My Encounter with "Passagemaker" by Mary Osterling

            The ocean-going trawler PASSAGEMAKER entered my life in the British Virgin Islands in the winter of 1990-91.  At that time, my own trawler, THE RX, was my retirement cruising home, headed for – who knows where.  We had begun our Caribbean cruise in April, 1990 from Ft. Myers, Florida.  Our destination was the British Virgin Islands, and how we got there is the subject of a book I wrote from my daily journal called A CARIBBEAN ADVENTURE. 

Later, as we enjoyed the many coves and anchorages of the beautiful cruising waters of the B.V.I. that winter, we frequently found PASSAGEMAKER resting at anchor nearby.  But we did not meet the skipper (Don Sanders) at that time, nor did we know anything about the strange appearing vessel that was obviously wintering in the area.  In fact, at first we weren’t even sure it was a personal yacht.  Not knowing anything about flopper stoppers we thought she might have nets attached for shrimping or something.  We learned.

            In April 1991 we joined a flotilla of (sailing) yachts heading south for the hurricane season.  The usual destination would be Cumana, Venezuela where a large boat yard was available for hauling and bottom renewing, at an unheard-of low price.  Our motoryacht THE RX was the only vessel of its kind in the crowd along the way, until the appearance of PASSAGEMAKER.  , It eventually became evident, as we made our way down island, that PASSAGEMAKER was headed to Venezuela as well.  At some point we made radio contact with her skipper and subsequently enjoyed together the recognition that we were the only two motor vessels around.  We were rather proud of the distinction!  But even though we often shared an anchorage, we did not meet ashore anywhere until the evening we anchored off shore of Isla Margarita.  While there, Vic (my captain) and I crewed on PASSAGEMAKER for her trip to the fuel dock, which had to be approached backwards.  Handling the lines required all the help we could get, but we carried it off without incident.

            After that, we became good friends and sightseeing companions.  THE RX did not require the “bottom job” that most of the others were getting, so we had plenty of time for exploring inland.  At one point, when Don and Katina felt they could safely leave PASSAGEMAKER to the workmen at the boatyard, we planned a land safari together south to the border of Brazil.  It was a memorable adventure and I have photos to prove it.  (I haven’t been able to find any photos of PASSAGEMAKER, unfortunately.)

            When we returned from our safari, we prepared for an early October departure from Cumana to head back to B.V.I.  The day before we were to leave, Don came to our slip with a sickly expression on his face to let us know that PASSAGEMAKER had been dropped off the lift while being lowered to the water!!  You can only imagine the resulting damage etc.  Consequently, the lift slip was blocked for weeks and required extensive repair before any boat could be launched again.  Add to that the time it took to repair the damage to PASSAGEMAKER, and the delay of the trip back to B.V.I. became long and frustrating.  We offered to stay and accompany them back, but Don wouldn’t hear of it.. 

            That was our last actual encounter with PASSAGEMAKER.  Two or three years later, when we were once again living ashore, we heard that she was at berth in Daytona.  We drove over to see her, and Don, but he was beginning to have severe health problems and was hoping to sell PASSAGEMAKER soon.  Later, we had a letter from his new wife, bringing us up to date on their situation and telling us of the sale of PASSAGEMAKER.

            In 1995, after we had settled in a cozy mountain cabin outside of Hedgesville, West Virginia, PASSAGEMAKER once again crossed our path.  We were visiting a relative in their new home in Shepherdstown, WV when I found myself staring at the picture of a beautiful and familiar motoryacht, flopper stoppers and all.  I asked how that picture happened to be prominently displayed in their home.  To make a long story short, our host (and cousin) happened to be the son of a former owner of PASSAGEMAKER.  His name is Curtiss Bury.  Curt told us about the winters when he was a child that he and his family spent in the Mediterranean aboard PASSAGEMAKER.  (I seem to remember now that Don Sanders said he must have bought her from Vic’s cousin.)  Curt is still actively involved in community affairs where he lives, and I’m sure he would be delighted to talk to you about some of the earlier life and times of  PASSAGEMAKER.  Let me give you his address:

                        Curtiss M. Bury

                        Collington Cottage 2117

                        10450 Lottsford Rd.

                        Bowie, Maryland  20721


            Since then we have had no word, that is until a friend recently brought me the latest issue of the magazine PASSAGEMAKER.  Imagine my excitement when I read the article about her resurrection and your invitation to send any information we might have of her history.

            I have written a book about the THE RX and her cruise from B.V.I. to Venezuela and back.  I call it THE WRONG BOAT, which is what our sailor friends thought about THE RX.  Being a 35 ft. semi-displacement trawler, they felt we had no business doing what we were doing.  Every time we left an anchorage for the next island in the chain, those who weren’t anxious to move on with us made us promise to radio them after we arrived – safely.  They worried about us.  It just goes to show the strength of a strong spirit.  PASSAGEMAKER still lives because she has indomitable spirit.  May she live for many more years.!!

            Take good care!


Mary Oesterling


P.S.  Vic Oesterling, skipper of THE RX succumbed to Alzheimers disease on Memorial Day, 2009.  I carry on with a “land cruiser”, a small motorhome.