Catalina Fleet 21 All Catalina Owners Association, Chicago Region

Club History

History of Fleet 21


In early summer of 1973 a letter went out to recent customers of Chalet who had purchased Catalina 22’s, asking if they would like to attend a meeting to discuss organizing a Catalina 22 Owners Club or Fleet. Shortly thereafter over a dozen people gathered in the meeting room in the basement of the Chalet Office Building. The idea of a Fleet chartered under the Catalina 22 National Association and with it’s own rules and bylaws was accepted. An outline of the focus of the group was developed with an emphasis on social, sailing, racing, and safety and educational activities.

Most boats were trailered, only a few had slips in marinas, mostly in Chicago. Recruiting new members became an important activity.

Our first cruises were weekend trips to Racine and Kenosha, and Door County, Wisconsin. Mostly, daysailing was the big activity.

Door County became the Fleet’s favorite cruising ground. Week long vacationing up and down the Green Bay coast with stopovers from Fish Creek and Ephraim to Sister Bay, Ellison Harbor, and Gills Rock were high priority destinations. Other favorites were Horseshoe Harbor in Eagle Bay and crossing of Green Bay, where we briefly lost sight of land, with a luncheon stopover along the shore of Chambers Island, to reach Marinette, Wisconsin/Menominee, Michigan at the mouth of the Menominee River. On the Menominee side we would tie up at the “Mystery Ship” compound. The “Mystery Ship” was determined to be the Alvin C. Clark, a Great Lakes lumber carrier that sank in a storm in the 1800’s and which had been raised and put on display. To see this old two masted sailing vessel was quite a treat. (Sadly, all was lost in a fire some years later).

Many members of the Fleet learned sailing and cruising in the school of hard knock-downs on these trips. Many of these trips would see 20 or more boats. Some of the crews were very easy going and laid back about everything regardless of the conditions; other crews were panicky and easily terrified in the same conditions. It was always a delight to see the second group become as the first over time as their experience and understanding of the sport grew. One of the most emphasized points during these early cruises was a “Buddy Boat” concept where boats with less experienced crews were paired with boats with more experienced crews. Safety came to be more prominent as people became more aware of their limitations.

One of these Door County cruises nearly came to a disastrous conclusion after the group sailed across the Portes des Morts (Death’s Door) Passage from Washington Island returning to Ephraim. The winds lulled causing a very slow crossing and then shifted and rose. Now the wind was on their noses and the boats had to beat to weather. Progress was very slow and Green Bay had become very rough. Most boats put in to Ellison Bay, but one sailor lacking experience, ended up on the rocks at the base of a bluff with no way off. The Coast Guard evacuated the family by helicopter. By this time it was dark and the helicopter landed at a field at Gills Rock lighted by the headlights of cars parked around the field in order to put the people off. The Skipper refused to leave the boat, (and under the rules of the time), the Coast Guard was required to tow the boat to safety. No one was hurt and the boat sustained only a few cosmetic scratches.

Somewhere in the Fleet Archives are newspaper clippings with more details.

This really drove home the value of sticking together to help each other, which is a cornerstone of the Fleet. It also prompted everyone to install a VHF radio on their boats even if it meant sacrifice. Prior to this, there were only two or three in the whole fleet. Some of the others also carried CB’s but they proved to be very limited and ineffective.

Later, the northern end of Green Bay drew sailors to Escanaba & Gladstone on Little Bay du Noc and Snail Shell Harbor on Big Bay du Noc at Fayette. Snail Shell harbor is a natural harbor which was the site of an iron smelting operation and has since become a Michigan State Park and Historical Site. The old structures have been preserved and restored. Developed within this park is a pier for tie-up and rafting.

Information contributed by Capt. Fred Collins