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Invasion of the Pocket Cruisers

2012 June 6

Sailors flock to the annual winter gathering at the Pocket Cruiser Convention in Arizona's Lake Havasu for fun and games

They came from near and far. Over icy mountains passes, across snow-covered prairies and through the vast Mojave Desert, sailors drove towing their beloved sailboats hundreds of miles to Arizona's Lake Havasu. It was the largest fleet of trailerable pocket cruisers ever assembled and sailors shared an unforgettable 10 days of winter sailing fun, friendship and adventure at the annual Havasu Pocket Cruiser Convention in February.

Launched six years ago, the event began as a modest three-day weekend gathering of a few dozen predominately Montgomery and West Wight Potter owners. But three years ago, the HPCC went viral through blogs, nautical networking sites and mass media coverage. Today, everyone is welcome to participate in this 10-day regatta that has quickly blossomed into a festive sailing celebration.

Event organizer Sean Mulligan set out to build a social event around sailing, and his success was immediately evident as arriving sailors drove into the busy rigging section of the launch area. With each new arrival, work stopped in various stages of rig assembly. Participants greeted old friends, quickly made new ones, or most gratifying, finally met people they had befriended over months of nautical networking on the Sailhavasu.com website.

The great variety of boats represented well-known boats past and present and few unknowns. Boats currently in production were partially represented by models from Montgomery, Catalina, Potter, MacGregor, ComPac, Santana, Seaward, O'Day and Sage. Past builders were remembered in part by Ensenada, Balboa, Clipper Marine, Ranger, Buccaneer, San Juan and Tanzer boat. And the fleet of somewhat unfamiliar but equally valued participants included Cape Cutter, Spindrift, Champion, Peep Hen, Goat Island Skiff and Sea Pearl. In all, 57 past and present boat manufacturers were represented creating an outstanding opportunity to research the purchase of a new or used boat.

Pocket cruisers are small enough to tow, rugged enough to handle big adventure, and have enough room below to sleep and prepare a meal. The defining limits of this category of boat were severely stretched by this year's mixed fleet that included sailing dinghies, multihulls, a tiny Klepper sailing kayak and even a full-keel Catalina 27, trailered through snow and ice from Rapid City, South Dakota. Participants traveled from 26 states, four Canadian provinces and five countries, at an average one-way driving distance of 607 miles.

To arrive at their Lake Havasu City waypoint, most of the 185 boats along with 373 skippers and crew, traveled along or near legendary Route 66, today known as I- 40. Fittingly, this road that is romantically celebrated for the freedom that automobile travel provided Americans, now serves to transport a unique group of sailors who value the sailing freedom offered by versatile, trailerable pocket cruisers.

The HPCC is the successful outcome of a vision and the absolutely crazy amount of hours of work put in by Mulligan and his wife Jo. A local fireman, Mulligan grew up racing and cruising various small sailing craft on Lake Havasu's clear waters.

"Growing up here provided a lot of great sailing friends and experiences," Mulligan said. He said he has fond memories of getting out of school, checking the wind and heading down to the lake to sail.
"Not that long ago, you would always see lots of sails tacking across the lake-it was a beautiful sight," Mulligan said. "We had regular beer can racing and a very active and friendly sailing community."

Over the years, however, an overwhelming number of power boats began to dominate the lake. "The really cool sight of sailboats on the lake and some really cool sailing friends all but disappeared," Mulligan said.
Missing their old sailing buddies, Mulligan and wife Jo, a school principal, traveled to weekend sailing events sponsored by the Northern California Potter Association.

"We wanted to have more sailing friends and different types of sailing experiences so we began participating in as many organized events as we could, mostly in California," Mulligan said.

This lead to several longer flotilla cruises in the San Juan Islands with their mainly West Wight Potter and Montgomery owner friends. The couple enjoyed these social and sailing experiences so much, they decided to organize their own three-day event.

"I really wanted to look out and see boats sailing on this beautiful lake again and let people know about Havasu," Mulligan said. "Our main goal in organizing the HPCC was for all participants, including Jo and I, to make more sailing friends and have more sailors enjoy our very unique sailing area," he said.

Mulligan wasn't exactly sure what to include in the first event, but knew he didn't want racing to be the main focus because it would tend to limit the number of participants.
"What I really wanted to do was build a social event around sailing and keep the racing portion at a very low key level."

Did he succeed? Just read the comments on the Sailhavasu.com message board to find enthusiastic conversations on the high level of camaraderie, genuine affection and respect shown by participants towards each other. The convention organizers and the many volunteers stepped up to develop a year-round social network for hundreds of trailersailors who normally have little yacht club or marina affiliations. After six years the grass roots "tell and bring a friend" strategy plus networking on various small boat websites has paid off, with sailors returning from year to year.

"It's amusing to wonder just how large this event can really grow," Mulligan said. "The HPCC has become the largest annual water event held in Lake Havasu and it generates significant revenue for the city and local business."
Lake Havasu City is a modern retirement and winter escape community located just a few miles off of I-40, near the Arizona and California border. Similar to Las Vegas, it appears completely out of place sitting in a ruggedly beautiful and tranquil valley bounded by jagged, dramatic mountains and an exceptionally colorful desert. The Colorado River, tamed by the Parker Dam, turns Lake Havasu into a boater's paradise, and February is a great month to enjoy the mild weather, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, crisp, clean air and 45 miles of gunkholing coves. As a direct result of participating in the HPCC, quite a few retired sailors now spend a large portion of winter here and have formed an active network of sailing friends. Off-season, luxury hotel pricing in February is very attractive. Resort lodging with a slip in the marina is a bargain at $99 per night.

Highlighting the sailing activities this year was a boisterous start to the Long Distance Cruiser Challenge with 85 boats on the line. With the wide range of racing skills among skippers the fleet felt fortunate to have suffered only two minor collisions. Another enjoyable sailing activity was a seven-mile cruise to the secluded Steamboat Cove for a barbeque and night at anchor. In addition, there were daily buoy races and a cruising Poker Run that required crews to take photos of as many of the 20 working lighthouses as possible to earn cards to build a winning poker hand and prizes. A boat show provided an opportunity for owners, future owners and locals to check out the wide variety of trailerable pocket cruisers. The week wrapped up with a colorful Parade of Sails that offered hundreds of locals and tourists a rare opportunity to view 150 colorful pocket cruisers sailing under the fully restored London Bridge. Extra drama was narrowly avoided during the parade when the Lake Havasu ferry Dreamcatcher chose to stay on schedule and swiftly proceed down the center of narrow Bridgewater Channel. Luckily, all 150 shoal-draft boats were scattered, safely hugging the shore.

Every year, an arbitrary "Mason-Dixon" line is drawn across a map of the United States. Sailors living north of the line face off against the southern sailors in a struggle to avoid having their names engraved on the perpetual "losers trophy."

Last year, docking skills were tested in a fast paced relay race that required tying a bowline, securing a cleat and then rafting up to the other members of the team. This was accomplished using a rope passed through an article of clothing of each teammate. Spontaneously, as soon as both teams were joined together the band began playing conga music and a 150 person Conga line erupted into laughter and danced around the bar and restaurant for the next five minutes. This year the local Sea Scout Troop organized a Rain Gutter Regatta for the competition. Short-winded sailors blew through straws to propel wooden boats down 12-foot-long rain gutters while trying hard not to pass out from hyperventilation.

The Lake Havasu Sea Scouts are the recipient of surplus HPCC revenue. This "not-for-profit" event is free and relies on lots of volunteer hours, donations, used book sales and souvenirs sales to pay its basic operating costs. In addition, HPCC sailors generously donated funds and their time to purchase a kit and build a wooden Sherpa sailing dinghy to give to the Scouts. John Owens, owner of J.O. Woodworks in Texas, enthusiastically demonstrated techniques of wooden boat construction. Owens worked with volunteers to show that with some basic knowledge and ability, anyone can learn to build their own sailing craft. A fascinated crowd of sailors was often found inspecting the daily progress of the Sherpa.

"I was pleased and a bit surprised by how much interest was shown in building and sailing your own wooden boat, " Mulligan said. "I'm hoping to expand this area of the event next year by inviting more home builders and providing additional seminars on wood boat construction."

Seminars are always popular, and this year Howard Rice traveled from Micronesia and held the audience spellbound with his experience rounding Cape Horn in a small folding Klepper sailing kayak. Richard Woods showed courage by offering a predominately monohull gathering "Ten Good Reasons why Multihull Sailors Have More Fun." Cruising destinations seminars, especially interesting to trailersailors, covered Lake Mead, Lake Powell, the San Juan Islands, Huntington Lake and the North Channel of Lake Huron.

"Hearing just how much people enjoyed the event and seeing almost 200 sailboats out on the lake is gratifying to Jo and I and really makes all the hard work worthwhile," Mulligan said. "And the best rewards are the new friendships that have been made and the new places we hope to sail."

Visit the Sailhavasu.com website to find more information about next year's 7th Annual Havasu Pocket Cruisers Convention.