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Come Selah way

West Linn, Oregon City crew sets a course on the adventure of a lifetime
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO The crew – members of the Francis family of West Linn and the Haugen family of Oregon City – heads out on “the blue lagoon,” part of the atolls of Tuamotus – a series of coral islands that encircle lagoons located in French Polynesia. The crew is living on their 46-foot sail boat Selah until October.

Putting their everyday lives on hold for a trip that belongs in the pages of an adventure book, six friends from Oregon City and West Linn are approaching the halfway mark of an eight-month sailing journey throughout the South Pacific.

Ship shape

The Francis family, who has lived in West Linn since 1995, met the Haugen family, who are residents of Oregon City, in 2002 and they quickly became friends, as the four youngest boys were all home-schooled at the time.

Jeff Francis, the patriarch of the family, had sailed around the world at age 13 on a three-year trip with his family and had often told his children stories from the journey - one they were eager to experience themselves.

The families decided to make this dream a reality, and in March 2010 purchased a 46-foot sail boat christened Selah, docking it in San Diego, Calif., and making several subsequent trips to make repairs to the boat.

With Jeff taking the helm as captain, his two sons Jason, 18, and Zach, 17, along with Hunter, 24, Grayson, 19, and Cale, 17, form the rest of the Selah crew.

The group spent hours researching and reading up on what to expect on their journey.

And, while Hunter is out of school and Grayson and Cale were able to take a couple terms off from their coursework at Clackamas Community College, Jason and Zach, who were still enrolled at West Linn High School, took night courses at CCC to make up the work they'd miss in advance.

Through these courses and an ongoing journal, Jason was even able to graduate high school a semester early.

'It was a nice feeling to leave on a trip knowing I am done with high school, although I'm bummed I won't get to graduate and walk with all my peers, but I figured this trip was well worth missing that,' Jason said in an email interview.

While Jason and Zach have been sailing since age 8, the Haugens were new to the skill, and so the group began with a 'shakedown cruise' to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to work out any of Selah's kinks and allow the Haugens to get their feet wet.

Water, water everywhere

Selah set off headed south from San Diego Feb. 23, and Jason said most days at sea are laid back and easy going.

He said a typical day includes waking up leisurely at 7 or 8 a.m., when someone will take their shift at the helm while Jason and Grayson start preparing breakfast.

'At about 6 p.m., Grayson and I make dinner and when we are done eating we usually go to bed, which is around 8,' he said. 'We found that going to bed early and rising early is the way to go on a boat, because you can't do much in the dark, so you might as well sleep.

'We are also learning that it is constant work on a boat. If it's not one thing that you need to work on, it's another.'

However, aside from torn sails and broken shackles, Jason said undoubtedly that the most challenging part of their journey thus far has been their three-week crossing of the Pacific Ocean.

With their course set on The Marquesas Islands, a small island group that forms the Eastern-most border of French Polynesia, The group took shifts, sailing night and day, rationing its fresh water supply and passing the time by reading, taking shifts at steering, playing guitar, spotting whales, turtles, flying fish and even a shark.

'On days that there was little to no wind, we would tie a rope to the back of the boat and jump in and trail behind in the wake of the boat,' Jason wrote in his journal.

At one point, Jason wrote that he managed to reel in a 20- to 30-pound yellow tail tuna, filleting it immediately.

'I would cut a piece of sushi off and we would eat it just like that,' Jason wrote. 'I probably won't ever have fresher sushi than that.'

With only open ocean for hundreds of miles around, Jason said a few landmark occasions kept them going, including crossing the Equator.

'We all stayed up and shot off expired flare guns, smoked our pipes and had a little champagne right as we hit 0 degrees South,' Jason wrote.

Selah was in the midst of its crossing when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11.

'(My mother) said she got about 100 phone calls asked about us and even a few of her friends calling her crying and saying how sorry they were, assuming we were hit by it,' Jason said. '(However,) tsunamis are not dangerous in deep ocean waters. We rolled right over it and didn't even know.'

Land ho!

After the 21-day crossing, the Selah crew anchored in a bay on the island of Hiva Oa, part of the Marquesas Islands -whose landscape is marked by lush trees and steep mountains, Jason said.

There, the group explored the sights and sounds of a nearby local town.

'We also had the experience and pleasure of getting to know all the local boys from the village,' he said. 'They would meet all of us out by the bay, and we would swim and jump off the pier with them.

'As we left one day just as the sun was setting, all of the local boys ran out to the pier and started whistling and hollering different noises at us. We all started whistling back. The whole harbor became alive with whistles and noise, which we all knew was our way of saying goodbye to each other.'

Their visit to the Marquesas Islands was not without some mishaps, however.

The group found what it thought was a clear location to snorkel off the coast of Nuka Hiva - Marquesas' capital island - and ended up with a host of jellyfish stings.

And on the island of Fata Hiva, Jason wrote that someone removed the identification stickers from their dingy as if they were preparing to steal it.

After Marquesas, Selah's next stop was the atolls of the Tuamotus. These coral islands encircle lagoons that are particularly known for their crystal-clear, aqua-colored water and for their scuba-diving sights.

They're also known for their sharks, but 'we would soon become accustomed to swimming with these scary beasts,' he wrote.

The group even managed to catch a small four-and-a-half footer and kept its jawbones and dorsal fin as souvenirs.

Ashore on the atoll of Manihi, Zach and Jason happened to meet Fernando, a local baker, pearl farmer, fisherman and head pastor of the island's Mormon church.

Fernando acted as an ambassador to island life, taking them spear fishing, deep-sea tuna fishing and to his pearl farm.

At the farm, oysters grow on ropes that are strung vertically about 10 feet under water. The group dove and harvested two pearls apiece, Jason wrote, and Fernando showed us how to manipulate oysters to cause them to make another pearl.

'It reminded me of a surgeon doing surgery on something,' Jason wrote.

After Manihi was a stop at Rangiroa, the second largest atoll in the world. There, Selah crewmembers tried their hands at scuba diving, receiving their basic certification as divers.

The group will continue to use this skill during the rest of its journey, which has included stops in Tahiti, where the Jason's mother and sister came to visit, and will include stops in The Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia and Australia.

The crew will return to Oregon in October after what Jason wrote has already been a 'life-changing experience.'

'We also know that this trip would not just be a 'vacation' where we get tan and see cool things, but it will also be very tough and trying at times, and we will be tested in many ways that will push us to change from boys into men as we take on responsibility,' he wrote in a journal entry prior to their departure. 'The memories we are making and the experiences we are having will definitely be things I will never forget.'

For updates on Selah's journey and to chart its location, visit http://selahway.tumblr.com.