Karl and Joan – Sailing Vessel “KALA-D”

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It is not for everyone, but living aboard a sailboat can add a lot of spice to your life. This is especially true for Joan and me. Having spent most of our growing up years in central Kansas, we thought water was for drinking and had no concept of living on and traveling by water.

Well, that all changed when the family moved to western Pennsylvania. We left the familiarity of location, and the comfort of family and friends, to transfer to Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. Our pastor, Dean Smith, who had sailed on Lake Placid in New York suggested that since we had teenage children we might enjoy sailing the “homemade” sailfish that he and his father had constructed. After a little “hagglin'” over price and with two free lessons thrown in we bought the sailboat.

That was the beginning of an exciting and expensive love affair. I could not read enough or talk with enough people about sailing. Within six months, we had moved up to a 13′ sloop which was and still is our favorite boat. After about five years of sailing the gel coat off “the Ghost” it seemed reasonable to purchase a 22′ Philip Rhodes design. It was a big boat for our little Lake Arthur.

One hot, windless, August day, we began to get big ideas about sailing the Caribbean which had always sounded exciting and adventuresome. So, in November of 1978 it was off to the Virgin Islands for our first “bareboat” charter. That turned out to be a major turning point in our lives.

At this time Geneva College was encouraging faculty to think of educational experiences outside the conventional classroom. What was more logical than to develop a course that would include a cross cultural experience – astronomy, marine biology, meteorology, navigation, and learning how to sail? So for next ten years and a total of 15 charters from the Virgin Islands to the Grenadines, we spent a week to three weeks in the Caribbean.

Now we knew for certain that when we retired we wanted to live aboard our own sail boat for a few years and broaden our horizons. But, being a part of a very serious evangelical Christian community all of our lives, we did not want to just “dial out”. Many things would have to fall into place for us. With much thought and lots of prayer, we forged ahead.

Determining the “right” boat was an immense undertaking. It was finally decided to use a Tom Colvin “Gazelle” (steel hull) with a modified Chinese junk rig. Upon retiring in 1989 we contracted to have the hull fabricated in North Carolina.

During the construction period we moved to Green Bay Marina near Oriental, NC where we spent about 30 months finishing the interior and doing all the mechanical, electrical and rigging on the boat. These were exciting years made more so by the boat buil ding friends we made along the way. We also had the privilege of helping to establish the first Presbyterian Church in America in Pamlico County.

After much consideration we finally decided upon the name, KALA-D, for our new boat which means King And Lord Always-Deo (Latin for God.) We moved aboard in June of 1993 leaving Oriental and following the Bondurants, veterans of three Atlantic crossings, up the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) to the Chesapeake. We were then on our own. Our travels took us as far north as Block Island, Watchhill, Rhode Island and Stonington, Connecticut where friends and family visited. Then it was back down the ICW. On Christmas day we arrived in Ft. Myers, Florida after crossing Lake Okeechobee. Three months were spent waiting for two grandsons to be born and then is was off to Marathon, the Bahamas, Acklins, Mayaguana, the Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

In June of 1994 our son Doug and daughter Karen joined us to sail to Curacao. After a delightful time in Curacao, we were off to Bonaire and Chichirivichi on the north coast of Venezuela. After several months in Venezuela we hauled out in Trinidad. We then went to Tobago and made our way up the Windward and Leeward Islands arriving in the USVI in December of 1994. We have now spent a year in the beautiful USVI and BVI which means that by God’s Grace we survived the second worst hurricane season in Caribbean history. Without a doubt surviving Hurricane “Marilyn” (we were aboard for the entire storm) was the scariest hours of our 10,000 miles of travel

Many of the officials throughout the islands appreciate a gift so I, being a Gideon, gave out many Spanish and English New Testaments which seemed to be well received. We took the names of the people and they are now a part of our prayer list. Another part of our ministry has been to enable a number of people who otherwise would not take a Caribbean vacation to spend time with us. So far we have had over 50 guests in the past year and expect more in 1996.

There are some random thoughts about the cruising life. It is far safer and healthier than living and driving in the USA. You never go over about seven knots and the water is soft and only a few feet away. You can get along fine without TV and refrigeration. Takes some adjustment but quite manageable. No refrigeration means you eat less meat and more fresh fruits and vegetables. A very good diet. You meet fascinating fellow cruisers and the natives on most of the islands are very friendly and responsive. The wardrobe is quite simple since you are usually barefoot and in a swim suit except for trips ashore. One of the more difficult tasks is that of maintaining the boat in a tropical and salt water environment. But that gives you something to do besides swim, sail, snorkel and drink iced tea.

We are humbly thankful for the good health and safety God has given and we would encourage anyone considering this life to “go for it”. The USVI and BVI may be one of the most ideal areas in the entire Caribbean.

The Lord willing we will be in this area for a while longer so look for KALA-D and if you do not know us, introduce yourselves. We love meeting new people as well as renewing friendships.


Karl and Joan Cunningham, 403 35th Street, Beaver Falls, PA 15010