Chicago is a boating city. Flanked on one side by Lake Michigan and located at the head of a canal that opens the Great Lakes to heartland America, it’s also within easy reach of the many inland lakes for which the Midwest is famous.
So when lifelong Midwest boater Keith “Kip” Benson moved to Waukegan, Ill. — 40 miles north of Chicago — in 2005, buying a boat was a high priority. “My family has been boating since I was a small child,” says the 26-year-old electrical engineer. “My dad’s best friend owned a River Queen houseboat on Lake of the Ozarks, and after several trips there, my parents started boating on the Rock River. We had ski boats on the Rock, [and] we water skied, tubed and took evening cocktail cruises, dining at the few restaurants between the dams of Sterling and Dixon. So when I moved to [the Chicago area], I wanted to enjoy the city from the water.”
Armed with a list of candidates from several Midwestern builders, Benson searched the Chicago-Waukegan area for the 0- to 40-foot liveaboard-style cruiser he envisioned. He found it last year, almost in his back yard, in the form of a 1997 380 Santego from Pulaski, Wis., builder Carver Boat Corp. Powered by twin inboards, riding a modified-vee hull and equipped with all the comforts of a full-fledged cruising boat, it also had a deck and cabin layout that, for Benson, put it over the top. “It was a perfect fit,” he says. “When I stepped on board, the choice was obvious.”
The Carver was selling for $110,000, and the vessel was in turn-key condition — well cared for by its owner and with just 200 hours on the engines and 100 hours on the genset. But as Benson stood on the big, open flybridge, two small features really stood out. “The walkthrough from the helm to the bow, and the great visibility from the helm station,” he says. “They were selling features.” The bridge is also a great place for entertaining, seating up to 10 for a day cruise or dock-side get-together.
Aside from that, Carvers have a reputation for reliability and serviceability, Benson says. “There was no doubt in my mind that a Carver would be a safe boat from an investment point of view.”
The 380 Santego can sleep up to six and has a fully equipped cruising galley and an enclosed standup head with a shower — all the desired amenities, says Benson. Power comes from a pair of 350-hp gasoline inboards, coupled to V-drives. “I like to cruise at about 3,000 rpm, which is about 17 to 19 knots depending on wind speed and direction,” he says. “The [40-mile] cruise from the dock at Waukegan down to the city takes two hours and about 40 gallons of fuel.” His current slate of electronics includes a combination GPS/radar, autopilot and fishfinder.
He’s only owned the boat for a season, so no major projects have come up. But he has had the chance to make a few changes — and plans a few more. Routine maintenance has been the norm: engine and genset oil changes, replacing the starboard blower motor, and changing fuel filters, he says. “The genset also had some difficulty operating under load, so I was able to change the impeller, air filter and adjust the carb, and it seems to be running happily now.” Projects for next year include a stereo system overhaul, installing a better freshwater pump, and adding a new GPS and console-mounted VHF.
The vision of enjoying Chicago by boat has been fulfilled, the owner says. “So far in my limited season last summer, I made five round trips from Waukegan to Chicago, usually staying at Belmont harbor overnight,” Benson says. “This year I hope to be able to anchor off [Chicago’s ] Oak Street beach and live on the genset for the weekend.” More voyages come to mind: a long weekend across the lake to Michigan, a weeklong cruise north to port cities in Wisconsin. “And someday, if I ever have the time,” says Benson, “the Great Loop.”
Considering the contemporary Euro styling of current Carver yachts, the 380 Santego has a conservative look, with a low profile, long foredeck and a moderate cockpit. The popular family weekender and cruiser was known for its large, open flybridge, accessed via a ladder from the cockpit, as well as from the foredeck through a walkthrough. The helm station is on centerline, and there’s ample room for a full slate of electronics and engine gauges. Flybridge seating is on port and starboard benches.
The cockpit has seating for three, and steps on each side lead down to the swim platform. Triple deck panels allow easy access to the engines below, and sliding glass doors open to the saloon. There’s a couch that converts to a berth, which can be closed off with a privacy curtain. The galley is amidships, to port, and can be equipped with a stove, oven, microwave, refrigerator and other amenities. The large, booth-style dinette is to port.
The master stateroom forward has an island double berth, a pair of hanging lockers and additional storage. The head is forward, to starboard, adjacent to the master cabin. Its two doors open into the saloon and cabin.
The Carver 380 Santego can be found on the used boat market in every corner of the country. Prices run from around $80,000 for early models up to around $180,000 for 21st century boats. A 1990 Santego was for sale in Wisconsin for $79,900, pow-ered by a pair of MerCruiser inboards. The galley was equipped with a stove/ovenand a full-size refrigerator, and an icemaker enhanced the cockpit wet bar and sink.
A “meticulously maintained” 1992 Santego for sale in Connecticut at $101,000 was powered by twin 430-hp Volvo 4.7-liter diesels for a 30-plus-mph top end. It came with a 6.5-kW generator, three-burner stove, full-size refrigerator and oven, wet bar with ice-maker, and a stereo system. In California, a 1997 Santego with twin 330-hp Crusader 454s (around 600 hours) was selling for $119,000. It came with a full Bimini and enclosure, cockpit bench seat and an entertainment center with television. A 1999 Florida boat had a $170,000 price tag, which included a pair of low-use (200 hours) 330-hpCummins diesels, air conditioning/heat, icemaker, coffee maker and an inflatable dinghy on davits.
Steve Knauth is a contributing writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue.