Anyone who has lived and fished in the North East may have heard of Jack Blades Fishing Tackle, formerly located in Atlantic City, New Jersey. From 1960 to 1980 Jack grew the business from nothing into a good sized retail, manufacturing, and mail order business. He retired about 20 years ago when the casino people "made him an offer he couldn't refuse" and purchased his business property. The Trump Castle and Marina now sits there. During his 20 years in business, Jack always had fishing boats of his own, and chartered his "Trophy Hunter" Carolina Sportfishing boat and also his 54' Gulfstar Motorsailer. Both of these boats were built for him, and he was always extremely involved in their design and construction.
When we met in Florida 15 years ago, we looked at a map and realized that between the two of us, we had cruised to every island in the Caribbean, except 3, so we chartered a sailboat for a few weeks and cruised from St. Vincent to Granada to finish the tour. While we were battling one of several tropical storms that plagued us during that trip, we considered that maybe our future cruising would be done in a Winnebago!
We shopped for RV's and rented one to try out. We found ourselves sitting at the shore, looking out at the anchored boats, and knew we belonged out there. But we were done with the big sailboat in the Caribbean, and Jack was tired of endless hours of "running the ditch" in his sportfishing boats. We wanted to cruise Mexico, especially to fish the big Marlin in Cabo. We wanted to cruise the San Juan and Gulf Islands (just inside Vancouver Island, BC), and maybe venture up the Inside Passage. But we didn't want to get our butts kicked in the Pacific!
Now I regress: When I was growing up in California, my Dad had a 26 foot trailerable sailboat which I spent a lot of time on cruising and racing. Jack had the idea of a trailerable cruising/sportfishing boat and I thought it was a great idea since we had gone to Mexico and Canada with my Dad's boat. After talking with my brother, who is a professional boat builder in Florida, and hearing "sure you can build this thing", Jack began to seriously design the boat.
We drew up different plans, and each version got better and bigger. It was about 37' initially, but became 42' after adding the bow pulpit and the swim platform (which later became the fishing platform with 2 small fighting chairs and a railing with rod holders). To see if it would float and how it would actually look, Jack built an exact scale model 42" long, which we tested in the swimming pool!
He had consultations with 3 yacht designers: One said it would never work. Another said it would work. The third, Tom Fexas, said not only would it work but it was exactly how boats used to be designed. Being only 8 1/2 feet wide to be "street legal" on the trailer, it had a 4 to 1 length to width ratio, like the old battleships and PT boats. He said it would not "roll over like a canoe" since Jack had designed a nearly flat bottom, with hard chines, the engines set very wide, and large capacity fuel, water, and sewer tanks built into the hulls bottom for a low center of gravity. Jack managed somehow to get from that flat bottom into a decently flared (Carolina style) bow, making the entry excellent. So with Fexas' blessing, the boat building project began in the boatyard district of Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
I won't go into a lot of construction details now, we do have lots of photos of the whole process. In a nutshell, it was custom "cold molded", using lightweight devinicel foam for the "sandwich core" and epoxy resin. We needed everything lightweight for towing. The boat's name "On Safari" reflects the over-the-top interior design, including an elephant sculpture lamp and leopard spot carpeting. The entire project took 3 years and well over half a million dollars from beginning to launch.
We launched in June 1997 and were blown away by the way she ran! With the Volvo mechanics on board, we got out onto Lake Worth (a wide section of the Intracoastal Waterway) and opened it up. Because of the light weight (22,000 lbs), narrow beam, and sharp entry, we flew. We were planing at 28 knots easily, with just twin 200's. When we took seas we didn't rock extremely like a deep-V hull, the hard chines stopped it. It was everything we hoped for.
Our first cruise was down the coast to and through the Florida Keys, with a quick run over to the Bahamas. Since it was the late summer and fall, we had tropical rains and winds almost daily, but they were no problem. The bridge is fully enclosed with eisenglass, is furnished with leather recliners for helms chairs, and has our queen size bed at the back. With the A/C and autopilot on, our biggest challenge was staying awake! As our friend said,"This is unbearably comfortable".
We loaded up onto the trailer around the end of the year and headed West. This was our first time RV'ing in our new boat. Because Jack had designed all the systems to be land-compatible, we functioned just like a big 5th wheel travel trailer...all water, power, and sewer systems hooked up to the RV Park facilities. The stairs with handrail attached at the swim platform (now acting as our back porch). The cockpit was now the 'mud room' to hold boots and outdoor gear. The rest of the boat was just home. Did I mention that we had sold my business and our two homes and most everything we owned and this was our live-aboard full-time home?
On the way out west, heading for Mexico, we stopped in New Mexico and spoke to Dad in California. He said it was an "el nino" year and we might want to reconsider our plans because the west coast was getting pounded. We learned that el nino also means that the southern Rockies get a lot of snow, so instead of turning left, we turned right and spent the next few months skiing and camping in Santa Fe, Taos, Red River, and Angelfire, New Mexico. Then we headed north and finished the ski season in Telluride, Purgatory, and Wolf Creek Colorado. It was now April and these Florida folks were plenty tired of the snow, so we trailered down to Arizona, crossed the Mexican Border at Nogales, and arrived in San Carlos, on the Sea of Cortez, four hours later.
Because we only planned on staying in Mexico about a month, extended cruising was out. Also, it was still blowing hard, thanks to el nino. So we rented a campsite right on the beach (literally) and enjoyed fishing from our dinghy and living in a great little Mexican village. Yes, I have photos of the boat "high and dry". We especially enjoyed not having "anchor watch" and just laughed as we heard the wind howling outside.
We trailered north in the spring and launched the boat again in Washington, cruising the San Juan and Gulf Islands and up into Desolation Sound 'till September. Once back on the trailer, we stopped in California to visit Mom & Dad and decided to leave the boat stored there for a few months. We packed up the truck (it's a Freightliner fitted out like a luxury mini-RV), put 2 kayaks on the back, and headed down to Baja for a little beach-camping land trip. We wanted to check out the territory before we did any extensive cruising or trailering there. From La Paz, we ferried over to Mainland Mexico and explored Mazatlan, finding a great marina at the luxurious El Cid hotel.
I thought that looked like a great place to hang out for the winter, so we hooked up the trailer-yacht and headed back down the Mexican Highway. In just 3 days, we were docked at the El Cid, sipping margaritas and listening to violin music on the dock. When we saw various cruising boats arrive, after making the passage from California, then Cabo San Lucas, with the wives storming onto the dock and the captain looking green faced and white knuckled, we were very glad that we were a "TrailerYacht". We spent the whole winter there, sometimes taking short cruises south, and fishing for sailfish and the Beeg Marleen.
After spending the following summer on lakes in California's Gold Country (we got into gold dredging), we took Jack's dream cruise...launching from San Carlos, Mainland Mexico, and cruising to Cabo San Lucas. We spent 6 weeks moored at the Hacienda Hotel, bagging Marlin and supplying the fleet with tuna sushi. The next summer, while trailering north, we stopped in Breckenridge, Colorado to attend a friend's wedding. We proceeded to fall in love with a 50 acre mountain top and soon found ourselves not-quite-so-free as we began construction on our 'cabin in the woods' (see www.RentTheRanch.com for details).
It will take forever to describe all our travels, but in a nutshell, what we love the most is the flexibility that land-and-sea-cruising gives us. When the weather gets bad, we're outta there. We tell everyone, "Our plans are etched in Jello."
Now that we're "at the ranch" most of the time, it's very sad to see our boat stored in the big barn at 11,000 feet elevation. We're selling it because not only is it a poor use of a boat, it's a poor use of a barn! It's time for someone else to completely change their lives...
ChelleBe Blades, owner