Cruising the Tennessee River on their ‘60s-era Chris-Craft, Blair and Jan Carter live out an old-fashioned romance on the water.
Adventure. Escape. The peace and quiet of being on still waters with the one you love.
By Katy Mena-Berkley
Photography by Med Dement
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Life with a boat has charmed many a Chattanooga resident. For Blair Carter and his wife, Jan, there is simply no other way to exist. The owners of a 1968 Chris-Craft Roamer, the Carters have spent the past seven years restoring the vintage treasure to its former glory.
According to Blair, it’s taken a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of money to get the 46’x15’ beauty up to speed. But there’s no doubt in his mind that the project has been well worth the effort.
“I’ve always been a Chris-Craft fan. They are hand built, and the craftsmanship and quality are unparalleled,” says Blair, who is avid about staying true to the original look and feel of the boat as he continues to refurbish it. “We’re trying to keep the appearance as authentic as possible, but with modern conveniences.”
Complete with two heads, two berths, a full galley, and a salon, the boat has all of the necessities plus some added bells and whistles. The space is outfitted with washer and dryer as well as heating and air conditioning.
“It’s like our own condominium on the lake, minus the bathtub,” says Jan. “We can pack up, unplug and stay for days and days.
CRAFT of a Bygone Era
While utilitarian, the Carters’ boat also remains reminiscent of the era in which it was built. White leather, rich Brazilian mahogany, and elegant teak are showcased from bow to stern. Simple, geometric fabrics adorn minimalist furniture.
“We wanted to create a true getaway, a place to escape for several days at a time. During boating season, it’s almost like we’re camping out on the water,” says Blair. “You can have a rough week at work. But when you come here to the boat and decompress, your cares just disappear.”
It’s not all about appearances and relaxation, however, as the Carters’ boat possesses true quality at every level. With a new transmission and steel metal hull, the boat has been dubbed Steel Here by the Carters—a name that hints at the watercraft’s long history and the journey the boat endured when it was brought to Tennessee.
Made and sold in Michigan, Steel Here traveled 1,600 miles before reaching Chattanooga. The journey took Blair several weeks to make, with stops and trips home peppered throughout.He navigated the waters of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, the Illinois River, the Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Tennessee River, docking for hours or days in great American cities such as Macinaw Island, Benton Harbor, Chicago, St. Louis, and Paducah, Kentucky. And it wasn’t a trip he had to make alone.
“There’s no shortage of friends who are willing to do this with you,” Blair says, recalling time spent onboard with friends and his son, Chase. “We had a wonderful time on those trips, and I’m having a wonderful time with my wife.”
Both of the Carters cite the friendships they have formed with other boaters as being one of the greatest joys of being boat owners.
“The relationships boaters form being on the water—it’s like being in the same tight-knit family,” says Jan, who spent a lot of time on the water in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, during her childhood. “The boating community in Chattanooga is a blast.”
There’s no doubt that the Carters’ common love for boats and life on the water factored into their first meeting at the Chattanooga Yacht Club years ago, making the water an even more central piece of their life story than it already was.
The son of Carter Distributing Co. founder Bill Carter, Blair has been a Chattanooga resident since 1959. Though he was just 5 years old when his family moved to the city, the Carters had already endured certain tragedy in life. In the wrong place at the wrong time with a heavy, hot roller press, Blair severely injured his right hand at the age of 2, a challenge that could derail the hopes and dreams of many. But for Blair, defeat simply wasn’t in the cards.
“My mom never let me dwell on my injury,” says Blair. “Do I hate the fact that I was born with two great arms and injured one beyond repair? Yeah. But I can still go out and buy boats,” he adds with a smile, casually mixing a cocktail at twilight. “We’re not promised tomorrow. Just have to make the most of today.”
As the Steel Here inches closer to its 50th birthday, with its original engines no less, the Carters plan to continue polishing their maritime treasure. There is talk of future trips to southern locales such as New Orleans. But they stand firm in their belief that when it comes to boating communities, there’s simply no place like home.
“For people that love boating, Chattanooga is the best place you can possibly be,” says Jan. “It’s the perfect place to have a boat, especially a boat like this.”