Sunday, May 17, 2020. At a time when COVID-19 has led to families across America being asked to “shelter in place,” homeschool their children, and not visit loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes, I’m reminded of an unexpected comment from a member of a famous rock band.
Our son, Bo was born in August 29, 1968. A month before his birth, I had opened a new hotel in Greenville, SC and worked nearly 24/7 during the final month of my “bride’s” pregnancy. Though I rushed home to Winston-Salem, NC the night of his birth, it wasn’t until six weeks later that the family could join me in Greenville. Soon thereafter, the Beach Boys stayed in the our hotel while performing in concert at the Greenville Auditorium. The morning they were to leave, I asked if we could get a picture of our newborn son with them. They were most gracious, and the picture was taken.
Before handing Bo back to me, the band member holding him asked, “Is this your first?” I replied yes. As he continued to hold Bo in one arm, he pointed at him, looked up at me, and said, “You don’t understand it now, but right here’s what it’s all about.” He was right, family is what it’s all about.
This post is about a boat, the man who designed and built it, and a father that wanted his young daughter to grow up with the special memories of time spent with family onboard a boat — a specific boat — a Cargile Cutter Cruiser.
The Cargile Cutter Cruiser
The Cargile Cutter Cruiser was designed as a family boat. The late Allen Cargile, designer and boat builder, made his name building houseboats found on lakes and rivers throughout America. According to his son Jim — who ironically, I met when he became engaged to one of our daughter’s soriety sisters — the idea for the Cargile Cutter design came from a family vacation to Key West. As they cruised back and forth past the US Coast Guard base, Allen Cargile stared long and hard at high-bowed U.S. Coast Guard cutters. In them, he saw the future of an affordable, planing hull, family cruiser with the roominess of a houseboat. A few weeks after the family returned home, his father walked out of his design room with a carved model of his vision in hand. The Cargile Cutter Cruiser was destined to become a reality.
In 1977, when some boatbuilders were still questioning Cargile’s design, Allen took a 30′, single diesel powered, sterndrive Cargile Cutter from New York to Paris in 31 days — a feat that none of his critics had ever accomplished. Allen Cargile was a man of true grit. In his trip across the Atlantic Ocean, he proved his confidence in his boat.
I Want Your Boat
In late 2012, I received an email asking if we would consider selling the 1977, 30′ Cargile Cutter Cruiser that we had restored thirteen years earlier. SunSmiles was not for sale when I received Patrick Lee’s first email. Though we had debated selling her, after restoration and nearly thirteen years of ownership, the ‘old girl’ was a part of our family. The only reason we considered selling her was the fact that following the birth of our first two grandchildren, our cruising time had become non-existent.
After we had come to terms on the sale, Patrick said, “You’re probably wondering why I wanted your boat.” Yes, I wondered why he had tracked me down through the Internet to try and buy a boat that he had never seen, and wasn’t for sale.
He gave me a wonderful reason to sell the ‘old girl.’ When he was five years old, his father had bought a Cargile Cutter Cruiser for the family to enjoy. Now, he wanted his five year old daughter to grow up with the same wonderful memories he had of days aboard his family’s Cargile Cutter. Together, he and his daughter had searched the Internet for Cargile Cutters, and his daughter had chosen SunSmiles because she loved the name, the Fighting Lady Yellow hull, the high-gloss white decks, and the bright red canvas. Before taking delivery of SunSmiles, Patrick bought a Cadillac Escalade EXT as a tow vehicle because his father had towed the family’s twenty-eight foot Cargile Cutter with the family’s Cadillac sedan. It was all part of reliving wonderful, childhood memories. I understood.
The History of Cargile Cutter Cruiser “SunSmiles”
SunSmiles was built the year that Allen made his historic voyage across the Atlantic. The first owner of the boat that was to become SunSmiles was a Texas oil man who apparently went belly-up, leaving the boat in a covered storage lot near Dallas, Texas. The second owner decided he wanted a Cargile Cutter Cruiser after touring the company’s plant in Nashville, TN in the early 1970’s. Unable to afford one at the time, he spotted the boat that would later become SunSmiles while making sales calls in the Dallas area during the late 1980s. He bought the boat for the price of several years of storage fees.
In the early 1990s, while driving from the Kalispell, MT airport to a meeting in White Fish, I saw my first Cargile Cutter in the side yard of a Kalispell home. A couple of days later, I was given permission to inspect the boat. That afternoon I left that 28′ Cargile knowing that if we ever moved to another coastal community, we would own a Cargile Cutter Cruiser. In 1999, when we made the decision to move from Raleigh, NC back to the Charleston area, I began my search for our family’s Cargile Cutter.
An internet search led me to Allen Cargile. Though retired, he welcomed my phone call and interest in the boat that carried his name. He became my treasured source of advice in choosing the right boat and in its restoration. Though only lukewarm on the idea of painting “his” boat Fighting Lady Yellow, with white decks, and bright red canvas, he was very complimentary of the final product. When the restoration was complete, and we started cruising to destinations along the ICW, I enjoyed calling Allen while in route, just to let him know the pleasure his boat was bringing us. I wanted him to know that it was a boat that was fun to cruise, and alway got attention when we pulled into a marina. I’m not sure who enjoyed the calls more, but rarely did one end in less than a half hour of conversation. He was a warm, friendly, and fascinating gentleman to talk to.
On March 23, 2011, Allen passed away unexpectedly after a brief illness. If he had still been with us when SunSmiles was sold, I know he would have been pleased that it was going to another family that wanted a Cargile Cutter Cruiser — and no other boat would do.
Journey to a New Home
On Monday, March 18, 2013, SunSmiles began its cross country journey to a new family and homeport in Portland, OR. You could say that it was sold and bought for the right reason — making lifelong memories.
Patrick and his family never got to see, much less cruise aboard SunSmiles. On the forth evening of the trip, disaster struck. On Interstate 80, twenty-three miles out of Laramie, WY, at a place called Sherman Summit, SunSmiles and two tractor trailer rigs were hit by what the highway patrol described as a hurricane force wind that capsized and destroyed all three. By the grace of God, the tractor trailer drivers weren’t seriously injured. The trailer hauling SunSmiles broke free of the tow truck as a wind burst lifted the front of the boat and trailer into the air. Once the trailer hitch gave and the trailer was free, the trailer and boat began flipping. The driver was able to regain control of the truck and stop without crashing.
Fortunately, the boat and trailer were insured before leaving Mount Pleasant for the journey west. In the aftermath, I helped Patrick find another Cargile Cutter, and over the years since, his daughter — just like her dad — has been able to make her own memories of spending days with her family aboard their Cargile Cutter Cruiser. Today, the family lives on an island, across our northwest border with Canada. Patrick recently completed a multi-year restoration of his Cargile Cutter. Though he purchased a hybrid cruiser for the family to enjoy while their Cargile Cutter was being restored, he’s still hanging onto the old memory-making Cargile Cutter Cruiser. We stay in touch, and on my birthday last month, he called and we “face-timed” while he and the family were cruising. What we both lost in the wreckage of SunSmiles, we’ve made up for in friendship.
Allen Cargile would be proud.
Fair winds and following seas,
Oh Captain My Captain