A review of Cruises with Kathleen, by Donald Hamilton
Reviewed by Rennie Petersen, October 1998.

Several months ago I became aware that Donald Hamilton had written a book about sailing back in 1980, and because I'm a Matt Helm fan I decided to buy the book if I could find it at a good price. Eventually I found a used copy for $10 on the Advanced Book Exchange (see below).

In Cruises with Kathleen, Donald Hamilton describes various cruises that he has taken with his 27-foot sail boat Kathleen during the years 1976 to 1979. This includes:

  • a shake-down cruise for the brand new boat from Vancouver, B.C. (where Kathleen was built) to Seattle, Washington and back to Vancouver.
  • a 1000-mile offshore cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles, during which he was hit by three violent storms.
  • sailing Kathleen from Houston, Texas (to where Kathleen had been moved by truck) to the Florida Keys via the Intracoastal Waterway and off the shore of Florida.
  • a cruise to Miami and back, with and against the Gulf Stream.
  • a cruise to Cuba together with a group of other boats, the first permitted for American yachtsmen in several decades.
  • a cruise to the Bahamas, two weeks of island-hopping, and back to Florida.


A few of these cruises were done by Donald Hamilton alone, but most of them were together with either his son Gordon or his wife Kay. There are a fair number of photographs illustrating the book, including several pictures of Donald Hamilton himself and one of his son Gordon.

Some of the material in this book had previously been published as articles in various boating magazines, and it shows, in that there is a lack of smooth flow from chapter to chapter. 

At the time covered by the book, Donald Hamilton was in his early sixties, and had not done any wind-powered sailing since his youth. However, he had become disenchanted with power boats (his previous boat had sported twin 115 hp. outboard motors!) and felt the urge to return to real sailing. 

It is this situation, and the fact that Donald Hamilton is a very individualistic and opinionated person, that makes the book interesting. He describes why he wanted Kathleen to have certain attributes and how he went about finding a designer and ship yard with the proper basic boat design and willing to cater to his desires. He also writes eloquently about various other, sometimes controversial, positions on various topics.

I found one particular quote to be very interesting, on the subject of whether or not it was a good idea to visit Cuba considering the current American policy towards that country: "I won't argue the point beyond stating, speaking only for myself, that I've visited a number of foreign countries, and even some U.S. states and cities, whose politics turned my stomach, without ever feeling that I was showing approval of the governments involved."

Although I found the book to be interesting and well written, it is a book I would only recommend to sailors. It is written by a sailor and the intended audience is other sailors. As a non-sailor I found myself both mystified and bored by a lot of the long descriptions of various kinds of equipment and sailing techniques.

The book is currently out of print and considered "hard to find". Here are some possible Internet sources, if you are looking for a copy:

Advanced Book Exchange:  www.abebooks.com
Bibliofind:  www.bibliofind.com
Interloc:  www.interloc.com
Admiralty Marine's Used Books:  www.admiraltymarine.com/books.htm

Cruises with Kathleen, by Donald Hamilton, 1980, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, hard cover, 247 pages, illustrated.