When I was 11 years old, my parents wanted me to do something besides get in trouble. So they enrolled me in sailing classes at the Sea Shell Association in Santa Barbara, Calif. From the moment I climbed into that 8½-foot dinghy in 1952, I knew instinctively what to do and sensed I had done it before. I was a natural sailor, and it’s one of the reasons I later wrote “Déjà Vu.”
Sailing alone in that boat for the first time was a transforming experience. I came back the next day and every day after that. Sailing became one of the main streams of my life. I suppose my father was an influence. I remember seeing a photo of him at home sailing a big boat to Bermuda in his 20s. I still have it.
“High Noon” also left a mark. My father, Floyd Crosby, was the film’s cinematographer. I didn’t realize until later, but “High Noon” had blossomed in my head. The movie is technically a Western, but it’s really about an honorable, stand-up guy who sticks to his principles—even when he has to go it alone.
Before long I sailed that dinghy around the harbor alone, getting as close as I could to the big sailboats anchored there—particularly a beautiful wooden schooner that I learned later was designed by John Alden, one of the great American yacht architects. I loved its design and wanted to see how the different lines and sails worked. As my confidence grew, I started sailing to the harbor’s outer buoy. That scared everyone and they tossed me out of the club.
My next big sailing experience came in 1967, after I was thrown out of the Byrds. I borrowed $25,000 from my friend Peter Tork, who was in the Monkees, and went down to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., looking for a schooner. I found one identical to the John Alden-designed boat I had seen years earlier and bought it.
The 74-foot boat was named Mayan and was built in 1947 with Honduran mahogany. The cabins below can sleep eight, but six people is more ideal—four to keep watch and take turns manning the sails and two who can alternate cooking and cleaning.
After I took possession, I had to learn how to sail it. I had never sailed anything larger than 8½ feet, and you need a good wheel-hand—that’s me—and two good deckhands to handle the sails. So I made friends with lots of experienced sailors who wanted to sail on the boat, and they taught me everything I needed to know.