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The Voyage - Idyllic scenes and an ordeal at sea

On the eve of February 2, 1968, Ritter set sail from Santa Barbara, CA aboard his 45-foot yawl, Galilee, headed south on the initial leg of his Pacific voyage. His plan was to paint along the way, hoping to draw new inspiration from his travels. He was living the dream he had held since childhood involving his two great passions - the sea and painting. After the fateful trip, Ritter was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying "You don't buy a boat in order to have a boat, you buy a boat in order to fulfill your frustrated dreams of some kind."

Ritter planned to sail from harbor to harbor along the coast of the Americas before turning west into the South Pacific after visiting the Galapagos Islands. He was accompanied by a frequently changing crew. When Ritter reached Acapulco, Mexico, he realized that he missed the company of Laurie Kokx whose portrait he had painted shortly before he left Santa Barbara. Ritter called Laurie and invited her to join him on the cruise; Laurie flew to Acapulco and remained on the boat until they were later rescued at sea.

The voyage went smoothly at first with the Galilee and her crew visiting North and Central American ports. One of the first ports was Marina del Rey in Los Angeles where Julian stopped to see friends and to promote the voyage.

Bernard Schanz (art dealer and friend) remembers

I was aboard the Galilee when Julian set sail from Santa Barbara, to accompany him down to Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles. A TV crew came down from the local station to record his departure. They set up a scene where Julian was supposed to poke his head out of a hatchway and smile.

Just before they started, one of Julian's crew kicked a can of black paint over, spilling it across the deck and down the side. So, when Julian popped his head up, that was what he saw, and he didn't smile. He had trouble keeping himself from calling the guy a stupid son-of-a-bitch right there on TV. Then, as they were getting underway, casting off their lines, one of his crewmen fell overboard. I said to myself right then, "Oh-oh, something's gonna go wrong here."

Ritter and Kokx stayed in a small hotel in Puntarenas, Costa Rica for six months. Julian loved the town and its people. He made friends with everyone and painted the local characters. He put on a one-man show to repay the kindness of the people of Puntarenas and then sent the paintings back to Los Angeles for a December showing at the Bernard Gallery in Los Angeles, CA.

Laurie Kokx remembers

One day, I was waiting at a bus stop when this fellow came up carrying a pet rooster. He was a real derelict, using newspaper for socks, and he had a terrible stench. But something about him reminded me of Julian. He had his own dignity, an inner dignity.
I said to Julian that night, "You've got to paint this fellow! You've got to!"

So, the same time the next day, I went to the bus stop, and there he was again with his pet rooster on a leash. In my broken Spanish, I tried to explain to him that I wanted him to meet a certain painter.
He didn't know how to take me. And everyone on the bus– you know how nosy people can be–they just couldn't figure it out. Here I was, this young American girl in shorts, trying to pick up "a dirty old bum."

I said, "You come back with me," and paid for his bus ticket.
He was still hesitant, so I gave him ten dollars. That did it; he came with me to Julian's studio. It was funny, Julian couldn't stand his smell. He made him go outside, and did a sketch of him outside. Once he'd seen Julian's paintings, the Rooster Man understood what was up, and he posed willingly, returning for several more sessions.

Ritter left Puntarenas and headed for the Galapagos Islands and later Nuka-Hiva, Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora amongst other places. Julian painted the beautiful landscapes he saw and would take excursions ashore to these exotic locations and people and rough-in a painting which he would later finish on the Galilee which was transformed into a floating art studio.

Laurie Kokx remembers Nuka-Hiva

We became quite well-known in Nuku-Hiva. There weren't that many boats there, for one thing. And Julian was such a charismatic character, with his paintings and his appearance and his charm. We were taken in by the upper-class French, and frequently invited to parties. We even had a private dinner with the French governor and his wife.

Laurie Kokx remembers Papeete

When we arrived in Papeete, we went directly to the navy shipyard to arrange for repairs. While Julian was negotiating with the commanding officer, he sent me ahead to locate a hotel room in town. I asked a gendarme for directions, specifying that we wanted a room with a shower. Maybe he thought we only wanted showers. Anyway, he sent me to a pink building in town, with little, wrought-iron balconies outside each window, located next to the post office.

I should've noticed there was something strange going on. A sign behind the desk read, "All girls must show their cards." But it didn't occur to me that "girls" had a special meaning. Then the clerk came out in a housecoat. I figured she was wearing her housecoat because it was hot. She asked me if I was sure I wanted to stay here. I said yes, because it was cheap.
I was alone in the room, as Julian hadn't returned yet. Strange men began knocking on my door, asking if they could come in. I finally realized I'd checked into a brothel.
Winfried Heiringhoff joined the crew at the South Pacific island of Bora Bora. Ritter prepared the Galilee for the 2500 mile trip to Hilo, HI, making sure the vessel was seaworthy. The Galilee departed Bora Bora on June 17, 1970 expecting to make it to the harbor at Hilo in about 30 days.

Then things started going wrong according to an account in the Los Angeles Times:

Both the motor and a starter coil went haywire. The oil pump and generator broke down. The battery went dead. The sextant proved faulty. And the radio went out. In the days that followed, the boom fell and missed Ritter by a few inches, and once he fell 20 feet while rigging the forward mast.

"And we were in the kind of climate where the stitching in the sails worked loose so we were constantly having to repair sails," Ritter said.

Then the sturdy oak-framed Galilee began to take on water, developing leaks forward and aft.

"We were taking on 75 to 250 gallons of water a day and pumping it out by hand," he said. What began as a pleasant voyage became an 87-day struggle for survival for Ritter and his two companions.

The Galilee and her crew spent the next 87 days adrift. The crew ran out of food after 40 days and survived by making a soup from the algae they would scrape from the hull and seasoning it with nutmeg and cloves. They occasionally caught a flying fish or a couple of squid which they would add to the soup. The algae slowly disappeared from the boat and the crew had nothing to eat and were too weak to even attempt fishing with their improvised hooks. The boat drifted as the crew suffered the agony of relentless hunger and the knowledge that they might die. Ritter and Kokx talked about this every night. Despite all this, Ritter experienced a spiritual awakening that provoked thoughts of new paintings in a new style.

On September 14, 1970, the Galilee was sited by the U.S. Navy combat stores ship, USS Niagara Falls. Ship doctors described the emaciated crew members as "living skeletons only four days away from death." The Coast Guard said finding the ship was "simply a stroke of fate."

Ritter always maintained that they were not lost but simply a distressed vessel unable to right its course. Ritter was quoted as saying "I think the boat is bewitched. I don't like to use that term because people think that you are an idiot, but I do feel it is bewitched, I can't help it."

John Meyer-Radon (who taught Ritter to sail) knew that Julian was not a good sailor so he was surprised that Julian got as far as Central America after leaving Santa Barbara. Meyer-Radon was not surprised that Julian was nearly lost at sea on his Pacific voyage and the turnover in crew was in part the result that crew felt Ritter was not prepared to tackle a trans-Pacific voyage.