Boldly exploring a watery universe
Early next year, Bill Cartwright plans to set out with his little dog, Harley, on a cruise of a year or more throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. He’ll do it on his 20-foot homemade sailboat. Remarkably, the boat seems up to the challenge.
Cartwright, a native Texan, retired in 2010 from a 43-year career as an electrical and systems engineer with Genentech in California, and moved with his son and daughter to a new home in Conroe. By spring, his children will be launched in their careers, and Cartwright, long divorced, will be free to take to the seas for as long as he likes.
“I’m a Trekkie, so I named this boat the Enterprise,” Cartwright said.
In its dense array of high-tech equipment and nearly total self-sufficiency, the tiny ship seems aptly named. It is ready to boldly go and explore a watery universe.
This Enterprise is a Flicka, a class designed by Bruce Bingham, who published her lines in 1972. It has been interpreted by enthusiasts in wood, fiberglass and even ferrocement.
Built in Michigan in the 1970s by James Johnson, the hull is constructed of a steel wire frame and is finished in epoxy and fiberglass. Johnson suffered a stroke before the boat was completed and it was stored for 40 years before the family decided to sell it.
“In 2011, I was looking for a boat, and I found this one on eBay,” he said.
Cartwright won the auction with a bid of $5,000, and gingerly drove the boat to its new home in Texas on a trailer behind his pickup.
About 3,000 hours of work and $20,000 later, the Enterprise was brought to its present seaworthy state.
“I think I enjoy working on boats even more than sailing them,” Cartwright said.
He put the boat in the water for the first time in April 2013, completed the sailing rig, a sloop with Marconi mainsail and a choice of headsails, with a bowsprit of his own design supporting the jibs and two new anchors. He finished the cabinetry work on the interior, which uses every possible cubic inch for secure stowing, adding teak trim and decking throughout. He replaced all the wiring and piping and through-hull fittings serving her one-cylinder 10-horse diesel engine, which, with added fuel tanks, gives him about a 750-mile range under power alone.
Cartwright’s career in electrical engineering is evident in the sophisticated electronics and gadgetry he has installed in the boat. Everything from the refrigerator and microwave to the navigation and communication systems run on the 150-pound battery under the cockpit, recharged with the engine or with solar power.
With a gas range, twin sinks, 6-foot standing headroom below, and stereo and television, the boat has all the comforts of home. It’s easy to forget, in that space, it’s all fitted inside of 20 feet.
Cartwright, an experienced sailor, is almost ready to take the Enterprise into the unknown, and as a safeguard to the safety of his shipmate, he has installed netting along the foredeck, so that Harley may stroll the deck without fear.