Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Reaching a Far Horizon

The story of buying, owning, and later moving aboard a charter sailboat in the British Virgin Islands
by Alice Rutherford

Chapter One
In The Beginning…

It was my parents’ fault. That’s more than just a statement of the obvious regarding my birth and existence. My parents were also responsible for instilling in me a love of travel. When I was a child my parents bought a 16-ft. travel trailer—a real novelty in the mid-’50s. At an early age I learned to appreciate and enjoy the warmth of the tropical Florida sun in February. It was a great adventure to be nomads for two weeks every winter while my parents, my brother, and I explored many new places along the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts to Miami.

So when my husband Jim and I bought our first sailboat 25 years ago, the odyssey was renewed. Jim had learned to sail on a lake near where he was living when we started dating, and we spent many relaxing afternoons and evenings sailing one of the sailing club’s 16-ft. Rebels. Marriage, a cross-country move, and children intervened for several years before we were able to afford our own day-sailer. But from that day on sailing was a family affair. It wasn’t long before we started trailering the day-sailer to a variety of lakes, frequently tent-camping on a lakeshore when we had the opportunity. In our travels we noticed that some sailboats provided shelter from the elements and a few quality-of-life amenities in the form of a cabin. What a concept! One day on our local lake we had an opportunity to go aboard and tour a Catalina 25. We were hooked. What fun it would be to sail and camp at the same time without ever leaving the water! For me the cozy yet spacious feel of the Catalina’s interior was reminiscent of my early years and the travel trailer. At the time, however, a Catalina 25 was definitely not within our financial parameters. So after a couple of years with the day-sailer we bought a used Clipper 26 as a compromise. It was spacious enough for Jim and me and our two small kids, Mike and Lauri; it was easily trailerable; and—most importantly—it was affordable. In addition to family cruising weekends on Indiana’s Monroe Reservoir, that boat provided us with our first experiences of coastal sailing. In the two summers that we had it we trailered it to Hollywood, Florida, where Jim’s parents were living. The Florida Straits was where I first got seasick, where we first sailed through a nasty squall, and where we first tasted the exhilaration of cruising to a destination. We knew then that cruising was meant to be a substantial strand in the fabric of our lives.

By the end of the second year with the Clipper 26 (Phantasie Petite) Jim was pretty well established in his career as a chaplain/pastoral counselor in Indianapolis’s Neighborhood Health Centers. However, funding for his position was an annual question mark. Also by then, I had begun my career as a school counselor, but had been tripped up by a “reduction in force” and was between jobs. So with only one somewhat-tenuous income, what better time to buy that Catalina 25 that we were still in love with? When we saw a brand new one sitting on the floor of a local boat show, complete with all the features that we wanted (almost), we knew she was meant to be ours. Well, I knew anyway. Jim needed some convincing. Never one to make any major purchase without extensive financial planning and soul-searching, he resisted the temptation until the last possible moment when the boat show was about to close. Before the day was over a contract was signed, earnest money changed hands, and we went home to put Phantasie Petite up for sale. On Lauri’s 7th birthday we joyfully made the trip to the dealer to participate in Phantasie II’s commissioning and bring her home.

Phantasie II was immediately a vital part of the family. Since she wasn’t as easily trailerable as the Clipper 26, we secured a slip at a marina on Lake Monroe, which had already become our weekend cruising ground. Every Friday night in the spring, summer, and fall we packed clothing, food, and toys for a weekend on the water, and every Sunday night we dragged ourselves back home. We explored every cove and creek-bed on the lake. Over the 19 sailing seasons we spent on Lake Monroe aboard Phantasie II Mike and Lauri learned how to entertain themselves and each other with swimming, reading, shore exploration, star gazing, creature watching, card playing, and myriad other activities not requiring TV or anything else electronic. Several summers they took sailing lessons on Laser II’s and participated as partners in a youth racing program, winning several trophies each. Phantasie II gave Jim and me opportunities to learn and hone skills in sail trim, navigation, radio communication, provisioning, bottom-painting, maintenance of fiberglass, teak, and an outboard engine, etc.—not to mention the arts of conversation and relaxation. During those years our family weekends were sacrosanct, so our kids were deprived of weekend activities such as soccer and sleep-overs. In exchange they got heavy doses of quality family time, interaction with nature, and a sense of adventure and excitement with each new day.

While trailering Phantasie II was more complicated than trailering Phantasie Petite had been, cruising grounds farther afield called and we responded. Over the years we towed her for one-to-three-week vacations to a variety of destinations, each one providing memorable adventures. In the Florida Panhandle we discovered the whitest sand we’ve ever seen and enjoyed daily dolphin watches. In southwest Florida we found Charlotte Harbor and Burnt Store Marina, places which would take center stage in our later lives. Southeast Florida was where we first experienced marina living for several days, and the Keys provided us with our first opportunities in snorkeling; the rainbow of colors at Molasses Reef has never been matched in our experience. On Lake Michigan we got a taste of cruising in northern climes, and decided that we prefer swimsuits over sweatshirts as sailing attire. Each of those vacation cruises did its share in nurturing our embryonic desire to live the cruising life.

Somewhere around twenty years ago we decided to try chartering as a sometime alternative to trailering. That gave us the opportunity to experience sailing larger and different production boats. We enjoyed chartering in some of the same cruising grounds to which we had previously trailered—a Watkins 29 and an O’Day 32 in the Keys, a Catalina 30 in the Florida Panhandle, a Catalina 36 on Lake Michigan, and an Endeavor 37 and two Catalina 30’s in southwest Florida. Notice the pattern of Catalinas in the list. Because our love affair with Catalina Yachts that began over 25 years ago has never dimmed or faltered, we chartered Catalinas of various sizes whenever possible. While we were adding to our chartering resume and enjoying our family vacations, we were also expanding our cruising experience. Through our sampling of boats and locations we began to crystallize a vision of someday living aboard (most likely a Catalina) and spending time at a leisurely pace visiting the many coastal communities that attracted us.

We also started attending boat shows whenever we could. We loved the opportunity to board and poke around a large variety of production boats. Over time our research led us to some decisions. First, we decided that we would never own anything but a Catalina. In our view no other production line offered the high level of quality, spaciousness, customer service, and affordability that we consistently found in Catalina Yachts. We changed our minds several times about the size of a future boat, settling on a 36 for some time, and our plans for when that future would become reality were vague. But eventually another decision born out of being boat show regulars was that we would live aboard and cruise full time, rather than maintain a home base, and that we would embark on the cruising lifestyle upon retirement from our careers. Incidentally, one other outcome of our annual boat show attendance was an eclectic collection of fender hangers. It seemed that every time we went there was another booth hawking the latest concept in simplifying hanging fenders over the side, and I was always willing to give it a try. As with most innovations, some worked and some didn’t.

When Mike had moved out and Lauri had gone off to college we got the boater’s malady called “two-foot-itis”. Granted, it wasn’t logical that, after so many years of the four of us on our Catalina 25, as empty-nesters we wanted to move up to a Catalina 30, but are boaters ever logical? Anyway, we first attempted to “rescue” a neglected Catalina 30 (sadly but appropriately named Lost Sailor) at our sailing club by offering what we thought was a fair price for a fixer-upper. But the owner, who never sailed her and therefore had little knowledge of her condition, had a vastly different notion of her worth. So we watched Lost Sailor continue to deteriorate and went in search of an alternative. By then we had discovered and fallen in love with Pine Island Sound in southwest Florida and were thinking of a boat for retirement there, but hadn’t yet made the decision to live aboard full time. We found a possible purchase in another city and began looking at creative financing to make her affordable. I even came up with a name appropriate to the Burnt Store area of Florida where we hoped to live in retirement—Caloosa Spirit—named for the Caloosa Native Americans who had once populated the area. However, with a hospital merger at hand, Jim’s ever-elusive job stability was once again in question. So with college expenses as our first priority we deferred a boat purchase for another time.

At the various boat shows we attended we dreamed of chartering in exotic places like the Bahamas or the British Virgin Islands, but such charter destinations were financially out of reach. When Mike was in college our sailing club organized a flotilla with Sun Yacht Charters in the British Virgin Islands. While it was an excellent opportunity, especially since many of the charter boats were Catalinas, we passed it up on the basis of cost—especially in view of college expenses. Of course, we heard the rave reviews and saw the slide shows when the group returned, and we enviously looked forward to a similar opportunity with better timing. None ever materialized, however—the flotilla charter was a one-time event.

So we continued to visit boat shows, charter, and build our dream to one day own a Catalina 36, live aboard, and cruise the Bahamas and the eastern seaboard. Then came the day that we were in the right place at the right time.

To read the rest of this story, you can click on the book icon above to get to the page in the lulu.com website on which the book is offered for purchase in either a print copy or as a download. Enjoy!

Posted Monday November 1, 2004

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