Unhitched and Afloat in Clear Waters

Grassroots energy and enthusiasm—plus a willingness to drive many miles to the destination—make Arizona’s Havasu Pocket-Cruiser Convention an annual winter success. "Passage Notes" from our November 2011 issue.

Arizona's Havasu Pocket-Cruiser Convention

Mark Wilson

Owners of the largest fleet of mixed-design trailerable pocket cruisers ever assembled voyaged over mountains, reached across broad deserts, and dug their boats out of huge snowdrifts to participate in the 2011 version of the rapidly growing Havasu Pocket-Cruiser Convention.

A total of 139 trailerable boats, from 16 states and Canada and representing 34 past and present manufacturers, enjoyed balmy, mid-February sunshine as their crews partied and sailed under the original, fully restored London Bridge, at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Now in its fourth year, this winter rendezvous is a remarkable example of nautical social networking. The event has grown from a few dozen U.S. West Coast Montgomery and West Wight Potter sailors spending a weekend together to an eight-day festival of fun at which everyone’s welcome.

When Sean Mulligan, the originator and driving force behind the event, logged on to the website six months before the rendezvous, he found the message board exploding with activity. Past participants offered a wealth of creative ideas and volunteered to assist him to expand the event, and many sponsors from the marine industry came on board.

The excitement and momentum grew; by November 2010, registration flew past Mulligan’s goal of 100 boats. As the volume of messages increased daily, friendships blossomed among sailors who usually have few marina or yacht-club affiliations. Finally meeting people face-to-face after you’d communicated with them only through the message board generated a unique level of camaraderie and proved to be one of the true highlights of the event.

Better known as a seasonal destination for spring break and a summer spot for bikini babes and powerboaters, Lake Havasu in the off-season is beautiful, rugged, and tranquil.

Crystal waters, crisp air, majestic mountains, and 45 miles of gunkholing shoreline provide a perfect environment for winter-sailing adventure. Among the keys to the event’s success are the specially priced hotel suites, with boat slips, that go for $99 a night and keep crews warm and happy. The 2011 event included daily low-key races, an overnight cruise and barbecue, seminars, evening parties, and the spectacular fleet parade under London Bridge.

Since the rendezvous, the message board stays active as sailors share photos and make plans for the 2012 convention, planned for February 13 to 20. Among them are these three participants who are very active in the pocket-cruiser community.

Beginnings: Sean Mulligan
Sean Mulligan grew up in the once sail-friendly town of Lake Havasu City. Over the years, the exhilarating windsurfing, fast cats, and weekly beer-can races of his youth were scuttled in favor of more power, more noise, and less clothes. Sean, a firefighter, and his wife, Jo, a school principal, found themselves without sailing companions. They began nautically networking, and on the web they discovered the Southern California West Wight Potter Association. Joining a fun group of owners of pocket cruisers, they took their first cruise aboard their refurbished Montgomery 23, Dauntless, to Anacapa Island, one of California's Channel Islands.

Enjoying the freedom of a quickly rigged trailer-sailer while expanding their circle of friends, Sean and Jo sailed up and down the California coast with Potter and Montgomery owners groups. Eventually, after having another great time cruising among the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington in the company of friends—it was their second trip there—Sean decided to stage an event to bring sailing back to Lake Havasu. “Now I have 400 sailing buddies and many great friends all over the country, and we know that there are so many great places to explore,” he says.

Besides building a social event around sailing, Sean has accomplished another important personal goal. “I really wanted to find a way to help out my town,” he says of his community, which was hit hard in the U.S. recession. The convention is now the town’s largest water event, generates revenue for the city, and has become a great source of pride.

Networking Pioneer: Judy Blumhorst
Growing up in a Massachusetts sailing family, Judy Blumhorst was solo sailing prams and dinghies by the time she was 8 years old. She gained her knowledge of sailboats and sail plans by crewing on a variety of boats in Boston Harbor. Her interest in sail efficiency helped her advance to amateur windsurfing's highest levels.

When she moved to San Francisco 20 years ago, Blumhorst became involved with the Northern California West Wight Potter Association, and she served as commodore for three years. She initiated one of the first electronic newsletters for sailors. Enthusiastic participation in monthly weekend events led her to organize the Monterey Cruiser Challenge, a weekend of low-key racing and sailing camaraderie that continues to thrive.

Today, Blumhorst and her family sail Redwing, a West Wight Potter 19, and Bijou, a Catalina 27. She maintains a technical and social website for both. Each boat makes a distinct contribution to her family's coastal cruising.

“You can go more places in the Potter because it’s trailerable,” Blumhorst says. “It’s a tough little boat that can squeeze in anywhere.” When it comes to maximizing sailing time, “the smallest boat that gets the job done is the right boat,” she says. Her family’s tall-rigged Bijou allows them to sail on San Francisco Bay, where the stiff winds offer a real challenge and plenty of opportunities for her to hone her skills.

Blumhorst has also promoted cruising spinnakers for pocket cruisers for years. “Cruising chutes are perfect for downwind sailing on pocket cruisers,” she says. “They’re small, and they’re easily launched and doused from the safety of the cockpit.”

The expertise serves her well in her role as a small-boat specialist for Hyde Sails USA. She enjoys providing “a custom sail-building experience to pocket-sailer clients,” whom she feels are underrepresented.

Singlehander: Larry Yake
Larry Yake, a relative newcomer to sailing, is another pocket cruiser who's used nautical networking to maximize his enjoyment of the sport. Whitewater rafting and kayaking occupied his recreational time while he grew up in the eastern part of Washington state. When he turned 40, he combined his interests in water activities and weather patterns to teach himself to sail.

At first, escaping alone to the wilderness on Corndog, his Montgomery 19, he enjoyed exploring two of Idaho’s gems, Priest and Pend Oreille lakes. “I liked sailing alone and anchoring at night to watch the stars and northern lights,” says Yake, but eventually his desire to sail with—and learn from—others led him to various small-craft websites and flotilla cruising.

Before long, Yake was leading his own cruises to the San Juan Islands for Montgomery owners. He does this every other year, and he’s now organizing his seventh event. “I’m always thrilled by people’s first reactions to the absolute beauty of the San Juan Islands,” he says. “It’s always fun to go in a group, and I always learn something new from other sailors.” His latest two-week event was set to include more than 25 boats.

One of Yake’s joys remains sailing and exploring solo. “Last June, I trailered my boat farther north into Canada, took a ferry across to Vancouver Island, then drove another 100 miles north to Desolation Sound,” he says. “Wow! Rugged mountains, waterfalls, wildlife, great anchorages, huge, 20-foot tide swings, and, best of all, no crowds in June!” Yake has completed extensive modifications to Corndog and is happy to share his ideas. Future plans include a cruise following the Inside Passage through Canadian and Alaskan waters.

Pocket-Cruiser Convention fan Mark Wilson sails Triggerfish, his Catalina 18, out of Huntington Lake, California.