USA-26 One Life J/99

Eight Bells: My dear friend, Bret Espey

Bret in August of 2020
(Photo credit: Mickey Jacobson)

If you’ve sailed with One Life or asked, you’ve probably heard my story about how her name is wrapped up in a realization about my own “half life” as a human being.

When you’re 20, you can easily imagine being 40. When you’re 30, old 60 seems but you can get your head around (some day well into the future) being 60. When you’re 40, the “half-life” math starts getting concerning as you legitimately question if you’ll make it 80. At the young age of 45, your head tilt becomes more pronounced as you ponder the chances of reaching 90. By the time you’re 50, you’re betting on exceptional genetics (or the biotech industry) to get you to 100. After 50 you pretty much stop the “half-life” exercise — if you’re smart — and start focusing on making the absolute most of the One Life you’ve been granted.

Sometimes, however, the fates make other plans and intervene far earlier.

On Wednesday morning, July 7th, I received a text which shocked me to my core. My good friend of over 35 years died the day before of what was likely a heart attack. Bret was just a month shy of his 55th birthday.

Bret, along with our friends Loran and Mickey, played a huge role in my college years and later in life. They were among my first friends in college and the four of us have many, many stories from those days we always enjoyed reminding each other of every time we met. Those stories continued with many post-college adventures.

The four of us are, in every aspect that matters, brothers.

As I write this a few days later, I’m still numb. I can’t believe Bret won’t be with us the next time I get together with Loran and Mickey. I can’t believe the four of us won’t go sailing again. I can’t believe all four of us won’t be together next month at his brand new dream home on a lake outside of Bellingham.

I can’t believe his two boys have to deal with losing a parent so early in their lives. I was about the same age as Bret’s youngest when I lost my Mom — an adult out of college, but still far too young to lose a parent. I can’t believe his wife doesn’t get to grow old with him now on the porch of the lake house as they’d always hoped to do. I can’t believe his sister and her kids don’t get to have their big brother and their uncles any longer. I can’t believe Loran’s three daughters won’t have their Uncle Bret any longer. And his Mom… Sigh, no parent should have the pain of outliving their children.

Bret had many friends because that’s the kind of guy he was. Forgiving, incredibly kind, and loving. My love goes out to all of them as well — particularly his best friend and next door neighbor Jeff and his family.

A couple hours after I learned Bret was dead, it unexpectedly started raining in Seattle. It lasted less than 5 minutes and vanished as quickly as it came. I posted on Facebook about how the sky was crying, because that’s exactly what it felt like.

I’ll miss you, Bret/Bretski/Terb. A loss amongst the four of us was always going to be tough, but to lose you so soon breaks my heart.

Bret (right), Loran (bottom), Mickey, and me in Deer Harbor during our BROVID 2020 cruise to the San Juans on One Life.
Man, I love these guys…
(Photo credit: Loran Jonak)
Bret, me, Loran, and Mickey showing off Mickey’s wonderful gift of matching watches for the four of us. This pub crawl in Portland in 2015 brought us all together after far too long apart and kicked off a committment to get together as often as possible.
Mickey, me, Loran, and Bret in Vegas outside the world-famous Atomic in 2016.
Bret, Loran, Loran’s wife Marguerite, Mickey, and me at Seattle’s Figurehead Brewing in 2018.


Since around the 1500s, watches on board ship have been four hours. Unlike land bells which ring to mark hours, bells aboard ships happen every 30 minutes. The end of shift was marked by eight bells, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding.

At some point in marine history, the ringing of eight bells became used to mark the passing of a sailor — particularly one well-loved by their crew.

Given how broadly loved Bret was to all who knew him, I figured it made for an appropriate title for this post.

1 thought on “Eight Bells: My dear friend, Bret Espey

  1. Wow, that was beautiful,
    I own a martial arts school and have known the family for years.
    Thank you for sharing

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