Went out doing what he loved

Published on October 16th, 2023

It remains a mystery of what happened to three Americans who in April disappeared while en route from Mexico to San Diego, CA. Kerry O’Brien, Frank O’Brien, and William Gross, aboard the La Fitte 44 Ocean Bound, had left Mazatlán with plans to stop in Cabo San Lucas but they never arrived.

Six months later, without any answers, Gross’ daughter Melissa offers closure with this tribute. Her dad was a major volunteer for Challenged Sailors San Diego (CSSD) who assisted in keeping the fleet floating, and it was here where she did a memorial during a CSSD sailing day:

First and foremost, thank you for being here and taking the time to honor my dad, Bill. Challenged Sailors has been an integral part of my dad’s life for the last several years.

As many of you know, dad had a passion for sailing and a deep love of the ocean. At Challenged Sailors, he had a chance to share that passion and love with people who might not necessarily have had the opportunity to feel the wind on and salt spray on their face.

He was committed to the mission of this fantastic organization. Maybe sometimes a bit too passionate. I don’t think that man could work on a project without dropping a flurry of f-bombs.

Most of you know the Bill of now – a retired machinist who could fix just about anything. I wanted to share with you about his life on the water. Dad lived on Laneki Beach for several years in his youth. He spent his days on the beach, in the water, and climbing the hills behind his house. Here he fell in love with the Polynesian culture and the water.

William Gross

My grandparents and dad returned to St. Louis, MO in the early-mid 60s where dad finished school. He then moved to San Diego in 1970. Here he rekindled his relationship with the sea, taking a job as a commercial diver and sailing on the weekends.

For 11 years, he was on or in the water as much as he possibly could be. Sailing the bay, Southern California, and Northern Baja coasts. He was a spear fisherman who would joke that he was definitely part of the problem that led to the ban on abalone fishing.

After two kids, my mom and dad decided to move back to St. Louis to raise the kids around family. He spent 13 years away from the ocean, but we were never far from water. We boated on lakes and rivers every summer. Dad went cave diving and spelunking. He is even attributed to the discovery of a massive cave in Jefferson County, MO. He and one other were the first humans to ever step on that ground.

My family returned to San Diego in 1994 and one of the first things we did was go sailing. Us three kids were hooked. In the early 2000s dad, me, and my siblings joined Harbor Island Sailing Club. Together we would sail whenever we had the chance. Dad instilled that passion for sailing and love of the ocean into his kids.

I got it the worst and can recall hour of conversations with my dad talking of sailing the world. We would pull out maps to look at all the places we wanted to go. The places we wanted to dive. It was always the South Pacific and always we were going to go by sailboat. I grew up hearing about the South Pacific and the Polynesian culture, yet another fascination my dad instilled in me.

When my life turned sideways in 2016, and I learned the hard way that tomorrow isn’t promised, my dad was an important key to convincing my husband to get rid of everything we owned, buy a sailboat, and sail the world. All three of us moved to Plan B on November 1, 2019. But like all the best sailing plans they went astray. It kept turning into “next year” and here we are, almost four years later.

But Dad took every opportunity to sail, so when the call came to crew on a sailboat from Mexico back to San Diego, he took it. No one could have stopped him. There are plenty of ‘what ifs’ and of course the ultimate question of what happened. We will probably never have the answer to that question. However, me and my family take solace in the fact that dad went out doing what he loved and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

by John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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