Daily Pilot Dec 13, 2007

Tom Tolbert, Cordell Porter of Fairview Developmental Center, and Paul Bjorkholm of Oasis Senior Center, prepare to shove off on the sailboat Fascination II with a client from Fairview Center.

Sailing after the storms

Man who survived physical and financial trials now teaches the disabled how to sail in Newport Harbor.

Tom Tolbert and his sailboat, the Fascination II, have pushed through their share of storms over the last 10 years.

A brain aneurysm in 1996, a stolen engine in 2004, the loss of his skipper and business partner and his federal funding, yet both the man and the boat persevered.

Tolbert’s story of overcoming a medical emergency less than 10% of people usually survive, of having to relearn rudimentary physical tasks, and then rediscovering his love of the ocean is inspiring.

He’s taken his three decades of experience at sea and put them to use, teaching the disabled how to sail in Newport Harbor.

“Probably 75% of our students have never been in charge of any apparatus,” Tolbert said. “They still haven’t been in charge of a bicycle, car, anything. This is a first for them, and seeing one of them smile is a really big deal for us.”

Tolbert says he is one of only three components needed to ensure the ship sails smoothly. Without the help of volunteer skippers from the Oasis Senior Center and funding from a local church, the Sailing Fascination project would be dead.

After all its struggles, the nonprofit hit the doldrums when Tolbert’s friend and skipper Jack Hest was unexpectedly moved to a Bakersfield nursing facility in August.

After Hest’s departure from Sailing Fascination, Tolbert began going “through that process of where am I going to find that person that is able-bodied enough to tie up and knows their way around the boat enough that I am comfortable with them and our students are not in jeopardy?”

Around the same time he was trying to figure this out, the Department of Boating and Waterways pulled its funding after supporting Sailing Fascination for eight years.

Sailing Fascination costs roughly $3,000 each year to operate, most of which goes toward maintenance costs. A slip at Basin Marina has been donated by the city of Newport Beach, and the marina provides a number of services to the group at no cost. But Tolbert still has to come up with few thousand clams to keep things afloat.

Then John Byerlein introduced Tolbert at one of the Oasis Senior Sailing Club meetings in Corona del Mar, and told the group about the situation. Now, seven to eight Oasis members rotate in as volunteer skippers aboard Fascination II, a 24-foot sloop.

“Everyone jumped up to help out when they were asked,” skipper Paul Bjorkholm said. “It was surprising. You normally don’t get that response.”

Every Tuesday they set sail in Newport Harbor where the waters are more predictable than out at sea.

Most of the student sailors lately come from the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa. And with them comes rehab therapist Cordell Porter.

The center residents are developmentally disabled, so most of the sailing is performed by Tolbert and the Oasis skippers, but the experience alone has a beneficial effect on the Fairview students.

“They are very relaxed when they get back,” Porter said. “There’s nothing they do like this.”

Most of the student sailors, like Dennis, have lived at the medical facility for most of their lives. The 56-year-old was on his third sailing trip aboard Fascination II.

“Dennis doesn’t understand the bow from the stern or any of those things,” Porter said. “But when I pick him up he says ‘boat, boat, boat.’”
KELLY STRODL may be reached at (714) 966-4623 or at kelly.strodl@latimes.com.


NEWS RELEASE   ----   September 2009
 Able-bodied OASIS Sailing Club sailors have volunteered to operate the sloop FASCINATION 2, within Tom Tolbert' non-profit California corporation -- SAILING FASCINATION.  Beginning in August 2007, eight OSC members alternated in skippering the sloop every Tuesday afternoon, providing a sailing experience for physically or developmentally-disabled persons and teaching them fundamentals of sailing wherever possible.  Having completed 83 sailing trips during its first two years of association with SAILING FASCINATION, the OASIS volunteer skippers' pool has now grown to fourteen persons.  Recreational Therapist Cordell Porter has accompanied each disabled client on all these 83 sailing.
On August 13, 2009 Fairview Developmental Center therapist Melissa Hansen rejoined the SAILING FASCINATION program, after a couple years absence.  Then our  sailing club added Thursday afternoon sailings, to provide more opportunities for more disabled adults to enjoy this growth experience.
     Sailing Schedule Assignments  -- noon until 2:00 pm unless noted
Tuesday, Sept. 1  ------------  Stan Espenship
Tuesday, Sept. 8  ------------  Don Bartz and Pieter Suttorp
Tuesday, Sept. 15 -----------  Mac MacAdam
     Thursday, Sept. 17 --------------  Linda Boulton and Linda Ignatius
Tuesday, Sept. 22 ------------ Rob Jason
     Thursday, Sept. 24 --------------  John Byerlein and Kurt Topik
Tuesday, Sept. 29  ----------  Anthony Allen
     Thursday, Oct. 1   ---------------   FROM 10:00 am to 12:00 Noon  -- Paul Bjorkholm and Mac MacAdam
Tuesday, Oct. 6  ------------   Eldon Kiehler
     Thursday, Oct. 8  ---------------   Stan Espenship and Bill Terwillegar
Tuesday, Oct. 13   ---------   Pieter Suttorp
     Thursday, Oct. 15 --------------   John Byerlein and Dave White
Tuesday, Oct. 20   ---------   Mac MacAdam
     Thursday, Oct. 22  -------------   Linda Ignatius and Linda Boulton
Tuesday, Oct. 27   ---------   Kurt Topik
     Thursday, Oct. 29  -------------   Anthony Allen and Hugh Logan
OASIS Sailing Club program members are responsive to the needs and particular capabilities of each adult entrusted to our care.  We help them grow.  For further information, contact John Byerlein at 949-640-6423.



                 PRESS RELEASES






(Corona Del Mar, July 18, 2005) Four retirees in a dinghy reached their moored sailboat for the  monthly day cruise out of Newport Harbor, never dreaming that in 2005--20 years later—over a hundred more senior sailors would be toasting the anniversary of their creation,  OASIS Sailing Club.  “We are an activity of Friends of OASIS, with support from the City of Newport Beach,” explained John Byerlein, Commodore. \


On July 16 the anniversary was celebrated over a wine-tasting event in cooperation with Trader Joe’s. The theme was “California’s Gold—North to South to Sideways.” Each selection was described by volunteer skipper and County Fair Wine Judge, Jim Stone, who chose 10 wines from champagne to dinner accompaniment to dessert. Chef Mila donated hors d’ouerve appropriate to each wine. .Over 50 members attended the social event in the OASIS courtyard, and visited at tables decorated with fresh flowers in wine bottle vases. Overhead canopies were strung with colorful international signal flags.


Commodore Byerlein offered a review of club history and a forecast that membership is likely to grow another 50% over the next five years. Mal Richley of Lindsey Plastics took a bow for overseeing the manufacture of our OASIS II Newport 30 sloop, launched in 1982. “Recreational sailing for seniors continues to be the beacon toward which our sailing club will point for the next 20 years,” predicted Byerlein.






(Newport Beach) Coming out of the Balboa Yacht Basin—again!—OASIS II, official sailboat of  Friends of OASIS, logged its 302nd sailing day for a record year. “We call it the world’s busiest sailboat, manned by active retirees,” said Commodore John Byerlein. Crews are all seniors from ages 56 to 85. The previous record was 257 cruises in 2002.


The 95 OASIS Sailing Club members are required to take basic safety training and based on their boatmanship, can aspire to rank of mate or skipper. “Confidence comes with practice and mentoring, and a safe crew makes for smoother sailing,”  added Byerlein.


In contrast to Orange County’s dense urban setting, a day on the ocean is a pure outdoor event. Usually a destination like Dana Point or Long Beach attracts repeat sailors—members aren’t limited in opportunities to sign up. Seasoned seamen may arrange overnight cruises to Catalina.


Land activities include barbecues, holiday dinner parties, yacht club luncheons, maritime tours and wine tasting socials. “Next to being at the wheel,  the most fun is to share sea stories with other sailors in the club who have literally worlds of boating experience across America’s lakes and ports—and even Europe, the Pacific and Caribbean,” explained Byerlein.


An activity of the City of Newport Beach, the 19-year-old sailing club is open to the public through membership in Friends of  OASIS at OASIS Senior Center, Corona del Mar.


Oasis in the ocean

By Andrew Edwards
Daily Pilot

November 19, 2004

The wind was light, the sailing was easy, and the day was peaceful as four members of the seniors-only Oasis Sailing Club logged in yet another day before the mast.

"It was very glassy, the smoothest I've ever seen the sea out here," sailing club member Jim Stone, 76, said Wednesday after returning from an afternoon cruise.

Joining Stone on the cruise were Rob Jason, 67, Marilyn Lees, 71, and Lloyd Stave, 65. The four cruised aboard Oasis II, a 30-foot Newport Mk3 sloop that club members call the world's busiest sailboat.

Oasis sailors logged in more than 1,300 sailing hours over 242 cruises last year, but their record remains unofficial. The club has sent an application to Guinness World Records, but record keepers at Guinness do not keep track of records for the most-used private boat, said club commodore John Byerlein, 78.

However, Byerlein has said he does not know of any challenges to the club's claim, and members continue to keep a busy schedule. On Wednesday, Oasis sailors embarked on the ship's 263rd voyage of the year. Members of the club take short trips on Oasis almost every day, while boats moored near the club's slip often remain at anchor.

"They leave the dock two or three times a year," Byerlein said as he looked at the forest of masts at the Balboa Yacht Basin. "We leave the dock 25 times a month."

Once afloat, sailors aboard Oasis II are often surrounded by nothing but blue skies and water.

"Out in the ocean, we have the whole ocean to ourselves," Jason said.

Members of the Oasis Sailing Club are all seniors and members of the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar. The sailing club is officially part of the Friends of Oasis, a nonprofit that supports the senior center. The club boasts about 100 members, who do not have to be experienced sailors when they join.

"They can come in with no experience at all and just decide that sailing would be a great thing to do," Stone said. "They can decide they want to learn to sail, or they can decide they just want to go out."

Once outside the harbor, Oasis sailors often take turns handling the wheel, but cruises are typically relaxing affairs, where club members can get away from it all and chat about past travels.

"There's a big social dimension to sailing," Stone said. "We enjoy each other. We enjoy the stories."

Where the club goes depends on where the wind takes them — south to Dana Point, west to Catalina Island or as far north as Marina del Rey.

On Wednesday, Stone skippered Oasis II north, then headed west to catch the wind and pick up speed.

As they sailed, the four-person crew was almost entirely alone in the ocean.

"We had a seal following us for a little bit; we could see him bobbing behind us," Stone said.


Magellan Award to Louanne Peck  For longest single cruise, Tokyo-Seattle,

by Marilyn Lees, OASIS Sailing Club meeting on February 25, 2004. Chart of

world oceans and ports of call in background, representing all member cruises by sail.


January 22, 2004

1,380 HOURS AT SEA IN 2003


Where is the most active private sailboat in the world? Newport Beach is a good guess, and facts back it up. The OASIS II sloop logged 1,380 hours at sea last year, according to John Byerlein, Commodore of OASIS Sailing Club. These nautical crews—all senior citizens--set sail from Balboa Yacht Basin 242 times.

The passenger log shows 1,186 person-days in 2003. Cruises extended as far as Catalina Island or as near as boat parade events in the harbor.

"Don’t forget festivals," said Byerlein. "We are out there for the 4th of July and Christmas Lights every year."

The 17-year-old nonprofit club provides recreation and training for seniors who long for the wind behind them, the dolphins beside them, and sunsets on the horizon.

Messing About In Boats

"Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing

as simply messing about in boats."

—Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows


Newport Beach—July 3, 2003—It doesn’t take much to get OASIS Sailing Club Commodore John Byerlein enthusing about boats. Indeed, had it not been Water Rat musing dreamily of watercraft in Kenneth’s Grahame’s children’s classic, it might have been Byerlein.

Now entering the second year of his two-year term as head of the 100-member club, the Coast Guard Academy reservist can instantly reel off a litany of "stats" about the Corona del Mar senior center’s 17-year-old sailing club: "We have 13 designated skippers, 10 designated mates, 17 members working to qualify as mates and 60 casual sailors who also bring treats and enjoy sailing’s social aspects."

As one of four elected officers, Byerlein has help in making OASIS II—the club’s 30-foot Newport Mark III sloop—available to club members 29 days a month. Sharing leadership responsibilities with him are Vice Commodore Jack Teberg, Secretary Jim Stone and Treasurer Dorothy Fox.

Under their stewardship, OASIS II departed its Balboa Yacht Basin mooring on 257 days in 2002, providing 1,100 person-days of enjoyment. On all voyages, a certified skipper and first mate are on board, to satisfy insurance requirements and provide optimal safety. Club skippers must pass both a written and a hands-on test.

Despite such precautions, watery mishaps do occasionally occur. Following one this spring, OASIS II underwent major repair and now boasts all new rigging, lifelines and safety equipment. "After five weeks out of commission, it’s stronger and safer than ever before," Byerlein proclaims.

Originally built in 1982, the vessel was outfitted with a new inboard diesel motor last July. It comfortably seats six adults, on daytime and sunset excursions ranging from races to Huntington Harbor to overnight jaunts to San Pedro and Catalina. Augmenting these outings are parties and participation in local boat parades, including recent American Legion festivities and the annual end-of-year holiday celebration in Newport Harbor.

Sailing club dues, which run $10 per month, and sailing excursion charges—$15 each for the first three sailings each month—cover dock fees, insurance and maintenance costs. Club members perform most routine maintenance.

To coordinate activities, they meet on the last Wednesday of each month, from 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. at the OASIS Center. Experienced and new sailors of all ages are welcome to join them, to learn about what Byerlein asserts is "the world’s most active sailing alliance." Newcomers can enjoy one free sailing when they join the club’s ranks.

If the lure of the sea and the enthusiasm of club members fail to motivate, Byerlein adds one more incentive. "People with involvements and relationships live nine years longer than those who are more passive."

"I can’t die," the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum docent-of-the-year adds. "I have sailing this weekend!"


OASIS Senior Center is a hub for older adults social and information services, at 5th & Narcissus Avenue in Corona del Mar. For more information about the center and its activities, please call 949-718-1800