Pam Gibson sets sail – again

Pam Gibson, former city manager, former reporter, former member and chair of too many boards and commissions to conveniently count, author, mother, wife and cancer-survivor, is retiring again.

The last time she and her husband, Mark, retired, they bought a 36-foot trawler and began a marine odyssey up the eastern seaboard that sounded at first, to those who knew them, like a voyage into the sunset.

They slipped in and out of romantic ports (and at least once off a Florida sandbar that briefly snagged them) finding pockets of seaport history that appealed to Pam’s love of America’s past.

But romance wears thin when you’re lugging loads of laundry to the nearest washing machine and your progress is constantly interrupted by the whims of weather you can’t control.

So, after less than a year Pam and Mark were back in Sonoma and Pam was knee-deep again in causes and committees and taking assignments from the Index-Tribune.

That was 2007, and while all looked calm on the service, the Gibsons were all the while quietly plotting their next escape. Mark, an engineer, went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers conducting hydrophonic surveys in the Delta and gaining Coast Guard certification. Pam became a key cog in the team directing the future of the Sonoma Community Center – among many other things – while writing another book (the exact count is unclear but there are at least six, three or more of which have already been published).

Running off to sea is a proud (and sometimes whimsical) tradition, and the Gibsons seemed unable to shake the allure. That they decided to do so again should have been predictable to those who know them – including their children – because the first time they did it, the kids came with them, on a 35-foot sailboat that leaked like a sieve, blew its engine and tested the family ties.

The second sojourn up the East Coast was an experience for which Pam was, she said in retrospect, “totally unprepared ... I was fighting it tooth and nail.”

This time is different, she said, before departing overland to Puget Sound where the new boat – a 32-foot Nordic Tug named Sea Bear – was to be delivered by truck. The name is a reference to Sonoma’s Bear Flag roots and the fact that both Pam and Mark are UC graduates.

“It’s very comfortable,” she said. “Double berth, enclosed head and shower, plenty of storage space.”

The itinerary is, as they say, fluid. Summer plans call for a route from Port Townsend to Victoria, B.C., possibly to Vancouver, up into Desolation Sound, back through the San Juan Islands.

They’ll leave the boat in Olympia, Washington, to interrupt the marine journey with a car trip from Sonoma to all 21 California missions (“part of my bucket list,” says Pam) before driving cross-country to the East Coast, then down to Alabama for a family Thanksgiving and back to Sonoma for Christmas.

Then they’ll ship the boat to the Gulf of Mexico – probably at Houston – and from there the real trip begins. Pam and Mark intend to attempt the Great Loop – a 5,000- to 7,500-mile journey, all by boat, from the Gulf, around the isthmus of Florida, up the Intercoastal Waterway to the Hudson River, up the Hudson to the Erie Canal, on to the Great Lakes, over to Chicago, down the Illinois River to either the Mississippi or back up the Ohio and down the Tennessee and the Tombigbee Canal to the Gulf.

It’s an increasingly popular trip for retired boat owners, who refer to themselves as “Loopers” and even have a national association and annual


The timetable for this extended adventure will be driven in part by speed and weather – the Great Lakes tend to freeze in the winter and hurricane season in the Gulf runs from May to November – and Pam explained there plans are not set in cement, a substance to be avoided at sea. If the Great Loop works out, thel motor down through the Florida Keys and, she said brightly, “At some point we’ll come back.”

Index-Tribune readers will probably know when that will be if they read Pam’s periodic posts online or in these pages as she writes them. With contracts for at least two more books, Pam expects to be exercising her keyboard onboard ship. The Index-Tribune will be along for the ride.