The Great Loop

Ever since I found out there was such a thing, I wanted to do it. But it just seemed so impossible, a far away dream, unattainable by mere mortal working folks like the XO and I. But I never thought it was only for those who were wealthy. I did figure one had to have some sort of plan to be able to travel a whole year with the seasons. All you need is money and time. Only two of the most precious commodities known to man! Thanks to my wifes dogged determination, it took only several years to bring our plan to fruition. But don’t be discouraged, you don’t need a heck-of-a-lot of either when you consider what you would normally pay for living on land in your house or apartment. Food, fuel for heating, cooking or driving, electricity, cable, etc. And when you think about it, one year out if a whole lifetime is minimal.
A surprising amount of folks we’ve met along the way sold their house to do the Great Loop. Sort of an open-ended plan. In a way I admire the gumption, the devil-may-care approach, throw your fate to the wind. There’s a certain amount of romance attached. Being the romantic guy that I am, I do approve. It’s not for us, but still very cool in my book. Others have retired with pensions, social security, or IRA’s. That would definitely cover the cost of looping as long as one was not too extravagant. We’ve also met people who have worked hard creating a viable business, and then sold that business to buy a nice boat and cruise on it. Why not? You can’t take it with you. And then there are the few lucky people who can afford a beautiful boat, and just loop continuously full-time. The platinum loopers. My idols. Very rare. After nine months we have not seen one platinum burgee. But they are out there. I know they are because the AGLCA says they are, and I want to believe. SOCOBO 4/15/18

Homeward

“You seem so melancholy ever since we swung north. Are you okay?”, the XO asked.
“Oh, I’m fine”, I answered, trying hard not to sound too much like Eeyore. “It’s just that we’re heading home. It’s bittersweet.”

Old dragger at anchor in St Augustine, FL.

I made a mental note to keep my spirits up. With way over a thousand miles to travel, there are plenty of adventures to be had on this trip.
Ya know, I feel better already. I’ve always been able to talk myself into a good mood!

Ginger Lee and Rogue Angel at Marker 8 Marina in St Augustine, FL. Two boats from Massachusetts.

I’d love to think we would find ourselves looping again. The second time around, knowing more of what to expect, revisiting the ports we enjoyed, (and bypassing the ones we didn’t) free from the angst of the unknown, just seems so much more enjoyable.

But It took so long to save up for this first trip that time may be against me. That’s a hard fact to admit to oneself, but there it is. Oh yeah, nobody knows how long they’re going to live, but I’ll take a wild guess and say I have a heck of a lot fewer years than when I wasn’t a senior citizen.

A trail on Cumberland Island.

Of all the long-term cruisers we’ve met, many of them seem to be about my age or maybe a bit older. Most, like myself, are in reasonably good physical health. By that I mean, able to do routine things on a boat, like docking, handling lines and kinda heavy stuff like batteries, dinghy motors, fuel tanks, water tanks, anchors, and all the not-so-heavy stuff that has to be hauled to and from the boat.

Lee from M/V Breeze. I took this shot right after the XO and I returned his dinghy that somehow got loose.

And then there’s financial health. There are people who cruise full-time. We’ve met plenty of them. Some are obviously wealthy, some you just don’t know. I wonder how they do it, but it’s just not cool to ask. Most cruisers will only say they’re retired.

Two old salts?

As far as full-time cruising, the way I see it, comes down to three questions. Is this the life you want? Are you heathy enough to do it. Can you afford to do it? SOCOBO 3/31/18

The Heights of Canaveral

One of two space launches we saw from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The other one, from a private company called Spacex, was just after midnight. We set our alarm clock to watch it.

We visited the Explorer Tower. Billed as seven storeys of adventure.

View of Port Canaveral from the top.

Another view.

Cruise ships abound here.

Clowning around on an old launch console at the Space and Missile Museum.

We took our first helicopter ride. Jeez! It looks so small. No I am not wearing a fanny pack! They made us wear a flotation device in case we crash into the water.

Jeez! The pilot looks so young.

The helicopter dashboard.

Pre flight jitters?

Strapped in.

The flight was smoother than expected.

Flying over our marina.

Another view.

A huge cruise ship.

Notice the shoaling.

This is the note we left on our boat in case we died. P.S. We didn’t.

I want one!

Best coffee cup ever! SOCOBO 3/16/18

North

On Monday February 26th 2018, after crossing the state of Florida on the Okeechobee Waterway, we met the Atlantic Ocean and pointed our bow north. For the first time since July 2017, we are on a homeward course. Every time we move Ginger Lee we will be that much closer to Wareham, our home port.

The XO greets the Atlantic Ocean.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, we will be happy back home in our little house, driving our little Jeeps, resuming our little lives. But on the other hand, this awesome adventure of a lifetime will be coming to an end.
“How will we ever go back to normal life?” I have written in this blog about looping and coming home, but the funny thing is, after so long afloat, life on this boat has become the norm! So the question has changed to: How will we ever go back to land-based life? Probably just fine; we have, after all, more experience there, but I think the allure of the boating life will forever be tugging at our heart-strings. Will we succumb to its calling? There has been some discussion on the topic. Why wouldn’t there be? It’s a viable option for many. Viable for us? Well that’s another thing to discuss someday.
Perhaps it’s too soon for such talk: we have well over a thousand miles to travel at an average speed of seven MPH. The trip is hardly over, I don’t know what will happen in the future, nobody does. All we know for sure is we have reached the Atlantic Ocean and turned north. We are heading home. SOCOBO 3/3/18

Friendly Fort Myers

We spent a fortnight in lovely Fort Myers, Florida.

We docked at the Edison Ford Marina for a week.

Then hung off a mooring ball for 4 days at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin.

A snow-bird friend from Winthrop, Massachusetts dropped by to say hi. This is Cal Cali. He spends his winters in Punta Gorda.

This handsome young man is my son Jason who lives in nearby Cape Coral. We spent lots of time together.

We enjoyed cigars and brandy at the Cigar Bar.

We hit the beach at Sanibel.

He and his girlfriend Yvonne had us over for dinner twice.

We met Lincoln, my 4-year-old grandson.

 

We scraped Salty’s bottom on a deserted island.

And saw “The Parade of Lights” in downtown Fort Myers.

It was wicked pissa!

 

Florida Pictorial II

I now understand why so many New Englanders migrate to sunny Florida. This is their winter and the weather is near perfect.

M/V Ginger Lee and fellow looper M/V Breeze in Tarpon Springs.

Sponge boat in Tarpon Springs.

The only boat at Caladisi State Park.

Caladisi State Park scene.

There are miles of trails to hike.

Small Sarasota cottage.

Sarasota street scene.

Sarasota mooring field sunset.

Exploring one of the many canals in Florida.

More dinghy exploring.

Palm tree surfing on a deserted island.

At anchor near the Cortez Bridge.

At anchor in Pelican Bay, Cayo Costa.

Questions Asked

How do you feel about travelling for a whole year in your cabin cruiser?
The short answer: wonderful. Beats workin’. At first I was apprehensive about certain little things, like where will we put our boat every night, but after 3800 miles, I realize that doing the Great Loop will probably be one of the nicest things I will ever do in my life.
How do you occupy your time?
Contrary to popular belief, boat maintenance is not all time-consuming. There is a lot of free time. But is that such a bad thing? My wife and I can usually find something to do. There are so many books on board Ginger Lee that we had to position them correctly in order to balance the boat. The XO inhales them. I like mechanics, and fixing stuff. I have a garage full of tools and parts. She swims and kayaks. I walk and tinker about. She likes good rum and ginger beer. I like good cigars and brandy. We both like cooking and eating out, and when we eat out, we prefer sitting at the bar. We like dinghy adventures and exploring. Basically, it’s doing the same stuff we do at home, but now we do it in new places.

Exploring Shell Island at the entrance to Crystal River.

In Tarpon Springs Florida, this is what the Greeks consider a light lunch for two.

What’s it like to be with somebody in such a confined space?
This question is usually asked in different ways like: You haven’t killed each other yet? Aren’t you sick of each other? You get the idea, but the answer is: I feel closer to my wife than ever before. I enjoy her company, but we often do separate things.

The XO is off on another kayaking adventure.

What do you eat? How do you cook.
We eat normal food. Meat, potatoes, rice, vegetables. Cooked on a stove or on our barbecue grill. I love the electric crock pot that we can use while cruising long distances. It runs easily off our 1000 watt inverter. The XO fills it with meat and things and a couple of hours into a long trip the whole boat smells wonderful!
Pressure cooker, electric skillet, toaster oven, we brought ’em all and we use ’em.
Food shopping has not been a problem. We have a fridge/freezer combo and another separate freezer that we like to keep filled with the things we enjoy. Pretty much everything one would find in any non-vegetarians refrigerator. We also like fresh fruits and vegetables such as apples, cukes, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, squash, ya know, normal stuff. We don’t eat a lot of canned goods. It’s the same stuff we usually eat at home in Massachusetts. For some reason lettuce doesn’t keep on a boat, spoils after a day. Bananas don’t do well either. We freeze the bread because it stays fresh longer.

You don’t live on the boat all the time do you?
Yes we do. It’s our home away from home. The boat is set up that way. In port we hook up a special drinking water hose to the town water supply and plug in a 30 amp power cable so we have hot and cold running water and plenty of juice for our electrics like coffee-maker, microwave, heater, TV, etc.
When we anchor out, 12 volt deep-cycle batteries connected to 120 volt inverters keep everything going. The batteries are continually recharged by 5 solar panels. We hold 70 gallons of fresh water, enough to last a week, two if we conserve. It’s just very comfortable and livable, and the view is always beautiful.
How do you know where to go?
The Great Loop is a well-known and well published route that we follow. And we have paper charts which are like road maps for the waterways. We simply travel from place to place in small jumps. Usually 20 to 50 miles. Always in daylight, and mostly in good weather if we can help it. Sometimes we get caught in the rain but that’s not so much a problem. Wave height is the worst problem. With radar, fog is not so much a problem either as long as the waves are small. We also use cruising guides–books that tell you about all the places you could go–and the internet has Active Captain, a free service that tells you pretty much everything about anywhere in the world. It’s an invaluable tool for all boaters.
How do you get mail?
We use a mail service that specializes in helping cruising boaters. We forward all our mail to them, they get rid of the junk, and process all the other stuff into email if we want, or they can send it to us at any port.

Do you tow that dinghy?
We get a lot questions about Salty, our 12 foot aluminum friend. A hard dinghy is a rarity. We never see them outside of New England. All loopers have inflatables and nobody ever tows them. They’re lifted onto the boat or hung on davits. People are surprised to see us tow. My answer is always the same: This is the equipment we’ve had for years. We didn’t buy a boat or a dinghy to do the Great Loop. We’re just using the stuff we already have.

Towing Salty through the Intracoastal Waterway.

Heavy-duty shackle and thimble with 5/8 floating tow line.

The other end of the tow line slips through a bridle line connected on port and starboard cleats.

Are you scared?
Well no, not really. I don’t feel our lives are in danger or anything, but there were some exciting moments and I’m sure there will more to come. Running over the dinghy tow line and sinking poor Salty was fairly exciting. Hitting a tree floating in the Connecticut river was breathtaking as well. The wicked current on the Mississippi river would wake anybody up, and the tornado on Lake Cayuga was also concerning. Life is not perfectly safe no matter where you are.
Most of the time being underway is boring. In fact, we have a saying: if you’re cruising and you’re bored, it’s a good thing.
Why are you doing this?
 We were hanging around the dock one day with some other loopers. That question was put out there and people answered in turn. I don’t recall exactly who said what except for one young man who was doing the loop solo. He said: “I hope someday to find the answer to that very question”. It just stuck with me. Everyone has their reasons, mine are not so profound.
I love boating. I love the challenge of it all. The excitement of seeing new places, meeting new people, and doing new things in a boat. And I want an answer to the three questions that I’ve asked myself about this voyage.
Am I physically able?
Am I a good enough mechanic to keep all the systems working?
Can I figure out all the things that need to be figured out?
That last question is the key. I know I can navigate anywhere. I know I can make this boat do what I want it to do, go where I want it to go, but if I can find the answer to that last question, maybe, just maybe, I can do the same in my life. SOCOBO 2/2/18

Double Trouble With Castor and Pollux


On a glorious Florida morning we left Steinhatchee and headed south for the port of Cedar Key. About two miles down the channel we lost power in Pollux, our port engine. We immediately turned around and tied up to the slip we had just vacated.

Back at the slip in Steinhatchee.

I changed the fuel filters, which is what I usually do when this sort of thing happens. Everything seemed fine, so the next morning we headed out again. About halfway to Cedar Key, Pollux conked out again. We continued on course using just our starboard engine and anchored at Cedar Key.

Anchored at Cedar Key.

I went through the entire fuel system and actually found a few loose fuel lines. Thinking I had solved the problem, we headed off at dawn for our next port, Crystal River.

Early morning start.

We travelled less than a mile when our Starboard engine, who we call Castor, sounded its engine alarm.
“What’s going on?” the XO asked.
“Castor is overheating. We gotta go back and check it out,” I said.
We went back to the anchorage and I discovered a busted fan belt which I replaced in about a half hour.
Off we go again.
As soon as I brought both engines up to speed, Pollux lost power and petered out for the third time, so once again, back to the anchorage we went.
Determined to find the problem, I dug back into the engine compartment, and with the help of my budzo Captain John Skerry, and Brian Smith of American Diesel (both via phone) I concluded that I needed a new fuel pump.

Digging in.

I ordered the new fuel pump and had it sent general delivery to the Cedar Key Post Office. At that point we knew we’re going to be stuck here a week until it arrived. It will be the longest we have ever been at anchor.

Not such a bad place to be stuck.

At anchor we stretched our resources to the limit. We used almost all our fresh water, our holding tank was nearly full, and our battery power dropped low enough that we had to use our Honda generator. It was quite an experience, but we made do and had a good time to boot. I suppose the worst part was that there was no internet, no TV, and barely any cell phone reception. I actually had to read a book.

There was no TV reception on Ginger Lee, so we watched the NFL playoffs at two different  waterfront bars.

The Cedar Key waterfront. There are like 8 bars.

Finally, on Monday morning the new fuel pump arrived. I installed it and we left the following morning for Crystal River, the winter home of the manatees. Our engines Castor and Pollux hummed along happily the whole way. SOCOBO 1/26/18

Escape From Carrabelle

Beautiful Carrabelle. If ever there was a place not to leave…

Our view every morning.

Our view every night.

How long have we been here? Eleven, twelve days while waiting for a good opportunity to cross the cantankerous Gulf of Mexico. It really doesn’t matter, because once the cold front blew through, the sun returned and warmed our boat and our souls and I fell in love with Carrabelle.

Aglow with beauty.

Hardly a resort destination. Carrabelle has its own unpretentious charm.
There are many working boats. Some nice, some not so much.

F/V Rolling Stone. A well cared for Shrimp boat.

There is something attractive about even the old, run-down, working boats.

F/V Tarfoot.

We watched this old shrimper sink over the course of a few days.

Sunk!

Why do I like this port so much? Well for one thing, everything is close. The supermarket, hardware store, and the Fisherman’s Wife restaurant are right across the street. Within a couple of blocks are two bars, both had NFL football on a big screen.

Watching the Titans whip the Chiefs at the C-Quarters Saloon.

proprietor Ray crunches the numbers.

Watching the Saints crush Cam Newton and the Panthers at Harry’s Bar and Package.

The hospitality at the C-Quarters Marina was the best. Thank you Captain Kim and Norm.

C-Quarters.

Okay. I fall in love with nearly every place we visit. Guilty as charged. But we’ve spent more time in Carrabelle than any other location, and that makes it all the harder to leave. But leave we must.
A decent weather window opened up and we left Carrabelle to anchor for the night off Dog Island. It was a short hop, but a precious hour closer to Steinhatchee, our destination port across the Gulf. That one hour will mean the world at the end of the day. Docking in the dark sucks.

Anchored off Dog Island.

Other loopers are staging here as well. M/V Kara Mia in foreground. We made arrangements with Captain Mike of M/V Wine Speed (in background) to keep in radio contact since we were both leaving at about the same time and travelling close to the same speed.

M/V Blue Ayes.

At the fist suggestion of daylight we weighed anchor and headed across the Gulf. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick we had less than an eighth of a mile visibility. Under normal circumstances this would be a trip ender, but since we had only one waypoint to head to, and the waves were small, we decided to trust our instruments and continue on.

Imagine staring into this all day.

The view aft.

It was one hell of a long, boring, 96 mile, day long sucker. Interrupted only by the occasional pod of rambunctious dolphins. They love to show off, chasing Ginger Lee, sometimes coming so close we feared for their safety. Once, a mother and calf jumped in tandem off our port bow. So cute. Another time, full-grown dolphins jumped four abreast right in front of us. As we were oohing and ahhing they did it again! Somehow they instinctively know when my camera is present; I’ve yet to capture any of their antics on film. Sorry, no picture.
Finally, the Steinhatchee entrance channel marker appeared like an apparition out of the mist. We were positively giddy at the thought of looking at something else besides the monotonous monochrome of the fog and the unnatural lighting of our radar, GPS, and AIS units. Relief set in. We laughed like children and made stupid jokes as we followed the skinny channel to safety. It wasn’t until we were deep into the river that the fog cleared, but were losing daylight fast.

The fog clears as we enter Steinhatchee at dusk.

At 6:03 PM, as the last rays of light struggled for life, before surrendering into dimness of nightfall, we pulled into our slip next to M/V Wine Speed at the Sea Hag marina in the port of Steinhatchee, Florida. We crossed the mighty Gulf of Mexico! SOCOBO 1/12/18

Ginger Lee and Wine Speed docked at the Sea Hag Marina.

 

 

It’s Friday

What day is it? Usually I have no idea. It’s not old age dementia, unless you consider taking a year-long boat trip around the eastern half of the United States to be crazy. Mostly, it’s the fact that there is nothing to qualify the question. I don’t have a job to go to and my appointment book is empty. So you see, there is no reason to know the particular day unless I’m waiting for something or there is something I want to watch on TV. Like football. There are some great games going on as the NFL season winds down. But here we are in Carrabelle, Florida, where it is quite cold. We’re talkin’ low twenties at night. The frigid temperatures that has assaulted the northeastern part of the country has extended its icy tentacles all the way into northern Florida. The other day they had their first ever winter storm warning. During that night, freezing rain pelted the waterfront and covered the docks and everything else until the sun melted it away ’bout mid morning.
Oh yeah, there is no TV reception, and sadly, no football on Ginger Lee. Between that and the cold temps, I can’t wait to get outta here.Don’t get me wrong. Carrabelle is very nice. We’re enjoying our time here as well as can be expected, but in order to continue our Great Loop adventure southward into warmer climes, and get football on our TV, we need to cross a small corner of the Gulf of Mexico to the port of Steinhatchee, a trip that may take more hours than there is daylight.  Apparently the Gulf can be as fickle and cantankerous as Buzzards Bay. We hear tales of smooth-as-glass seas quickly turning into angry 8 footers, seasoned sailors retching overboard from the constant pounding of broadside waves, and shallow water grounding. We don’t want any of those shenanigans; it’s important to be patient; sooner or later the conditions will be favorable. It’s been a week since we cleated the lines at the C-Quarters Marina, making this one of our longest stays so far.
We’re keeping busy. I’m doing a lot of walking, writing, boat maintenance, and beer drinking. The XO is attending Yoga at the library, as well as biking, cooking, reading, and making a nifty rope rug. So we will wait in unpretentious Carrabelle until the high winds and big waves subside enough to make such a long passage possible.
It looks like we could be here until Thursday. It’s okay though, we lack for nothing except warm weather and football, so I definitely know what day it is. SOCOBO 1/5/17