Crazy about Boating
“If anyone catches a sailfish today, I will have it mounted,” announced Fuller Callaway Sr. to his wife and son, while deep-sea fishing off the coast of Florida in about 1920. Much to his father’s surprise, young Fuller caught one! Upon hearing the taxidermist’s price of one hundred dollars to mount the large fish, Callaway Sr. turned and asked, “it costs so much, son…do you think it will be worth it?” “Well, Father, if you want to sell out your promise for a hundred dollars, it’s alright with me!” came the reply. Needless to say, the fish was mounted, and it hung in Fuller Jr.’s bedroom at Hills & Dales for many years.
The next year, an impressionable 14-year-old Fuller traveled to Europe with his parents on a steamer. Within a day of leaving New York City aboard the Canopic, Fuller wrote to his older brother, Cason, “I am not seasick yet. We sailed at 11:30 a.m. and I ate my first meal and it tasted good. I haven’t caught any sailfish or tarpons yet as large as your shark. Love from all to all, I am, Your loving brother.”
From these and other childhood experiences, it’s apparent that Fuller Jr. came to love being on the water, developing a lifelong passion for boats, fishing, and all things nautical.
Owning his own boat began on a small scale in the 1930s. After building the private Lake Callaway in Lagrange, he acquired a dark green Old Town ‘Sponson’ Canoe. Soon after, he added a 13’ lapstrake—a wooden boat with overlapping planks. As his interest in boating grew, Fuller purchased a mahogany Chris-Craft runabout to use on the lake. (He even registered as a Chris-Craft agent to get a discount on the price!) Fuller also encouraged his son’s love of boating, buying Fuller III a small motorboat as a birthday present in 1942, and telling Cason: “I know he is going to be tickled pink with it.”
The Jinks II
As Fuller and Cason shared a love of boats, it was natural that their interests would eventually cross. In the 1940s, Cason acquired a fishing boat that he named the Jinks, after the nickname of his daughter, and kept it docked in Florida. A short time later, he and his wife, Virginia, chartered a yacht called The Scout and invited Fuller and Alice to join them for a cruise around South Florida and the Keys. Even Alice, who was prone to seasickness, managed to have a good time after Cason had introduced her to the new drug Dramamine! Inspired by the cruise through the Keys, the brothers began considering buying a larger boat together. Ultimately however, Fuller’s interest in a joint ownership cooled, and instead he satisfied his desires by helping Cason with his purchase. As was his character, he did extensive research, located a variety of potential options to consider, and then offered detailed advice.
In 1951, Cason made his decision, trading in the smaller Jinks and christening his new 40’ Matthews Cruiser the Jinks II. Naturally, Fuller used the new boat on several occasions, too. After one fishing trip to the Gulf, he gave his brother magnetic bearings for a grouper hotspot off St. Marks’s light 332 degrees and St. Marks’s beacon 305 degrees. He regularly helped with overseeing required boat maintenance, such that it seemed almost like a joint venture! Cason even had a hole cut in the wall to extend the cramped sleeping quarters for Fuller’s 6’3” frame. It’s safe to say that the younger Callaway brother enjoyed the Jinks II so much he soon became hooked on acquiring a larger boat of his own.
The Sleepy Lagoon II (17D487)
In late October 1954, Fuller proposed an impromptu trip to Alice, saying, “Let’s go down to Florida to look around and find a place we like to spend the winter.” Alice demurred, explaining that she had too much to do, and suggested he go without her. So Fuller struck out alone towards Key West, stopping to look at apartments and houses along the way. While in Miami, he dropped by a marina and immediately fell in love with a 48’ 6” yacht that was for sale called the Sleepy Lagoon II. This was not just any boat! It was an iconic 1938 Wheeler 48, the same boat as the Pilar, owned by Ernest Hemingway. Given his enjoyable experiences aboard the Jinks II, the choice of boat or apartment was an easy one. After making a deposit, he wrote his brother Cason, “…If she does become mine, the idea is that Alice and I will live aboard her for a couple of months this winter—moving around from Miami to the Keys to the Bahamas just as the mood strikes us. Sounds good to me now but we may get tired of it—I don’t know….” No doubt Alice would be surprised!
Fuller was thrilled when the sale was finalized, and he and Alice made their maiden voyage on the Sleepy Lagoon II in January 1955. With B.C. Coe as the Skipper and Ola Sessions, from the Jinks II, serving as steward, they cruised Biscayne Bay with the ship’s log documenting their adventures. Later that month, the record shows that Alice caught a nine-pound bonefish while her friend Mrs. Gann landed a six pounder. In February, they ran aground on a mud bank but were able to get off on their own power. New Captain William Hall then took the helm for their sail to the Bahamas, where they visited Cat Cay, Gun Cay, Nassau, and Frazer’s Hog Island before turning back towards Florida.
After deeming this trip a success, Fuller began to make plans for a longer journey. In preparation, he had the twin gasoline engines replaced with a diesel–powered pair and, in late June, the Sleepy Lagoon II headed up the east coast. After making stops in Jacksonville, St. Simons, Morehead City, NC, Chesapeake City, VA, and Cape May, NJ, they arrived in the Long Island Sound. Here, they visited Port Jefferson, NY, and cruised around the Northeast including Montauk, Block Island, Newport, RI, Mystic, CT, and Martha’s Vineyard. According to the ship’s log, various guests came and went, but Captain William Hall and Steward Joe Cote made the entire journey and Fuller was onboard most of the time. Having successfully toured the region, the Sleepy Lagoon II headed back south and arrived at St. Simons Island in October after nearly four months at sea, making this the longest voyage the ship ever made.
For the rest of 1955 and 1956, Fuller, his friends, and guests continued to motor around the east and west coasts of Florida aboard Sleepy Lagoon II on a regular basis. During the first five months of 1956, it was used by 13 different couples while Fuller and Alice were away on a 25th anniversary trip. Home port was mostly Miami, but, in the summer of 1956, Captain Hall was replaced by Captain Palmer, and it was relocated to Panama City. Tragically, that fall, Captain Palmer died of a heart attack. Captain Dan Tesar took temporary command until Ira Reed was hired. While Reed was docked and undertaking basic maintenance on January 24, 1957, at 15:45, the yacht Royola approached at an unsafe speed and crashed into the Sleepy Lagoon II causing significant structural damage. Sadly, Fuller would never again set foot on his treasured Wheeler. After repairs were completed, the boat was put up for sale. Captain Reed entered the following on Monday, April 22, “0830 Received from owner notice of termination of Capt’s services on date of earliest possible sale.” The next day it was sold. Shortly thereafter, Cason once again offered use of the Jinks II but his brother replied, “After talking it over, Alice and I have decided that we have done enough traveling for awhile and think we had best stay in LaGrange and rest up in the comfort of our new cottage at the lake rather than rush off again on another trip.”
Even with the new lake cottage taking their time and interests, the couple still spent part of each winter in Florida and leased a condominium at Lido Beach, Sarasota. They loved the area and, in 1970, they decided to buy a place of their own at nearby Long Boat Key Towers. At this same time, Fuller stepped back into boating with the purchase of a Seacraft 26-foot cruiser that he cleverly named the Alida. The name simultaneously honoring “…my wife (Alice), my mother, my daughter, and my granddaughter, the latter three being named Ida.” He called it his “grandpa boat,” since it didn’t have a flying bridge, he didn’t have to climb a ladder, and it did not need a crew. As Alice wrote to her friend in January of 1973, “Fuller has been unusually well the past few months and looks great. We plan to leave for Florida the 13th and will stay until the middle of April. The change always does him a great deal of good and he especially enjoys his boat there.”
As Fuller grew older, he always cherished his boating memories and the respite he found onboard. The fish they caught, the friends he entertained, and the excitement of the unknown kept him captivated. He also appreciated that Alice was such a good sport about his boating, given her sensitivity to seasickness. As he once acknowledged “I guess if I were inclined to be seasick, I might not be so crazy about the boat myself.” ~CBW