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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Hardly a resort destination. Carrabelle has its own unpretentious charm.
There are many working boats. Some nice, some not so much.
There is something attractive about even the old, run-down, working boats.
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.
The hospitality at the C-Quarters Marina was the best. Thank you Captain Kim and Norm.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
How far do we have to go to get warm in December?
It was a sunny 78 degrees when we pulled Ginger Lee into Fairhope, Alabama. I really thought I had my answer. We were all tee shirts and shorts, bare feet and umbrella drinks on the aft deck. Yee ha! The deep south! The next day the temperature never made it out of the forties. The next night was twenty-two degrees. Then there was a storm. The day after that it snowed. We were there for six days and never turned off the heater.
Apparently, Fairhope was not far enough. We moved on.
Flora-Bama was nice and sorta warm. Not shorts weather, but I was able to stick my bare feet into Gulf Coast sand for the first time.
It was the same story in Pensacola, Florida. The days were gorgeous, the people friendly, the raw oysters awesome (so I hear), and to top it all off, they sold beer and cigars right at the end of the dock. Still, we couldn’t open the windows, and we needed to use our heater at night. It was excellent long-sleeve shirt weather, but not warm.
It wasn’t until we docked in Panama City that we could finally open windows and hang out in shorts. No heater was needed at night. It was great. Then the fog rolled in.
Believe me, there are worse places to be stuck in port. We met some very nice people and really enjoyed the special ambiance that only a historic working port can provide.
How far do we have to go to get warm in December? As far as beautiful Panama City, Florida. SOCOBO 12/22/17
“How is your trip going?” The XO asks. She is, of course, referring to the Great Loop. It’s not the first time she has asked this question.
“It’s your trip too,” I answer this time, knowing full well that it is my dream trip. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it without her. So that sort of makes it her trip too.
“Yeah, I know. But I wanna know about your part.”
“It’s great! Beats workin’.”
“Is it like you expected?”
“Hell no. Nothing about this trip is anything like I expected.”
“Well for one thing, I thought we would have trouble finding places to stay, but that has never been the case. In fact, everywhere we go, we are usually alone, marina or anchorage.”
“Maybe people are avoiding us,” the XO kids.
“Ha! It is odd though. We don’t usually run into the people we meet more than a few times. Maybe our pace is different,” I reason.
“Or our taste in ports is.”
“That’s true. We tend to avoid the popular places. Prefer a good working boatyard over a glitzy destination marina. There’s nothing better than a deserted out-of-the-way anchorage.”
“It’s the Great Loop. We can only go so far off the beaten path, but you’re right, we have different tastes than most boaters. What else is not expected?”
“I didn’t think it would be so cold. I though we would be fighting the heat. We’ve only air-conditioned twice and we’ve heated hundreds of times. I’m totally unprepared clothing-wise. I only brought one thermal shirt; I still have no gloves; I had to buy a wool hat and a fleece jacket, and keeping enough heating fuel on the boat is a problem.”
“The warmest day we’ve had so far had been way north, like somewhere in Michigan, and the coldest day was in the deep south near the Gulf of Mexico in Fairhope, Alabama. It actually snowed for the first time in decades!”
“What about you. What surprises you about this trip.” I ask.
“Besides the fact that fresh vegetables don’t last more than a day, I thought it would be more relaxing. Some of it is kinda frightening,” she answered.
“We do Summer trips on Ginger Lee all the time. It’s not so scary. Well, not all the time,” I countered. Boating is, and always will be, somewhat dangerous. Stuff can and will happen, no matter how well you prepare.
“Ya but living on the boat has taken it to another level, but so far, most of the water stays out of the boat; I’m starting to relax a bit. In fact, by the time we get back home I’m gonna be so relaxed you’ll have to pour me into my job!” SOCOBO 12/16/17
No one knows where they came from. There was no hailing port on their 48 foot ketch “Mystic Sun”. Even the boat itself was mystery. It must have arrived Sunday night while we slept. Kudos to the crew for navigating in such a wicked fog, and for docking without waking my wife, a light sleeper with a keen sense of hearing. In the morning we awoke and they were there in front of us.
The Mystic Sun has precious little free space on the above decks. It’s packed with all kinds of stuff. From our vantage point behind them, I saw dozens of items. Some that belong on a boat, some that might belong on a boat, and some that have no business being on a boat at all.
I can only imagine what it’s like inside. I sipped coffee and wondered about that and about Mystic Sun’s sailors. I didn’t have to wonder very long. Through the diffused morning sunlight, partially obscured by the rustic wooden pilings of the old dock, I watched as three of them appeared in the haze. Females. Fairly young. Like feral cats they preened and stretched in the warm sunlight. One spotted me and disappeared like smoke. Then the other two disappeared as well. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Did I just see that? Naw. I need more coffee. That’s all. Yes. At that time I believed there were only three, although I could’ve been mistaken, given the nature of all true ferals, who shun the light and skulk in the corners of existence, not so much out of fear, but more for survival in a fearsome world.
I ducked low on my seat so as not to be seen. One of them soon appeared on deck. She had white blonde hair, cropped close except for the bangs, which swiped below yellowish brown eyebrows, like the young actress in Kevin Costner’s movie “Waterworld”. She quickly peeled a small orange citrus fruit, possibly a tangerine, fed on it, and tossed the rinds into the fast-moving river. They floated by me down river in the quick current. Fascinated, I went outside onto the dock for closer observation, and maybe to say hi, but was startled by the fact that suddenly there was no longer anybody on the deck, and there’s unintelligible sounds emanating from the inside the old sailboat. It’s like a chant that repeats over and over. I couldn’t make out any specific language.
“What’s that noise”? the XO asked from inside our boat.
“It’s them”, I whispered. “The feral girls”, my body blocking my pointing finger.
“Yes. Girls. Living in the wilds of the waterways. Look”.
Suddenly, another feral emerged from the companionway. Taller than the first, with short dark hair, dark eyes, shorts and navy blue tee-shirt. A quick hop and she was off the boat, bare feet padding down the dock. Just before she reached the turn, she faded away like heat waves coming off a hot black-top road. Or did she simply turn the corner out of sight? I couldn’t be sure.
As I refilled my coffee cup, another climbed the stairs into the daylight. She’s older, possibly 15, with dirty blonde pony-tailed hair, faded skinny jeans, and off white Keds. She sat aft on the ornate wooden railing. After peering into a white cell phone for a solid 10 minutes, she grabbed three tangerines and expertly juggled them to the delight of her younger feral sis, who was climbing up the companionway stairs.
At first I thought there were only three, but as I sat sipping java, a confirmed sighting of a fourth occurred. This one had long dark hair and wore a long dark overcoat. She possessed the air of an established older teenager. By her interaction with the other ferals, and the way they followed her movements, I deduced that she was the pack leader. With one swift, agile movement, she leapt off the boat and onto the dock. I heard no sound when her feet hit the old wood, and like her pack-mate, she walked down the dock and faded away in a haze a microsecond before the turn. I know I saw that.
“You’re letting your imagination run wild again”, the XO said.
“If you look at them too long they disappear. Like smoke”.
“What? They’re just living on their boat, like tons of people”.
“I know what I saw”, I said.
The XO didn’t look skeptical; in fact, she laughed. We often make up stories about people we see and don’t know anything about. It’s simply a fun way to pass the time, but I wonder. Where did they come from? Where are they going? How are they surviving?
Later that day, shortly after sunset, when the moon began its slow glowing rise, we heard the strangest sounds. The same rhythmic chanting over and over that increased in volume, louder and louder. It was impossible to ignore. Suddenly there was absolute silence, equally impossible to ignore. When we heard a large watery sound like that of a person falling off a boat, we jumped up to investigate. But there was nothing there, no splashing, no wake, and no Mystic Sun. There was no evidence of anything, just the dim moonlight reflecting off the grey brackish waters of the Dog River. SOCOBO 12/9/17