A couple of local seafarers prove you just cannot live without water!
Story by Ann Butenas | Photography by Matt Kocourek
Sometimes to get away from it all, you simply have to go home. In the case of Charlie and Esther Tantillo, that translates to making the drive from their primary residence in the Kansas City area to Perry Lake in northeast Kansas, where they board their charming houseboat or sailboat nearly every weekend of the Spring, Summer and Fall and even a few Winter weekends! Although Perry Lake may not necessarily qualify as the “high seas,” it perfectly aligns with the Tantillos love of the water. Both Charlie and Esther are sailors at heart, as both were practically raised on the water. Esther grew up power boating and Charlie essentially cut his teeth on a sailboat. Together, they enjoy fun-filled days and relaxing evenings on their various water craft as often as possible. Throw in some great food, soothing tunes, amazing company, and then just add water. The mix is complete!
With C Dock at Lake Perry Yacht & Marina as their “second home”, the Tantillos have created somewhat of a community over the years with other navigators of the seas, and that sense of family and harmonious companionship is one of the main reasons their hearts are deeply anchored at this place.
At Perry Lake, the Tantillos maintain the family houseboat and a larger sailboat, as well as a run-a-bout power boat and several smaller sail boats. However, they have not just created their own corner of paradise at the lake over the years; they have also established a sense of community with other boaters who share a similar passion for life on the water.
“In addition to renting slips for our own boats, we have partnered with friends and family to rent and plank over several nearby slips to create more of a party dock atmosphere,” noted Charlie, a certifiable captain of the seas if there ever was one! “We enjoy congregating with others, sitting down together on the communal docks and just enjoying drinks, food and conversation. Over the years, additional slips have been added and more people have become a part of this fun community. Even if we don’t go out on the water, it is a very friendly and relaxing experience.”
The Tantillos acquired their “live aboard” sailboat Cobalt Bluze in 1998, but the houseboat bears more of a family legacy.
“The houseboat originally belonged to Charlie’s mom,” noted Esther. Since Carol Tantillo passed, Esther has completely remodeled it and installed a painting of Charlie’s parents as a tribute to them. “This is a great place for our extended family to gather in honor of mom and dad Tantillo.”
Both the houseboat and the sailboat are self-contained vessels. The houseboat serves as more of a bunkhouse for friends and family, while the sailboat is the one that Esther and Charlie often use to anchor out in a favorite cove to spend the night.
“We like getting out of the marina to enjoy the sunset followed by a quiet night and nice breakfast out on the water the next morning,” smiled Esther, who likened the boats they have to large recreational vehicles in terms of accommodations.
The sailboat has a “V” berth sleeping area in front and a fold down couch area in the main salon which can comfortably sleep two people, along with a large bed in the back cabin that will work in a pinch but is under low cover. There is also a sleeping space in the cockpit and a hammock between the mast and forward sail.
“We enjoy accommodating guests to give them the sailing experience, and many are surprised to find such a level of comfort,” noted Charlie, whose family was originally from New York but moved to this area before he was born. In the early 1960’s, Charlie’s dad taught him to sail on a small lake in Topeka. When Perry Lake opened in 1970s, the Tantillos were one of the first families to put a boat on the lake.
“It’s a luxury here for sailors, as this lake is one of the best sailing lakes around and has lots of wind,” expressed Charlie.
The houseboat bears the appropriate name of “Grazie” which is ‘Thank You’ in Italian, a common sentiment uttered by Charlie’s mom, who was always grateful for her life’s blessings. Grazie is a popular gathering spot for extended family, as well as friends, who are thankful to enjoy each other’s company on the weekends.
The houseboat sleeps up to six people and boasts three beds, including a main bed and a couch that pulls out and is perfect for two “if you are skinny and in love,” laughed Charlie. Additionally, it has a settee in the galley that transforms to a six-foot bed.
Both the houseboat and the sailboat have air conditioning and generators, as well as televisions, stereos, refrigerators, kitchen areas (referred to as a galley) and other comforts of home to which landlubbers may be accustomed.
But what about WiFi?
“You can certainly use your phone hot spot or the marina WiFi,” expressed Esther. “But the goal here is to unplug.”
The Tantillos, their family and their friends are not the only ones with a passion for the water. Their sweet little Cavapoo, Tillie, affectionately referred to as “Queen of the Seas,” has also earned her sea legs, as, she, too, enjoys the comforts of life on the lake.
“We have the small boat we call Boogie Bluze, which we use to take the dog to shore to potty,” smiled Esther. “It’s just a dingy, as we can’t take the bigger boat to shore, but it’s perfect for bringing Tillie to shore or running back to the marina to pick up more ice.”
Although there may be some unseasonably warm weekends in the winter months that allow the Tantillos to enjoy life at the lake, that is the season when Esther and Charlie typically set sail for the Caribbean or Florida, “chartering” (renting) a sailboat for a week or two to bask in the warm air and sunshine.
“That way, we get our sailing fix all year long,” said Esther.
This past June, the couple expanded its sailing repertoire to include adventures in Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean, paying homage to Sicily, where Charlie’s grandfather was born.
Back at home, it is life as usual at the lake, and while that does mean lots of sun, laughter and good times, it does require a bit of work.
“It is work to maintain our boats, as we don’t have a full-time crew,” noted Charlie. “We do some maintenance projects on the weekends and Esther is unusually adept and eager at cleaning!”
Added Esther, “This is definitely a labor of love, but it is not work. It is play for us.”
Over the course of the last 20 years, Esther and Charlie have built up an environment that requires few sacrifices, turning their boats into their lake home.
“It’s a lot fun and we enjoy meeting new people as they come along,” stated Esther. “There are just a lot of happy people here!”
And no matter whether you find yourself at port or starboard; bow or stern, the Tantillos have just one wish for their guests:
“We wish you fair winds and following seas,” expressed Esther, referring to a popular phrase reiterated by sailors throughout the years, which translates to wishing someone safe sailing and also the best of luck and a long, good journey through life.