A Pocket Full Of Possibilities
By Mark Wilson
The fabled Route 66 passes within 15 miles of Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Fittingly, given its reputation as a highway of high-spirited and independent travelers, it played host to many of the 212 small sailboats and 440 adventurous sailors who took it toward the annual Havasu Pocket Cruiser Convention (HPCC) in February. Started seven years ago, HPCC is now the largest rendezvous of trailerable pocket cruisers (defined as small enough to tow, rugged enough to handle an adventure, and roomy enough to sleep below and prepare a meal) ever held in the U.S. The event has grown from a casual weekend get-together of 21 boats, to a 10-day celebration of small-boat sailing, thanks largely to nautical networking websites, media attention, and the energy of organizers Sean and Jo Mulligan.
The Mulligans had several goals in mind when they created the event, not least of all to let people know that Lake Havasu in winter is a boater's paradise, with crystal-clear waters, majestic and rugged mountains, crisp clean air, and 45 miles of shoreline to explore. Sponsored by BoatUS, the event has an impressive lineup of participants. Last year they came from 26 states, four Canadian provinces, and five countries, with an average one-way driving distance of 607 miles. We spoke to a few diehards at this year's event.
Down From The Mountain They Came
Doug and Katie Ames, Palisades, Colorado
The Ameses are lifelong boaters who sail one of the larger pocket cruisers at the event, a Seaward 25, Shadowfax. Katie grew up in England, sailing dinghies with her family, while Doug grew up as a powerboater. "For many years we enjoyed powerboating on Lake Powell," says Doug, "but as Katie's interest in sailing returned, and retirement neared, we looked at sailing as a less expensive and greener way to enjoy boating."
They purchased a Catalina 18, which they brought to their first HPCC four years ago, looking to escape a Rocky Mountain winter and explore new waters. "We arrived a few days early, and found wonderful sailing conditions," says Katie. "That really helped build our confidence and enjoyment of the sport."
"At our first event we learned so many new skills and met so many wonderful people that it proved to be life-changing for us," Doug recalls. "Our entire outlook on sailing changed 180 degrees. Instead of viewing it as an afternoon activity, we envisioned a lifestyle of long summer cruises on Lake Powell and spending extended time living aboard." They quickly realized that their Catalina 18 wouldn't fit their soon-to-be-retired lifestyle, and after looking at the vast variety of trailerable boats at HPCC, decided on the Seaward 25.
Their HPCC connection continues year round. "We now have plans to join a San Juan Island flotilla cruise with other HPCC members, as well as hosting our own Lake Powell flotilla this fall," says Doug. "Even if you don't have a boat or don't want to tow in winter, there are always open spots on boats. You don't need to be intimidated if you have limited experience, because there will always be people with less experience than you and an abundance of people willing to help you rig, launch, and sail."
Carl and Sarah Berger, Henderson, Nevada
When Sarah and Carl Berger began dating five years ago, Sarah had never sailed before. Her husband loves to tell the story of how she fell in love with the sport first, and him later. "I tested her to see if she really wanted to go sailing," he says. "She had to eat a ‘one-pot' dinner holding her plate in her lap, drink half a six-pack of cheap beer, and watch the movie "Captain Ron" in its entirety." She passed the test, though her first sail was in 25-knot winds. "The more the boat heeled, the bigger Sarah's smile got!" says Carl. After getting married, the couple took great pleasure in researching a new boat to meet their mutual sailing interests, and are very proud of their West Wight Potter 19, Bastante.
This is their third year participating in HPCC. For their first one, all they intended was to have a winter sailing vacation. "We were thrilled with how many wonderful people we met and the several great friendships that have developed," says Sarah. "We've new friends that stay at our house and go sailing with us, and it feels like we've known them for years."
This year the Bergers added more strings to their sailing bow by participating in the HPCC Dixieland Jazz Band. About six months before the event, one of the regular participants, "Trumpet" Nelson, announced he was organizing a Dixieland band. Carl immediately bought a new set of drums, an instrument he hadn't played for years, while Sarah, an excellent cello player, stepped up to play keyboards.
The Hardened Pros
Jeff and Bev Dere, Renton, Washington, and San Francisco, California
Two of HPCC's warmest and most engaging participants are brother-and-sister team Jeff and Bev Dere. Flying their red, white, and blue spinnaker from Jeff's San Juan 21, theirs is often the most exciting boat to watch during the 150-plus boat "Parade of Sails." With a sense of NASCAR-type drama, they skillfully weave their way downwind through the flotilla, dodging unyielding ferryboats, laughing, waving, and taking pictures. They seem to accelerate and decelerate at will, just barely avoiding trading gelcoat with other boats.
Their noticeable talent comes from years of sailing together. Growing up in Palo Alto, California, their father brought home a 14-foot sailing dinghy from Sears when they were in junior high school and this became the focus of family vacations and camping adventures. When they were old enough to drive, they frequently set out on their own to sail in a variety of waters.
For work- and school-related reasons, they both ended up in the Seattle area where Jeff decided a small, trailerable sailboat would give his family the most opportunities to sail different waters. Trailering Jeff's San Juan, they recently explored the Barkley Sound area of Vancouver Island and presented their trip as part of HPCC's "Sailing Gems" seminar series. Bev, wanting to live aboard and take full advantage of the vast cruising area of Puget Sound, opted for a larger boat, a Brandlmayr 32. Aye Aye was her home for 19 years, during which time she and Jeff frequently cruised the San Juan Islands and Desolation Sound areas. She still sails Aye Aye, but doesn't mind downsizing for HPCC. At this year's event she took out several less experienced all-women crews. "I really felt good about sharing some of my sailing experience and knowledge with other women and helping them feel more confident at the tiller," she says.
For Jeff, the annual meeting gives him the opportunity to explore new winter sailing destinations and check out other trailerable boats. "I even won a sail-building kit last year. It took over our living and dining rooms for several months, and I really enjoyed learning how to sew a new main and genoa."
30 Years And Counting
Don and Debbie Boyko, San Diego, California
"We feel like we're part of something special," says Debbie Boyko, recalling how quickly this event has grown. "Six years ago, 21 boats sailed over to the California side of the Colorado River to a restaurant, stayed overnight, and packed up the next day."
The pair, who's been sailing together for more than 30 years, is a model of efficiency when rigging their Catalina 22 Y-Knot. Over the years they've developed a boatload of shortcuts to streamline the rig-and-launch procedure, and are often in the water before a similar boat has their mast up. "The secret to our speed and success is that I stay on the ground while Don works up on the boat," says Debbie. "If I can keep my very talkative husband working while I talk to the friendly bystanders, we can get the boat ready three times faster than with him chatting."
They look forward to learning about new places to cruise each year, enjoy observing how other sailors have customized their boats, and show off their own, unique modifications. During the annual "Pocket Cruiser Boat Show," where participants get to look at the other boats, Y-Knot is one of the most visited. "This is a great way to compare boats before buying and reduce the chance of wasting money and the hassle of buying a boat you know little about," says Don.
Mark Wilson sails his Catalina 18 Triggerfish on Huntington Lake, CA, and his Dana 24 Aurelia out of Channel Islands Harbor, CA. For more information, go to www.sailhavasu.com
— Published: June/July 2013
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