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REPUBLIC OF BOATING: THE COLLECTOR'S EDITION

Mates for life?

Boat owners insist they love the one they're with. But so does J. Lo. All that attention and money can only keep the spark going for so long, Ashley Powers reports. An ugly breakup may be just around the jetty.

August 24, 2004|Ashley Powers

Third marriage:

Still Jammin'

Don and Karen Kelly don't wear wedding rings; it interferes with handling the lines on their sailboat. Slim books inked in Karen's cursive or Don's straight-backed scrawl chronicle every detail of their relationship with Still Jammin'.

After they bought the Catalina 42 more than a decade ago, it quickly appeared in family pictures and vacation shots. Every Easter the Kellys and their children sail it from Redondo Beach to Catalina Island.

They had owned two other sailboats -- the first shared with another couple, then a Catalina 36. But the Kellys forged their tightest bond with this boat, which they bought for $108,000. It includes three sleeping quarters, a miniature crystal chandelier and two televisions. Lining the walls are shelves with books such as "Tales of a Sea Gypsy" and black-and-white prints of the island that draws them to water.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Boat owner -- A caption with a photo on the front page of the Aug. 24 Section A referring to an article about boating in the Outdoors section misidentified Karen Kelly as Karen Powers.

The couple spend about a quarter of each year on deck. But Don, a 62-year-old criminal defense lawyer, says Still Jammin' is "becoming an old lady, to tell you the truth."

He's worried when the engine groans or a light fails. "How can it give you so much joy one minute" and anger you the next?

The Kellys forgive, like family members do. The journals capture the relationship via on-board moments: the time their son struggled to pronounce "rhinoceros"; the time Karen and the kids balked at going to Catalina and Don narrowly escaped "a council for mutiny"; the time the '94 Northridge quake jarred them out of their bunks; the time they crossed to Catalina as a tribute to a friend who had died.

"If it wasn't for that boat," Don says, "we would have never written our lives down."

*

Fifth marriage:

Runnin' W/ The Devil

Boats have ruled Ron Songrath for 23 years. First a Sea Ray, then a Formula, then a Scarab called Dead on Arrival and a Fountain powerboat named Feverish.

Just before he ordered a customized $450,000 Cigarette boat, Songrath met his wife, Kristen, 30, at a boat party.

He named the 38-foot boat with white leather seating and red and yellow trim Runnin' W/ The Devil, after the Van Halen song. The powerboat sports a pair of 1,000-horsepower engines -- yellow engine breathers, stainless steel and aluminum. He scrubs their niches with an old toothbrush.

Songrath dresses to match the boat docked at Newport Harbor: black Nikes, a black button-down shirt with hot-rod yellow flames, and a maroon and gold Sun Devils baseball cap. Pictures of his last two boats hang on his office walls, and he brags about the time Runnin' hit 102.7 mph.

Songrath, a 49-year-old sales manager for a title insurance company, believes boats should always be named after songs. But when it came to naming his new baby, he looked to the docks: Avalon, Marina or Cletus (Clete for short), if it were a boy.

Four-month-old Kayla is the reason this might be his last powerboat purchase -- and why he might have to love his boats a little less.

*

Second marriage:

Catspaw

"Once, I went six weeks between boats," Holly Scott says. "I felt lost and disconnected."

Then a $20,000 full-keel cruiser she named Catspaw rescued her from emotional drift. She and the 1964 Cal 30 immediately understood each other: When Catspaw talked, Scott listened.

It started with the "hideous, ugly, faded" baby blue exterior.

"I knew the boat didn't want to be that color scheme from the moment I saw it," she says. "I told it, 'Hold on, I promise you.' " As soon as she could earn the money, Scott repainted the boat white and beige and added green covers.

Then it spoke some more.

"The boat tells me stuff: 'Oh, this engine really isn't it, but I'll run on it for a while.' "

Scott, 49, believes boats respond to the love owners lavish on them.

"The more you pay attention to the boat, the more you fix things and make the boat happy, the more you get out of it," she says.

This 20-year-old relationship is the longest in her life, except for the ones with her parents and her home in Seal Beach. Scott, who runs a boat-donation program in Long Beach, can't imagine life without the boat she docks at Alamitos Bay Marina.

When her 17-year-old daughter, Katie, was an infant, Scott placed her in a bunk. "She just started screaming. And I'm like, 'Oh, no! She's got to like the boat!' "

When two men pitched a fit at work one day -- demanding that a beat-up grill and a GPS device on a boat they were buying be part of the deal -- Scott walked away and made a beeline for the comfort of Catspaw.

"It's golden retrievery," Scott says. "Dependable, not real flighty, not real nervous; kind of 'OK, Mom, whatever you want to do.' It's like a good friend."

*

A harem of five:

Rebecca

Among the five boats Bill Herrera built in his garage, Rebecca steals his heart and his wallet.

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