Because of his hurdling potential he could have had a free ride at USC, but instead chose Santa Barbara State to get away from home. In his freshman year he corrected exam papers, worked in a restaurant, played basketball and continued to pursue track. The first time Kilroy was asked to try the high jump in competition, he used the classic, leg-tucked Western roll and put so much misdirected vim into his initial attempt at the starting height of 5'6" that he not only cleared the bar, but also sailed out the far side of the pit. He got his hurdle time down to 14.6—which didn't matter much by the middle of 1940, because the dark clouds of World War II were busting open, relieving the employment drought in California. Kilroy went to work as a tool-bin clerk at Douglas Aircraft, ending up as an assistant chief inspector before leaving as a member of the Army Air Corps. He came out of the war with $156 and a conviction that after having had a long education in what it was like to be poor, he should start learning how not to be. He made enough money as a real-estate broker to convince bankers to lend him a lot more to realize his dream of industrial parks.
His subsequent prosperity allowed him the luxury of his four Kialoas and also involved him in all sorts of activities—civic, athletic, educational and political. Of all his affiliations, the most unusual one is the Lucky 13 Club, an informal association of Kilroy cronies, which he co-founded as a schoolboy.
As a boy, while he was doing tedious work that didn't require much brains, Kilroy would run words and numbers through his mind, mulling over their origins and interrelation. "I have been interested in the number 13 since grammar school," he says. "People talk about Friday the 13th and not walking under ladders, so I made a point of walking under ladders on Friday the 13th. I love 13. I like the sound of 'one' and 'three.' I don't like the sound of 'two' or 'seven' or 'eight.' 'One-two' doesn't sound like much. It's a down sound. 'One-three' has a lift to it." Insofar as his coaches allowed, he always wore the number 13.
He didn't take up sailing seriously until the early '50s, when his business was doing well. His first overnighter was a 46-foot Island Clipper, Serena, with sail number 13. At about the time he bought Serena, in an idle moment, mulling over numbers as he had done as a boy, he realized that the combination of digits in his home address and home phone and office address and phone and regional-office address and phone, by pure chance, added up to 13. He has been thirteening it ever since. His first Kialoa's sail number was 265, his second 742—both digit combinations that total 13. For his third Kialoa he requested and got 13751, because it starts with a 13 and ends with a digit combination totaling 13. His present Kialoa has sail number 13131, which gives him two 13s backward or forward.
Does this sort of mystical numerology help? Of course it does. In this day, when even creepy little 40-footers have loran, satellite signals and computers, it's only the magic numbers that keep bringing Kilroy—and Kialoa—into port first.