My sailing journey began in 1983 when I met my future husband, who then owned a 25-foot daysailer. We sailed locally on New Jersey’s Raritan Bay on weekends, with an occasional evening sail during the week. After a few years of daysailing we graduated to a 27-foot cruiser. We spent most weekends and our summer vacations cruising together. But then I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a progressive neuro-muscular disease. This was a setback, but we still kept sailing.
In 1998 we purchased a brand-new Catalina 380. My MS didn’t severely affect me during our first few years sailing this boat, but gradually I started losing strength in my arms and the ability to walk unassisted. Over the next five years, I went from needing a cane to using a wheelchair. I could no longer climb the companionway steps by myself nor stand at the helm.
By the summer of 2008 my MS had advanced and I stopped looking forward to sailing. For the first time in 15 years we didn’t spend at least two weeks cruising. I couldn’t move around the cockpit or belowdeck without assistance. My choices were clear: give up sailing or find a way to make it easier to negotiate the boat. My husband wasn’t about to let me give up sailing, so we chose Option B.
We started by compiling a list of the physical obstacles I had to confront on the 380, then we listed ways of overcoming these obstacles. Then it was decision time: should we modify our current boat or find a new one? We weren’t looking for a one-off cruiser, so our solution was to subtly modify a production boat.
Our positive experiences aboard our 380 and some time spent sailing aboard a friend’s Catalina 42 helped us decide that a new Catalina 42 MKII would be ideal. At the 2008 Annapolis Sailboat Show we spoke with Gerry Douglas, Catalina’s in-house designer, about modifying a Catalina 42. Our initial discussion included moving the boarding gates aft and reversing a stanchion so I could have direct access to the cockpit. I showed Douglas where a few extra handholds would be helpful; he suggested two additional stainless steel handrails on either side of the companionway, plus a removable stepstool and a bulkhead-mounted handrail to help me access the Pullman berth. We chose to eliminate a sliding door (along with its track) in the forward head, thereby eliminating a tricky four-inch threshold. We looked at the head’s shower door and decided it needed to be lowered; we also added stainless-steel handrails.
We completed our purchase order that day and took delivery of our new boat in the spring of 2009. Now, when I proudly show off our boat to fellow sailors, they all remark how it took only a few simple changes to allow me to enjoy sailing again, and how wonderful it was that Catalina helped keep my sailing dreams alive. My sailing journey continues, and for this I am forever grateful.