There was a mountain of stuff on our kitchen floor. Bags and bags of stuff. Clothes, food, books, cameras, laptops, Tupperware, pans, and who knows what else. We walked around it for days and watched it grow until one day, after breakfast, we filled our Jeep with it and hauled it down to the Swifts Neck beach. In the still morning air, the XO and I swatted away the no-see-ums and loaded the stuff into our 12 foot aluminum dinghy and delivered it to Ginger Lee, our Trojan F-32 cabin cruiser floating calmly on her mooring 100 yards off the shore. It was already fairly warm outside even thought sun had just cleared the tops of the tall pines that guard the harbor. A lone fisherman in a small white skiff motored slowly through the channel past Long Beach and pointed his bow towards Buzzards Bay. Blue-gray ripples followed behind the little craft and eventually lapped our white fiberglass hull.
The neighbors, peeking through the curtains of their summer cottage, must have wondered what the heck was going on. They often saw us here on the shore with a duffel bag or two, but this towering pile of stuff meant something unusual was going on. And it was. A monumental trip, every boater’s dream, the adventure of all adventures, the holy grail of cruising: The Great Loop! Insert fanfare, cherubim singing, glittering rainbows, and other such heavenly regalia. It only took a half dozen years to get to this point.
Six years ago I mentioned to the XO that I would love to do The Great Loop. I gave her the nutshell version.
“You cruise north up the Hudson River in New York, then west on the Erie Canal, around the Great Lakes to Chicago. Using the Mississippi and other waterways, you head south to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, then north up the Atlantic coast. You follow the seasons. It takes at least a year.”
“Can we do it in this boat?” she asked.
“Oh yeah,” I answered. But at the time it seemed like a far away dream. How dare I even think of it! We had just purchased this boat for $22,000.
“We bought two diesel engines with a free boat wrapped around it,” the XO said. And she was, of course, right. The cost of new Lehman 120 diesel engines approaches ten grand a pop, and we have two. But those engines would be the reason we could entertain the notion of a 6,000 plus mile voyage. Lehmans can run for over 20,000 hours without a major overhaul.
I obviously I got her hooked on the idea because ever since that day she doggedly worked the budget, and more importantly, worked on getting her one-year leave of absence from her job. That in itself turned out to be quite a task. Small town politics was a formidable foe indeed. Nobody who worked for that town had ever requested such a leave. There was no precedent, nothing in place for this. For some reason or another there were people who disliked the idea. “We all wish we could take a year off and go gallivanting about,” was heard in one town meeting where the XO’s proposed leave of absence was dismissed. There were towering highs and heart wrenching lows. Sometimes it just didn’t seem like it would happen.
But the XO kept plugging away, buoyed by her boss’s enthusiasm. “It’s going to happen,” she said many times, but we were not convinced, until finally after many long years, the XO came home with a written agreement. That’s when it hit me hard. It became real and tangible. I remember the feeling in the pit of stomach. Yes, of course I was happy, but there was also a twinge of panic and fear of the unknown. It’s like taking a flight in a small airplane: I know it will be a beautiful experience, but why is it so hard to unglue my feet from the tarmac? Now we could plan in earnest. It sucked the breath right out of me.
I made modifications to increase our water, fuel, and holding tank capacities. I also installed solar panels and designed a system that will run our refrigerator continuously. “Ice from the sun,” the XO says. Our aft deck has been completely enclosed with a hard top and isinglass sides. “It’s like having another room,” she said about that project. She was pleased to get her fair Celtic skin out of the sunlight. “I come from the land of the pink people,” she would often say. The woman can get a sunburn through a tee-shirt.
The list of completed projects goes on and on: the window replacement project, the dinette relocation project, the flybridge improvement project, the sleeping berth project, new water heater, new plumbing fixtures, new alternators, new batteries, new outboard motor for the dinghy, blah blah blah… We’ve been very busy, but that’s over now. I have just one more thing to do before we get underway. I need to take the Jeep back home, cover it up in the driveway, and walk back to the beach. That’s the plan for the next 20 minutes.
“Stick to the plan Rick,” I say to myself. No need to take a last look around the house or check the grounds or anything else. We’ve already done all that several times. We gave away our houseplants, turned off the water, emptied the fridge, forwarded the mail, and tended to a hundred little details, too many to mention. The house will be under the watchful eyes of our good friends and next door neighbors Joe and Bernadette. “Hopefully Joe wont burn it down,” my wife kids, but I wonder. He’s no stranger to explosions and fires.
I stuck to my plan, covered the Jeep and walked slowly back to the shore. One foot in front of the other, heading towards the unknown. The cicadas droned and osprey circled above. Early morning dog walkers and lawn waterers tossed me friendly waves and warm smiles. A thousand thoughts filled my head. I felt surges of fear and courage, dread and hope. I felt like crying and laughing. I was hot and cold, weird in a normal way.
The beach was littered with boxes of spent fireworks from last nights Forth of July celebration. I put one leg into the dinghy and pushed off with the other. The instant my foot left the sandy shore a wave of independence washed over me. “Good-bye Swifts Neck.” It’s queer, I know, but the XO and I both do things like that. “Good-bye house. Good-bye Jeep. See ya next year, tree.”
We had our little celebration on the foredeck. It included a bottle of Moet, not for drinking mind you–we never drink and drive the boat–but for dedicating our new AGLCA burgee and to bring good fortune on our impending adventure. We both took a sip or two, then for extra good luck gave our friend Neptune a healthy glug over the guard rail.
“This is really happening,” I said. That moment really got to me. Through tears I thanked my wife.
“You are the sole reason why this is happening. I love you.” I said.
“I know,” she answered. And with that we dropped the pennants and released Ginger Lee.
“Good-bye mooring. See ya next year.”