CityScope® magazine Southern Gentleman® – Locals & Their Beloved Vessels
Many years before they met, Ron and Linda were required to memorize a poem for their high school classes. They both chose “Invictus,” a poem by William Henley about being self-reliant and strong in the face of adversity. When they purchased this 2000 Sabre 36 Express in 2012, they chose to name their new boat after that poem. “We think it’s the perfect name for this boat, and it’s fun that we both admired this poem long before we met,” Ron says.
The Sabre 36 Express was manufactured in Maine. Often described as a “downeast express cruiser,” the vessel is made in the same style as a Maine lobster fishing boat, but it’s fast and has accommodations for sleeping and eating. Sabre now only makes powerboats like Invictus, but they were traditionally a sailboat manufacturer.
“Most of my boating life was in sailboats,” Ron says. “I raced sailboats and bought my first large cruiser when I moved to Chattanooga in 1995. When I retired from BlueCross, I celebrated by sailing a 36-foot sailboat from Chattanooga to the Florida Keys where I spent the winter.” Ron says that as he got older, he found himself motoring more and sailing less, so he decided to swap his sailboat for a twin diesel powerboat. He’d always admired the Sabre sailboats, so he considered their powerboats before making the switch. “The interior of our boat has many similarities to the interior of the Sabre sailboats. All of the interior is American cherry and ash wood, while the floors and exterior wood trim are varnished teak,” he shares.
During their first two years as owners, Ron and Linda replaced the refrigerator, water heater, marine electronics, and other major wear and tear items. As a woodworker, Ron also handcrafted custom pieces such as a storage cabinet and custom table with an inlaid compass rose to put more personal touches on the boat.
“Although we enjoy anchoring with our friends on Chickamauga Lake and taking the boat downtown, our favorite thing to do is take Invictus on long trips,” Ron says. “She isn’t a ‘slip queen’; she loves to move and take us to faraway places. She took us to Maine in 2016 and to Florida this past winter where we used her like a condo to stay long-term.” He laughs, “But unlike a condo or beach house, if you get tired of your neighbors, you just start your engines!”
Photos by Lanewood Studio
Richard MacLean has been sailing for most of his life, and his 1997 J/32 sailboat Skylark is the perfect hybrid for his two passions – racing sailboats and enjoying the beauty of nature. Before purchasing Skylark in early 2016, Richard and Nancy owned a smaller Ericson 28 sailboat. They came close to buying a pure racer called a J/95 before their close friends, Martin and Orenda Gregory, bought their own dream boat, also a J/32. “They encouraged us to give a J/32 a try, and we thought it was a great mix of competitive speed and comfort. Nancy and I also loved the synergistic aspect of it, because we can share the experience with our friends as well,” Richard says.
At 32 feet, Skylark is one of the largest and most noticeable sailboats on Chickamauga Lake, thanks also to its sleek paint job. While the stern is white, the hull is a deep midnight blue with a thin white band around the sides.
Also adding to its presence on the lake are its black racing sails. “One major change we made was to put new sails on the boat. We selected North 3Di black racing sails, which are just now coming into vogue because of their super strong, yet extremely light sail material, which is ideal for Tennessee’s predominately light wind conditions,” Richard says. “Even from a distance, everyone would know we are out there. Up close, you can see the bright blue lettering, which we call Bruiser Blue since our daughters went to GPS,” he adds.
One detail the couple decided not to change was the name, Skylark. “If you’re going to rename a pre-owned boat, you have to overcome the presumption that it’s bad luck,” Richard says. “We considered changing the name, but Skylark just fit perfectly. A skylark is a type of bird, but it’s also a nautical term historically used for a sailor who goes up in the rigging to enjoy the view and be out of earshot of the captain. It seemed to fit our love for sailing and the outdoors.”
Sailing a J/32 requires at least two people, and Richard and Nancy have a system in place for how to sail such a large boat. “Richard is the brain, and I’m the muscle,” Nancy laughs. “That’s the only time it’s like that!” Richard quips. Richard enjoys the technical aspect of sailing, while Nancy enjoys the relaxation it provides. One of the couple’s favorite things to do on their sailboat is to go out to the middle of the lake and watch the sunset on New Year’s Eve. They also enjoyed overnight trips to Watts Bar and Knoxville in their last sailboat and plan to take more in Skylark soon.
Along with the joy of racing, Richard says the best part of sailing is its connection to nature. “If you’re a sailor, you have to love the outdoors,” he says.
Photos by Rich Smith
Tony Gillispie and his fiancée Kristie Mantooth came to own their beautiful 1969 Chris-Craft Commander Express named Norma Jean by a stroke of luck. Tony had admired it for years before finally purchasing it four years ago. The original owner lived in Florida, and he only came up to Chattanooga for occasional trips on the boat. Tony’s previous boat was docked nearby, so he offered to help clean the boat and start it up regularly to keep everything in good condition. He always admired the boat for its beautiful lines, striking colors, and nostalgic look.
“I was on the phone with the former owner one day, and he told me, ‘You’re going to buy my boat.’ I was shocked, but it turned out to be perfect timing. We made an offer, and the rest is history!” Tony says.
Legendary boat manufacturer Chris-Craft has a long history of producing reliable boats that are a symbol of Americana. They’re known for building the amphibious vehicles used by American soldiers during the Invasion of Normandy in WWII, but they’ve also manufactured luxury pleasure boats for more than a century. This particular Commander Express was built in Florida, although it was assembled at a factory located here in Chattanooga.
Only about 30 of these boats were ever made, and they were Chris-Craft’s first attempt at experimenting with fiberglass hulls on larger vessels. “One thing that makes this boat so unique is that its hull is extremely thick, because Chris-Craft wanted to figure out how to make this new technology work for this type of multi-purpose boat,” Tony says. “It was built as an ocean vessel, and it could be used for recreation or commercial fishing.” With that thick hull, the dry weight is 22,000 pounds. That doesn’t slow Norma Jean down though, because she also has Twin 454 engines and 700HP. “She’s a boat made for running,” he adds.
As many boat owners know, it can be considered bad luck to rename a boat. Tony got around this superstition by keeping a part of the original name from 1969 – Norma C – on the logo he designed for the boat. “The first time I saw this boat at the marina, I could just picture Marilyn Monroe sitting on the front. The boat was so gorgeous and nostalgic to me,” Tony says. “When I was trying to decide on a new name, I realized it already had Norma, Marilyn’s real first name. I decided to build off that and not risk the bad luck by changing the name entirely, so I kept a small C under the name ‘Norma’ in the boat’s new name and logo on the back of the hull,” he explains.
Tony and Kristie love to have friends on their boat for parties and holidays, and they’ve even fit 23 people on at one time. However, their favorite memories are times spent with family. “My best memory is seeing my son Sammy drive the boat for the first time,” Tony says. “He’s getting really good at driving it now, and I call him my co-pilot. Sammy likes to remind me that if something ever happens to me, this gets to be his boat!” he laughs.
Photos by Lanewood Studio
Bill and Fleeta Tate have been traveling by boat for years; however, they often found themselves waiting a long time to get through locks along the river. This changed when they purchased their 2012 Sea Ray Sundancer Express Cruiser, because they named the boat Hi Priority. “I noticed it was taking a while to get through the lock, but when Hi Priority would come up and I’d call out the name to the lock master, we’d get ‘high priority’ service and be through much faster!” Bill laughs.
Sea Ray is the world’s largest builder of boats, and they’re known for their exceptional quality and comfort. Bill chose this particular vessel because it was large enough to accommodate up to 16 people, and it sits lower on the water unlike most Flybridge boats. “I also love this boat because it’s got MAN Engines and joystick controls, which makes it both fun and easy to navigate,” Bill says. “It’s so simple a 12-year-old could drive it.”
Among Bill’s favorite memories since purchasing Hi Priority is his first trip on the boat. Michael Porter, who works at Erwin Marine and represented the Tates in the sale, accompanied Bill to Alabama where they picked up the boat and began their trip to Chattanooga. When they left Alabama, it was sleeting, and ice had formed on the windshield. By the time they approached the Tennessee River, they were running low on fuel, and the nearby marina was about to close. “I called the marina, and they offered to stay open a little late for us – we pulled up just in time,” Bill recalls. “The docks were covered in ice, and the pump attendant nearly slipped. Michael put fuel into the boat, and we stayed there overnight in the extreme cold. The cold actually worked to our benefit, because there weren’t many other boats out on the water,” he adds. “The last day, we traveled 191 miles at full blast and reached Chattanooga before dark!”
One of the Tates’ favorite things to do on the boat is simply cruising with friends and visiting different restaurants along the river and lake. “Last year, we loved going to breakfast at a restaurant on Harrison Bay. We have friends who will meet us out at different places, and it’s wonderful to go out for a dinner cruise with other couples,” Bill says. “Chattanooga is beautiful and has some good places to go along the water, but sometimes it’s just nice to relax, hang out around the dock, and mingle with other boaters.”
Photos by Lanewood Studio