Randy and Janet Payne’s first date was sailing together on his Hobie Cat. He was a competitive sailor and she was a complete rookie, but a quick learner. Before long, she was his steady crew, first on the boat and, a few years later, in life.
They were married 22 years ago, and they sailed together in national championships from Wildwood to Santa Cruz, Calif., and even in world championships.
But after more than two decades of sailing together, they hit their roughest seas ever two years ago, when Randy was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He died last month at 57.
The Paynes’ home port for sailing was always in Cape May County, although for the first half of their marriage, they lived mainly in Mercer County.
“But one of our dreams was to live at the beach, and (in 2001) we found a place in Cape May Point, just one house from the beach,” Janet said. “It was tiny, though, and we ended up moving to West Cape May, so the girls were a little closer to town.”
Randy and Janet have two daughters — Faith is 21 now, and Grace is 19.
And this family didn’t just buy houses. Randy, a master carpenter, reclaimed them. He could turn a mess into a miracle.
“The first house we bought when we moved down here, I said, ‘There’s no way we can live in that,’” says Faith, who graduated from the University of Hawaii in May. But Randy didn’t just make the place work, he made it shine.
“He always added stuff,” says Faith, another regular crew member on her dad’s boat. “I really wanted a circle window in my bedroom, and he put one in.”
He also worked for lots of other families around Cape May, where his rebuilding jobs won historic-preservation awards.
But when he wasn’t working, Randy was often sailing. He loved to win, but he also enjoyed teaching other people — even competitors — to be better sailors. Even if he was happy to share his knowledge, Randy ignored some common sailing wisdom he heard from lots of people.
“From the time we were just dating, they said, ‘Never sail with your girlfriend,’” Janet says. “But we enjoyed it, and we did very well together.”
Randy’s last major project combined his main passions — sailing, building and family. He bought and started reclaiming a wooden schooner that looked like a disaster to almost everyone else.
“We weren’t afraid of it, because it looked like our first house,” Janet says.
He fought his disease hard, but kept getting sicker. Still, he never lost faith that he’d get healthy, or that his dream boat would, too.
“Even near the end, in his wheelchair, he’d say, ‘Take me over to my schooner. I have to work,’” Janet says.
Randy always knew the right move to make on a sailboat, starting with picking a good crew.
A Life Lived appears Tuesday and Saturday.
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