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Mates for life?

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.

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."

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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.

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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."

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A harem of five:

Rebecca

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

The boat — made of western cedar with mahogany trim and walnut hatch covers — isn't done yet, of course. It still needs more adornment, or "gingerbread," he says. She has crisp Tyvek sails with her nickname "REB" in red letters; a tiny tag on the back says Rainbow Lagoon Regatta, referring to a race she was in. Herrera, 69, first saw Rebecca in Wooden Boat magazine, which summed her up as "pragmatism born of experience." The wording wasn't sexy, but he was smitten.

Six to nine months of tinkering and she's ready to sail. The parts cost about $600, but time and labor bump up her value to at least $2,000, he says.

Herrera goes sailing every Sunday — usually in Long Beach, usually with friends — just for an hour or two. He hired a gardener so he could spend more time taking his fleet on the water. His wife doesn't care for sailing so he bought her a mallard decoy to tinker with.

Sometimes he takes Rebecca, sometimes it's the green schooner he calls the Fat One.

"She's been a real good boat, except I changed some parts in her. She's not too happy, I guess," he says as Rebecca sways right and left in the water.

"C'mon, baby," he says gently.

The arm of one sail pries loose for the third time, and Herrera, a retired aerospace contract administrator, docks her for repairs. "I think she's mad at me," he says. He puts down his radio transmitter, props up the 25-pound boat and steers the arm back into place with his hands. Then he nudges the 5-foot, 2-inch model back into the water.


Times staff writer Ashley Powers

can be reached at ashley.powers@ latimes.com.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

DREAM BOATS

A few faithful owners never slip around

Serial monogamists drive the boating economy when they move up to younger, prettier or peppier crafts as often as their wallets allow. But a few boat owners lavish attention on one deserving vessel for as long as they live. Wooden beauties made in the '30s, '40s and '50s by Chris-Craft, Gar Wood, Hacker Craft and Sea Lyon inspire such devotion. At the Tahoe Yacht Club's Concours d'Elegance pageant earlier this month, judges, collectors and casual admirers swooned over the gleaming spar-varnished curves of runabouts that were delivered new to the lake and have never left. Among them was Satin Doll, a 1940 Chris-Craft Custom Barrelstern owned by Dick Wenner of Newberg, Ore., who acquired the boat (then named Citation) in 1991 from the niece of her late second owner, Henry Miller, who had bought it (then Dynaflow) from the estate of her original suitor, Al Hoffman. Only her name changed over the decades. Satin Doll's wood, hardware and engine date to her launch into Tahoe's icy waters.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

SOLD

How our couples got hitched

Captains look to magazines or matchmakers in search of that perfect partner.

•  Ron Songrath called a boat dealer in San Juan Capistrano when he wanted to buy a Cigarette boat. Then he spent four months working with the maker to customize every inch of the powerboat, with the company making three or four drawings to nail every detail before it was finished. The truck towing his shrink-wrapped boat from Miami to Orange County broke down in the desert. Songrath borrowed a pickup to haul it from Ocotillo Wells.

•  Holly Scott combed newspaper classifieds and sailing magazines and called brokers to find a Cal 30. She had fallen in love with the style as a little girl after seeing a slide show about two women who sailed one to New Zealand. During her search, she found three for sale in the Southland and visited each. In one, Scott reclined in the cockpit for 15 minutes and decided: "This boat has a really cool energy and a really cool soul…. We can live happily ever after."

•  Many model boat makers prefer the traditional. But Bill Herrera says Rebecca's Marconi rig snagged his heart. Herrera took magazine pages that detailed how to build a 63-foot-long Rebecca to a guy who computes Mini-Me versions of boats. The 4-foot, 2-inch deck — middle-school kids are taller — guided the drawings Herrera would use to make the model.

•  Friends knew Don and Karen Kelly coveted a Catalina sailboat roomier than their 36-footer. Still, Don was stunned when a buddy called to say the ideal boat was bobbing at a Marina del Rey dealership. The Catalina 42 was pristine; the previous owner hadn't touched the oven or stove top. Within a week, the Kellys took home the 8-month-old Catalina.

— Ashley Powers
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