Video produced by John V. Turner
Rolling Down the St. John’s
In traditional form, Power & Motoryacht’s newest editor joins Capt. Bill Pike for a run on the Betty Jane II.
After I graduated college, I purchased a 1973 Volkswagen Westfalia camper mobile for $1,700. I loved that microbus. It had a fold-down couch/bed, a tight kitchen area with a sink and fridge, a pop-up top with another bunk and a rear-mounted, air-cooled 1700-cc ‘pancake’ style engine, so called because the cylinders were stacked on top of each other like a pile of flapjacks awaiting some sticky maple syrup.
One of my first trips in the van was from Ouray, Colorado, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit a college buddy. It was a short trip on the map, but it seemed to take forever, crawling up mountain passes and downshifting my way back down. The old van topped out at 65 mph, and that was going downhill with a tailwind. When I got to my final destination, I told my buddy that I really loved the bus, but it was a slowpoke. He laughed and said, “That’s so you can check shit out!”
Capt. Bill Pike’s Betty Jane II reminds me of my old bus. To rob a line from bluesman Howlin Wolf, the Betty Jane is built for comfort, she ain’t built for speed, but she’s got everything a boater could need.
There’s a bit of a tradition here at Power & Motoryacht that each editor spend some time cruising with Capt. Bill on his beloved Betty Jane II. As the new guy, I was excited at the proposition of helping Bill move his boat from her old berth in Jacksonville, Florida, up the ICW to her new digs near the Georgia state line. Finding the best time to make the run, however, was like fitting the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Calendar invites came and went, juggling family and work commitments with diminishing weather windows. Life has a way of getting in the way, and then I got a call from Bill.
“Well, Charlie, looks like we’ve got to move the Betty Jane today,” he said.
“No problem,” I responded. “Do you know what the forecast looks like?”
“There’s an 80 percent chance of rain,” he said with a laugh.
A few hours later we’d stashed a car at our final destination and were throwing lines at Saddler Point Marina, destined for the tannic, silty brown waters of the St. John’s River. The skies sported plenty of blue holes and winds were light, but time was not on our side. A freight train in downtown Jacksonville lingered on the tracks of a drawbridge, so the operator couldn’t open it up … we were stuck for almost two hours! I didn’t really mind the stall. It gave me time to pepper Capt. Bill with all kinds of questions about his boat, which, like you, I’d read about in the pages of Power & Motoryacht.
She’s a 28-foot Cape Dory flybridge built in 1988. She’s got a 9-foot, 11-inch beam and a classic New England lobster boat look. The founder of Cape Dory, Andy Vavolotis, started the company in the 1960s and built mostly sailboats. In the 1980s, he started to offer powerboats, Capt. Bill told me, hoping to generate some revenue. The powerboats stuck to their New England heritage, and were crafted in Massachusetts, but a downturn in the sailboat market caused Cape Dory to fold in 1992.
After Capt. Bill sold his Grand Banks 32, he fell into a terrible depression. One thing that I quickly discovered, and much admired, about Capt. Bill is that he’s not afraid to tell you how he feels or what’s on his mind. And he really needed a boat. After much research and looking at a few other Cape Dory 28s that had fallen on tough times, he found this boat, which had been repowered with a single 240-hp, four-cylinder Yanmar diesel. That reliable, compact powerplant was the selling point Capt. Bill had been searching for. She was the best Cape Dory he’d seen, but his offer to purchase the boat came a few ticks late. Turns out the boat had caught the eye of another magazine editor, a friend of Bill’s and a colleague. He told the boat’s new owner that she’d just purchased the best Cape Dory 28 on the market, and if she ever wanted to unload the boat, to please let him know first. About a year later, Capt. Bill got the call that the boat needed a new home, and she’s been safely in his hands ever since.
This 28-footer makes an incredible use of space and feels much larger than her LOA. The salon sports windows all around and an L-shaped dinette that also served as my bed. The lower helm has a comfortable helm chair right next to a sliding window so you can hang an elbow out as you cruise, a very similar driving stance to my old van. The center forward-facing window opens up and lets in a nice breeze, which kept the space cool despite the 90-plus degree air temps as we made our way past some commercial waterfront.
Forward of the helm is the galley with a small, undercounter fridge, cooktop and sink. Opposite that is a full head with shower. The V-berth up front is where Bill hangs his hat and catches up on his reading.
When the tide finally changed and we weren’t fighting it, the boat made 9 knots or so at 2,200 rpm and sipped the fuel. Single-screw boats may not tempt as many boat owners as twins, but they sure save you a ton at the fuel dock. We chugged at a comfortable speed, and as the sun began to fade and the temps outside cooled, we moved up to the flybridge. The open air afforded incredible views, and the bench seat put us in earshot to converse on a wide range of topics. Bill told me about running tugs. I talked about chasing billfish.
We worked our way north and the landscape filtered from commercial cranes to long, grass-lined marshes. We saw rosette spoonbills flashing their pink feathers from the quiet shores of Timucuan Preserve. The light continued to diminish, making it tougher to spot the markers on the ICW, so we followed the magenta line on the chartplotter. When the light completely disappeared, we found ourselves in near blackout conditions. No moon and lots of cloud cover had flipped the switch on us, but we were pretty close to our final turn. Working together, we found the markers by taking our time and using a bright flashlight. We arrived at our destination a bit past 9 p.m. After some dinner and a hot shower, it was time to hit the rack. I wholeheartedly thanked Bill for installing a new air conditioner on the Betty Jane II and nodded off to sleep. It was by all means a successful delivery, with plenty of time to check shit out. — Charlie Levine