she says. "I saw the water after moving here from Colorado and thought, 'It makes sense to do this.'"

It was a leap of faith given that she and her husband, Gawain O'Connor, aren't the outdoor type, she says.

O'Connor decided to take a sailing class in Port Townsend. By the end of the week, she was hooked.

Soon after, she bought her 29-foot sloop, Pinga, named after the little sister of Pingu, a TV series about a family of penguins.

"My father always told me boats should be named after girls, not boys," O'Connor says. "I kind of have a penguin theme to my life."

The purchase came as quite a shock to Gawain, who didn't fully comprehend the size of boat that Deborah wanted to sail.

"I took him to the marina and he was really surprised," she says. "He didn't expect my boat to be docked somewhere. I think he thought I would have a rowboat on the beach.

"He had no idea. I said, 'What do you think I was talking about?' He didn't know what a sloop was."

O'Connor admitted that she's the type of person who loves learning. She relishes fresh challenges, and discovering how to sail fulfilled her desire to accomplish new tasks.

Besides her sailing class in Port Townsend, she has gained vast knowledge through classes offered by Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron, a club that teaches safe boating and organizes local events.

From engine work, to cleaning, to electrical work, to general repair, O'Connor has learned it all, and now takes great pride in being able to maintain and sail her own boat.

She frequently guides Pinga throughout Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands, and has traveled as far south as Tacoma and north through British Columbia's Strait of Georgia.

"I love being able to approach all the islands," she says. "We are so lucky to have so many landing spots. There's so many islands you wouldn't be able to get to any other way. I like to go somewhere and row with my dog and go hiking."

Reach Andrew Lang at or call 360-756-2862.


Deborah O'Connor keeps a blog of her sailing adventures at

For more about Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron, go to

Reach DEAN KAHN at or call 715-2291.

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