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Serge Becker Pacific Northwest Yachting Woman of the Year
 
Barbara Cochran:
"Tugboat Annie"
  Barbara and Tom Sherman

By Sandy Hershelman

 

One peek at the plaque given to Barbara Cochran, dubbing her the "Serge Becker Pacific Northwest Yachting Woman of the Year", and it's obvious fate was at work. The cute, funky, little boat etched on the plaque looks like something straight out of The Adventures of Pippy Longstocking.

It also looks just like Cochran's Tampa Bay sponge boat, the O.D. Tray.
The 1997 Tugboat Annie Yachting Woman of the Year Award was presented to Port Townsend's Cochran by the Seattle Yacht Club (SYC).

"The prestigious award was first presented by Serge Becker in 1973 to recognize women who have demonstrated outstanding seamanship and given generously of their time to the sport of yachting," explained the SYC's invitation for nominations from all around the Pacific Northwest. Cochran had been nominated by the Port Townsend Yacht Club (PTYC). "I didn't even know about it until they announced it," Cochran said, still amazed at the honor.

When asked recently to edit her nomination for accuracy, Cochran also scratched out the praises heaped upon her by the nominating committee. "She is always eager to be of assistance with excellent boating manners." "The above jobs illustrate her ability for organization." "By her example over the years, she has instructed many adults on the proper handling of a boat and boating manners. Her crews are always well instructed." And, "Always willing to be of help on any committee or function requested by the yacht club or boating community." All crossed out. Effective, organized, efficient — and humble.

"We feel Barbara is the epitome of Tugboat Annie, with her ability and wonderful sense of humor, in addition to her outstanding seamanship," the PTYC's nomination form read.

Never married, Cochran's sailed all over — from Mexico, Panama and the Bahamas to Chesapeake Bay, through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River. She's also explored the San Juan Islands and Southeast Alaska.

With her since the early 1980s, her 35-foot "back yard boat", the O.D. Tray is named for Stephen Foster's song, Old Dog Tray.

O.D. Tray
The O.D. Tray in 1998

In 1989, the O.D Tray ventured from Florida north, from New York through the Erie Canal to Chicago and Great Lakes, down to St. Louis, Mo. From there, it was trucked to Anacortes.

Mostly Cochran sails with a crew of two — she and Tom Sherman.
"Tom Sherman is the first cat I ever had. We never had them as children," Cochran offered. "He was 3 when some friends needed to find him a home, and I said, I'd take him for awhile."
Tom Sherman's dignity betrays his 11 years. However, dignity is totally abandoned to promises of kitty treats, when Cochran's command of, "Road kill," prompts Tom Sherman to drop "dead".

Cochran and Tom Sherman "did Alaska" twice in the past few years.
"Skagway, Alaska. It's the farthest north you can go — almost in the Arctic Circle," Cochran said. "This next year I'm going to go to the San Juans and then I'm going down south, through the Puget Sound."
She's planning on taking full advantage of the PTYC's reciprocal moorage agreements with the area's other yacht clubs.

"I've been up here about five years. I've done Alaska twice, and been around Vancouver Island and in the San Juans, but I haven't seen any Orcas around here," Cochran said.

"Tugboat Annie" used to do all of the work on her boat, but these days she's cutting herself a little slack.
"I was 69 for so long, I believe it myself," Cochran chuckled, although nearly a decade has passed since 69 was indeed her true age. "We have good peasant stock in our family."

Her two younger sisters enjoy the same good health. Her mother smoked until she was 83.
"I smoked from 14 to 60. I stopped, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because I didn't want to spend the money," Cochran offered.

She makes time to volunteer at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, is a member of the Audubon Society, and is a past Water Watcher and library volunteer. She's been secretary of the PTYC and Silvergate Yacht Club. She also worked on the Seven Seas Cruising Association's newsletter for live-aboard, ocean cruising sailboaters.

"When I was a young woman, my mother said to me — because I was always a non-conformist — it doesn't matter what you think, but if you appear to conform, you'll get along better in this world," Cochran said.
The non-conformist recently agreed to be the secretary of the newly-formed Libertarian Party of Jefferson County.

Premed to tuna?
Cochran grew up in West Los Angeles, California.
"When the Depression came, all of the people in the film industry got rid of their big cars and got Fords," Cochran recalled her stepfather's success as a Ford dealer.

"There was no connection to boating in my family," Cochran said. "But, the books I read as a child have had a great influence on my life. When I was growing up I read a lot of books by Arthur Ransom," she pointed to the volumes, on her shelf, alive with the sailboat camping adventures of four children. "I read them 10,000 times — and they're still on my shelf."
As an adult, Cochran even rented a sailboat and sought out the locations detailed in Ransom's books set in the British Isles.

A real turning point in her life came, when Cochran was a premed student at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles).
"I got a ‘C' in organic chemistry. That made me mad. I gave it all up and went commercial fishing," Cochran recalled. "There weren't very many women who fished commercially in 1942. I though it was just wonderful. I fished for maybe seven years. It was great fun. You'd be pulling them in as fast as you could."

She recalled her days battling 15-to-18-pound albacore upon her 23-foot fishing boat, Josephine — and another battle with a Coast Guard paper pusher, who didn't want to give her a license to carry passengers for hire. Eventually, she won.
Albacore in the summer, lobster in the winter. Cochran's pursuits took her from San Diego to Santa Cruz.

"I couldn’t come up north because I was too chicken," Cochran admitted. "The nice thing about that is I worked in the summertime and when the fish went north, I didn’t have anything to do for a few months." And then came the lobsters. "I’d take a hundred pounds of live lobsters to the {Technicolor} studio."

In 1945, while still in her early 20s, Cochran had gone back to school and got a job in the film industry as a negative cutter.
The war was winding down when she bought a houseboat from a friend. Cochran quit fishing — there wasn’t much money in it — and cruised the Caribbean.
"Nothing else would do, I wanted a sailboat like that," she recalled the serenity of sailing. She started saving and commissioned a $2,800 30-foot Japanese-built sailboat — a pink sailboat.

Through the years, Cochran’s owned several different boats. For many years, she and her cousin shared one. Two women living on board a small boat must've been a challenge.
"It wasn’t easy. You couldn’t have anything," Cochran agreed. "I was 45 when I retired, in 1965, and moved to San Diego. We thought we'd retire early, so if we didn't like cruising, we could go back to work. We lived on retirement income from the time we decided to retire."
Just what is the lure of the sea? Big water and a little boat is a potentially scary combination.
"I’m always scared. But, there haven't been any particularly life-threatening moments," Cochran assured. "The wonderful thing is to just be going along and to realize how fortunate I am to be where the air smells good, where the trees aren’t too far away, where the water's smooth and there are no white caps."


Barbara Cochran's story first appeared in the Port Townsend Jefferson County Leader in May 1998. Barbara is still alive and well. Tom Sherman died a few years ago.

 

 

 

 

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Date Last Modified:10/26/03
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