With some TLC, a sturdy pocket cruiser becomes the perfect first boat
W hen my husband Richard and I decided to move to rural Door County, Wisconsin, we swore that our time had come at last—we were going to become boat owners. The Door Peninsula has approximately 300 miles of harbor-scalloped shoreline to explore, as well as a tantalizing scattering of islands across its western Green Bay waters and off its rugged northern tip. From our Forestville home, we’d be just a few miles from Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan, with a variety of launch ramps and marinas from which to choose.
This was a no-brainer. We simply had to have a boat.
Our ideal boat would have to be trailerable, giving us access to more distant ports of call when our time off work was limited. It would have to be user-friendly for singlehanded sailing; while we hoped to spend many hours on the water together, neither one of us wanted to forgo a great sail if the other were out of town. And it would have to be stable and solid, a reliable boat on a temperamental lake.
As we started our boat search, another criterion reared its head: budget. We didn’t have much of one, and this clearly was going to be a problem.
It seemed we would never find a boat that could meet all our needs, and we debated worthwhile compromises. Then we discovered a 1986 Catalina Capri 18 named Karma and fell in love at first sight.
Catalina Yachts, founded in 1969 by Frank Butler in North Hollywood, California, is one of the world’s largest boat manufacturers. The company is recognized for its Fordlike role in bringing sailing to the masses. In fact, in 1995, Butler received a sailing industry leadership award for building boats that are “straightforward, offer price for value (and) are solid and honest.”
We also knew Catalina had impressive numbers of repeat customers. It clearly was doing something right.
In the mid-1980s, Catalina sought to produce a pocket cruiser that would provide the features of a larger yacht in a compact, trailerable and affordable boat. It introduced the Capri 18 in early 1986, and to underscore the effectiveness of the little boat’s seaworthy hull and solid performance in both light and heavy wind, singlehanded sailor Shane St. Clair embarked on a 28-day, 2,500-mile voyage from Oxnard, California, to Hawaii aboard his Capri 18 later that year.
The message was clear: The Capri 18 may not be the fastest 18-footer out there, but she’ll get you there comfortably. We were planning harbor-hopping, sail-camping cruises rather than ocean voyages, but that’s what we wanted to hear.
The Capri 18’s stability comes from its respectable 7-foot, 7-inch beam, relatively hefty 1,500-pound weight and its 425-pound, low-aspect-ratio, internal-ballast lead keel. This keel draws just 2 feet, allowing access to all but the thinnest waters. It also makes launch and haul-out much easier for trailersailors than the word “keelboat” implies.
The Capri 18’s cruising comfort is built into the details: an extra-long cockpit with 6-foot, 10-inch contoured seats; a forward V-berth and two 7-1/2-foot-long quarterberths that can convert to a single large bunk; large portlights and forward hatch; a complete electrical system, including cabin lights; plenty of storage above and belowdecks, including a molded-in fuel tank locker; a 48-quart portable cooler that doubles as a companionway step and space for a portable toilet under the V-berth. A previous owner added that important optional item for us.
While the boat originally came from the factory with a main and jib, we also were pleased to see that a previous owner had added a genoa, spinnaker and small storm jib to Karma’s suit. They weren’t new sails, but they held their shape reasonably well and would get the job done. The running rigging was in good shape too, and the 6-horsepower Johnson outboard was no crankier than any other 20-year-old Johnson outboard.
Our Internet research indicated that other Capri 18s across the country were selling for $2,300 to $7,500, with models available from 1987 through the mid-1990s. (The Capri 18 became the Catalina 18 in 2000.) We felt that Karma’s asking price of $3,000 was more than fair, given her good condition, number of amenities and the fact she’d spent her life in fresh water.
Research also revealed glowing endorsements. From owners’ groups and sailing-related discussion forums, we learned that a singlehander can easily manage stepping the mast, launching the boat and sailing her. We learned that, due to her size and simplicity, hidden maintenance problems are unlikely to rear their ugly heads.
One skipper noted she is “well balanced and light on the helm,” making her forgiving and kind to less-seasoned sailors. Another observed that the lack of a bulkhead makes belowdecks maneuvering much easier than aboard other pocket cruisers, and still another touted the maximization of storage space and airy feel in the cabin.
Karma was just the right boat for us.
We brought Karma home late in the sailing season, so we only enjoyed a couple of shakedown cruises before the snow flew: an evening excursion to Little Harbor and a day-trip to Snake Island, where we dropped the hook and went swimming in the late summer sun. All too soon it was time to haul her out and prepare our to-do lists for the following season.
We had three lists. The first was the “Hot List,” and fortunately this only had two items. Most important was to repair the inner starboard shroud, which was fraying just above the turnbuckle. We took Karma to Great Lakes Yacht Services in Sturgeon Bay, where they fused the new wire the same day—thanks, in part, to my German-born husband’s contribution of imported Milka chocolate to the effort.
The second item was to replace the trailer tires, which were nearly bald and going flat. Since we weren’t planning any hardcore cross-country excursions, Richard went to our local Goodyear Tire Center and purchased two gently used replacements.
Our next list was what we affectionately called the “TLC List.” We wanted Karma to shine like a new penny, so first we scrubbed her topsides with a mildew stain remover and then her hull with an environmentally friendly hull cleaner. After that, we used a buffing compound to hide the few hull scratches and then, liquid marine wax in hand, took to her with an electric random orbital waxer.
We already had sandpaper and varnish thanks to a home-improvement project, so Richard tackled Karma’s woodwork—the cabin hatch door, the trim on the sliding cover and the tiller handle—with coarse-grit paper first, medium next and then fine.
“I started with sanding down the wood around the entry,” he explained. “I used my electric sander for the main areas, a Dremel for the smaller areas and everything else by hand. I sanded the tiller entirely by hand because I didn’t want the risk of putting grooves into it or squaring the handle.”
Once the sanding was done, we applied two coats of varnish.
Karma’s bottom paint was looking a little rough, so we decided to remove the old paint and apply a new coat. Bottom-painting newbies, we thought a pressure washer might blast off the old coat.
“That wasn’t so successful,” Richard noted wryly, “but it did get the larger pieces off.” From there, we carefully removed the rest with a metal scraper and small chisel. Richard used the electric sander and a medium-grit sandpaper to sand down the hull surface, and then we applied two quarts of blue Rust-Oleum Marine Coatings bottom paint.
Now we were ready to take on our final list: the “Cruising List.” First up was the electrical system. While Karma’s running lights seemed to be in working order, the cabin lights weren’t functional. So Richard took approximately 50 feet of 14-gauge electrical wire and rewired the cabin. Now we would be able to see down below at night without fumbling with flashlights.
Next, in keeping with convenience-at-night theme, he installed an LED light in the cockpit storage locker, located aft to starboard. This small, waterproof utility light emits very little heat, draws little current, is noncorrosive and is shock-resistant, and it’s controlled through a switch in the boat’s fuse panel.
We also installed two chrome floodlights on the top of the mast. Also controlled through a fuse-panel switch, one light is oriented on the foredeck while the other covers the cockpit. In retrospect, these lights were a mistake; in the interest of saving money, we purchased them from Wal-mart. Although they’re automotive-grade, they started rusting within weeks.
A better addition was the Attwood masthead anchor light, a durable model we purchased through West Marine. This was a must-have if we hoped to do any overnight cruises. Richard ran the wiring down the inside of the mast, tucked within a half-inch PVC tube, and connected it to a fuse-panel switch.
Next, we addressed Karma’s greatest mystery: the hose to nowhere. After a hard rain, we noticed that the water in the bilge would rise and then sit; it had nowhere to go. A hose ran from the bilge into the starboard cockpit locker but wasn’t connected to anything.
We purchased a bilge pump with float-switch activation and connected it to the hose. We installed a 3-inch-long, 1-1/2-inch-diameter through-hull fitting—using Liquid Nails as a bedding compound—between the locker and the cockpit, and connected the hose’s other end to that. Now, the float switch would activate the bilge pump, and the water would exit the boat via the hose through the locker, to the cockpit’s aft end, to the transom drain. This system bypasses the fuse panel entirely and connects directly to the battery.
To keep our battery charged, we purchased a Sensei solar battery charger. We can lay this in the cockpit when the sun is shining and pack it away during inclement weather or when we’re away. Remembering our afternoon at Snake Island, we also purchased white adhesive nonskid strips and applied them to the Capri 18’s little swim platform for an added measure of safety.
Although we had hoped to keep our retrofit budget below $600, we decided to splurge and purchase an inflatable Seabo dinghy through our local Sam’s Club. The dinghy collapses into its own carry bag for easy onboard storage; it’s a great solution for pocket-cruising sailors on the hook or a mooring who wish to go ashore without getting wet.
We’re already making a new list, of course, as we look toward the 2010 sailing season. Karma’s woodwork really should be varnished again. We were too late getting the tarp out in preparation for winter, so this past autumn’s leaves did a number on her topsides. The bottom paint needs some touching up, as well. But really, there isn’t much. Karma is ready to do what all Capri 18s were designed to do: Get out there.
Project list and cost summary
1986 Catalina Capri 18
1. Starboard shroud repair $61.76
2. Gently used trailer tires (2) $40
3. Starbrite Mildew Stain Remover $10.99
4. Starbrite Sea-Safe Hull Cleaner $17.99
5. Chicago Power Tool AC
Waxer/Polisher (10”) $39.99
6. Scotchgard Marine Liquid
Wax (500 ml) $17.99
7. Rust-Oleum Marine Coatings
bottom paint (2 quarts, blue) $130
8. LED utility strip light (white) $12.99
9. Chrome floodlights from Wal-mart (2) $35
10. Attwood Anchor/Masthead Light $44.99
11. Rule-A-Matic bilge pump
with float switch $39.99
12. Forespar 1-1/2” Threaded
Marelon Mushroom Head (3”L) $21.99
13. ICP Global Sunsei Solar
Battery Charger (SE-150) $39.99
14. 3M Safety Walk nonskid
strips (2” white) $3.99
15. Seabo inflatable dinghy (2.5m) $500
Total retrofit work $1,017.66
(34% of purchase price)
Grand Total $4,017.66
Catalina Yachts, www.catalinayachts.com, (818) 884-7700; Catalina 18 National Association, www.catalina18.net, (Catalina/Capri 18s); Lake Michigan Catalina Association, www.lmca.com; Goodyear Tire Center, www.goodyear.com; Great Lakes Yacht Services, www.glyservices.com, (920) 746-6247; Rust-Oleum, www.rustoleum.com; Sam’s Club, www.samsclub.com; West Marine, www.westmarine.com, (800) BOATING.