Cruising around on Catamarans

In the trying weeks between Black Friday and Santa’s ballyhooed visit, where else would you want to be but in the Caribbean and sailing?

Catamaran Adventure Charter

The crew of the Lagoon 420 Shrek considered December sailing in the British Virgin Islands the perfect cure for holiday stress.Rick Martell

A postcard-perfect morning of blue skies, glittering emerald waters, and steady easterly trades embraced Shrek, a Lagoon 420 anchored at Cooper Island, in the British Virgin Islands, as its crewmates prepared to raise the main and head up Sir Francis Drake Channel to North Sound, at Virgin Gorda.
"You wanna sail?" asks skipper Ken Rollins. "We're headed right into the wind, and we got 15 knots."

It seemed the natural thing to do. With that, another installment in the long-running series of CW’s successful Sail-a-Cat Adventure Charters really got its game on. Sail-a-Cat is but one of an array of trips offered through the magazine’s Adventure Charter program, which for more than 25 years has guided sailors through organized flotillas to destinations all over the globe.

This particular flotilla, hosted in December 2010 by yours truly and my partner, Captain Rick Martell, was billed as a chance for participants to try out multihulls while hearing tales from our years spent sailing and living in the Caribbean; in fact, the stories from my fellow sailors, heard while we gunkholed our way through the popular archipelago, are what made the experience so appealing to us.

The Rollinses’ sailing story hooked me in, pronto. These folks, who sail Sea Karma IV, a Catalina 35, from the Gulf Coast of Alabama, aren’t only vets of Sail-a-Cat; they’re vets of Shrek, as well. Change has come to both boat and crew over time, and the family—Ken; his wife, Trudy; their son, Chad; and his wife, Chris—possessed ample doses of good humor about how time makes an impression on humans and hulls.

So did other crewmates aboard the eight-pack cat, who found their patience tested by the boat’s systems and hardware. “But all the water’s on the outside,” says crew William “Denny” Clinton. “So that’s a good thing.”

Once under way, the Lagoon ingratiated itself by making short work of the hop northeast to Virgin Gorda. “We’re gonna tack!” Ken calls out to the ladies sunning themselves on the foredeck. “You’ll have a sheet come across your head.”

So we rolled over a bit—there’s so much room on the foredeck of a cat that shifting from starboard to port involved no serious climbing, as it can aboard a monohull. Ours was more a move away from the heat of the sun. “When they tack, we tack,” says Chris.

As we slid past Spanishtown, on Virgin Gorda, Chris told me that she was enjoying the post-exam break from her position on the faculty of the St. Louis University School of Law. The trip, she explained, was a birthday present for Chad. “We decided that this is where we’d be,” she says.

Chad’s mom, Trudy, who’s sailed since 1983, prefers line-of-sight sailing to ocean crossings. While Ken, Denny, my Rick, and Shrek crewmate Rick Flack sailed the boat, she relaxed and reminisced about their first Sail-a-Cat, which circumnavigator and CW contributor Tania Aebi hosted. “We talked a lot about the responsibility of sailing,” Trudy says. “And I always remember her saying, ‘Why do something if you don’t have to?’ This is great sailing.”

As we closed in on our destination, stomachs rumbling, Trudy offered up a snack. “Here, have a Frito. It’s a Rollins family tradition. Whenever we take the kids out, we have Fritos. Chad broke them open last night.”

Devoted Daughters and Fast Friends
Once Shrek was moored off Virgin Gorda's Bitter End Yacht Club, Rick and I bid farewell to the crew and went ashore for a cool drink. While we wiggled our toes in the sand, we spied our longtime pals Joanne Yacko and Judy Moloughney, crewmates on the Lagoon 440 Castellina II. Like Chad Rollins, Joanne celebrated a birthday on this trip, but the story didn't end there.

“We’re summer friends,” Joanne says, gesturing toward Judy and explaining that they met more than 35 years ago when their families spent summers in their beach houses in New Suffolk, on New York’s Long Island. Joanne and Judy remained friends through the years, and now they both live year-round in New Suffolk with their mothers. They live three blocks apart, and their mothers have become close friends.

“We commiserated that life’s too short and that we wanted to go off and do something that we’d love to do,” says Joanne. “To take a breather from our responsibilities and have an adventure. It’s a recharger for us, and I think we’ll go back with a positive attitude.”

Judy, whose husband died two years ago, said she improved her sailing skills before this trip by going out on day jaunts with fellow Castellina II crewmate Joe Farrell aboard his Hunter 31.

“When you’re single, so many times you feel like a third wheel,” Judy says. “But here you feel like you can be part of a team instead of being passive, like on a cruise.”

Adds Joanne: “We wanted this on our bucket list.”

No sooner does she utter those words than a man relaxing on a lounge chair next to us exclaims, “You’re too young for a bucket list!” Such endearments, especially from a complete stranger, were met with great approval from the pair.

Castellina II crewmates Wayne Lange and Diane Kelley agreed that the trip was a sorely needed break from the cares of the real world.
"I was down about a business deal that collapsed," Wayne says. "Then I saw the ad, and I made a phone call."

There were other good reasons to do the trip, too: For one thing, the couple wanted to gain experience handling a multihull. “I just want to get comfortable so I can put friends who aren’t sailors on a boat with me and it’ll be OK,” Wayne adds. “Cats give you more room.”

And Diane was eager to meet other sailors as well and to learn the ropes. “We knew there were things we didn’t know, and we were hoping to learn more of the technical aspects of sailing a cat,” she says. “What I’m learning is that it’s not too difficult with 44 feet. I love cats.”

Winning Trio
Can you imagine putting three strangers, two Canadians and one from the U.S. Midwest, on the same boat for the first time? That's exactly what happened with the crew combination aboard Tony, a Gemini 34.

When Rick and I came aboard for the motorsail from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke, skipper Steve Craiggs of Calgary was nonchalantly brushing his teeth off the stern. Given Tony's compact accommodations, I wasn't so surprised by this, and it hinted that Steve might be pretty familiar with the liveaboard bareboat routine.
Indeed, he is. Not only was this the businessman's eighth trip to the B.V.I.; he'd also taken CW Adventure Charters to Greece and Croatia. By the end of Sail-a-Cat, he was already inquiring about another charter that the magazine is putting on with partners and vacation brokers Peter and Carol King in 2011.
"OK, you can cast off, guys," he calls out to mates Lawrence Elliott and Jim Ziss as we slipped off the mooring and exited the narrow channel of the Anegada anchorage. Ultimately, our voyage transitioned from a downwind run with the jib poled out by means of the boat hook to a complete motorsail. But it dampened no one's spirits, and it gave us a chance to get to know the crew while Steve remained at the helm.

Lawrence, a public-health physician and professor from Winnipeg, and Jim, a retired mechanical engineer from Sandusky, Ohio, each possessed some nautical know-how, yet both seemed content enough to let Steve take the reins while they took orders. They praised the inclusive nature of the flotilla. “The nice thing about these trips is that they’re single friendly,” Lawrence says, “which is great if you can’t get a group together or if your plans fall through.

“Before this trip,” Lawrence says with a laugh, the three of them had “sailed together only by phone.”

Steve gave the best signal of all about onboard morale on the last night, at a lively farewell dinner party we hosted aboard our charter boat, Jack Sparrow, a Lagoon 500, while moored at The Bight, at Norman Island.

“We’re the three Tonys from Tony,” he declares. “This is my brother Tony, and this is my brother Tony.” The crowd ate it up, and so ended another memorable sailing flotilla in paradise.

Elaine Lembo, CW's deputy editor, also writes about chartering. For details about CW Adventure Charters click here.