The Great loopers. Chapter One. Trojan Horse

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.

Changing out the alternators.

“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.”

Our neighbors Joe and Bernadette see us off.

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.”


Murder On The Great Loop Part Five

“Can I offer you a glass of wine? I think I have beer if you prefer.”
“You’re so kind, but thank you, no. Sadly, my drinking days are over since my last heart attack.” he looked down and slowly shook his head. “Sucks the fun out of everything.”
“Some water then? I have plenty. Maybe something for your friend outside. She’s so quiet. What’s her name?”
“Layla,” he said. “Layla come here sweetheart. Would you like something to drink?”
Layla entered the dark mahogany salon and plopped onto the sofa.
“Well, I’ll take that as a yes.” The middle-aged woman rose and stepped down the companionway stairs into the compact galley and opened the fridge. “Nice and cold. This heat will be the death of us all,” she said as she turned to face her guests. Those prophetic words would be her last. The bullet tore through her nasal cavity and exploded out the back of her head.

“Mind if I turn down the AC? I’m chilled.” Detective Gerry Sharpe sat in the passenger seat of the dark SUV. She buttoned up her jacket and turned up the collar.
“Nope,” her partner Pete Jansen said. He felt Gerry’s eyes on him.
“You okay?”
“Yeah,” she sighed and turned to stare blankly at the scenery scrolling by her window.
“What’s going on? You sure you’re alright? You’re awful quiet.”
“Oh I’m okay,” she said, paused a moment. “It’s just that sometimes…” Gerry paused again, organizing her thoughts. “It just feels like it’s not enough.”
“Not enough? What’s not enough?”
“My life. I mean, look at me. I’ve got nothing except this job. There’s nothing going on in my life except work.” She shifted in her seat to face Pete. “In college I had hobbies. I was interested in everything. I had dates, a love life. What the hell happened? My marriage didn’t work. I’m too old to have children. I get up, get in the car, and go to work. I dunno, there’s got to be more. I’m a little envious of these boaters just cruising around, having this grand adventure. Well, where’s my adventure?”
Pete let the moment hang for a bit.
“Gerry, everybody has those feelings once in a while.”
“Of course me. I have the same job as you.” Pete started to say something more but stopped. He didn’t want to make the conversation about himself, but Gerry pushed.
“What were you going to say? Go ahead.” Her dark eyes softened.
“There is honor in getting up and going to work every day. We’re lucky to have jobs.” He stared blankly into the oncoming traffic for a moment, then sighed. “But you’re right. This job does get old.”
“Or we are.”

“I used to do all sorts of stuff too. Boating, kayaking, scuba diving. I loved working on cars, always had a hot rod to tinker with. Did you know I was in a rock band?”
“No freakin’ way! You?”
“Oh yeah. Had hair down to the middle of my back. The girls were all over me!” Pete stopped to reflect and involuntarily rubbed his buzz cut, thinning grey hair. “Sure do miss my hair,” he said.
“Guys always think their hair is important to woman.” Gerry reached over and patted his chest. “It’s what’s inside that really matters.”
“So why can’t I have heart and hair?” His remark made Gerry laugh a little.
“Do you really want children?” Pete asked.
“Nah. I never caught the baby rabies. Hey, I like kids, but having one of my own meant giving up a big chunk of my life for a very long time. I just wasn’t willing to do that. I was having too much fun.” Gerry paused and took a deep breath. “And there it is right there. My point exactly. I have nothing going on except this damn job…and menopause.” She reached over and cranked up the air conditioner.
“So shake it up. Do something else with your life. You got your twenty years in.”
“It’s just…not that easy Pete.”
“Ya it kinda is, Gerry.”

Pete’s phone vibrated in his pocket.
“Jansen,” he clipped. “Uh huh. Uh huh. Where?” He fished out his notebook and handed it to Gerry. She wrote down the address as fast as he spit it out. “Got it. I’ll let you know,” he said into his phone. The call ended.
“What’s up?”
“The Caruso’s boat went missing from its mooring in Waretucket,” he said. “The Coasties found it In Yonkers on some kind of free municipal dock along the Hudson River.”
“Someone killed June Caruso, stole the boat, and dumped her body along the way.” Gerry oversimplified, but Pete got the idea and nodded.
“Okay, so we talked to her in the morning, and they found her body in the afternoon. She must have been murdered on the boat. June mentioned she was showing it to someone. ”
“Which means the killer could still be with the boat.”
“We should check it out. We’re like an hour away,” Pete said.
“Yonkers, New York? An hour? Maybe in a helicopter!”
“Okay. You’re right. It’ll make for a long day, and nobody’s making us go, but we are halfway there.”
“Alright Pete. Let’s go. What the hell, I’ve got nothing else to do.”

It was a pleasantly warm and slightly humid evening. The sun hung low, barely touching the tree tops on the opposite shore. Long shadows crossed the street and ran halfway up the brick three storey buildings that inhabited the upscale West Yonkers neighborhood. A large restaurant dominated the waterfront and overlooked the Hudson River and the municipal dock. The smell of aftershave and expensive perfume emanated from the well dressed patrons filing in for dinner. Pete and Gerry stood outside the imposing iron grate fence that completely surrounded the busy eatery.
“There she is,” Gerry said, nodding towards the green and white Great Harbor GH 37 which sat proudly at the end of the battered dock. The name Andiamo was written across the transom in large green and black drop-shadow cursive lettering.
“That’s our girl all right,” Pete said.
“What’s that other boat in front of it. They both have the same little flag up front.”
“It’s called a burgee. Lemme Google that.” Pete took out his phone and typed in AGLCA. “Huh,” he said and read aloud. “Americas Great Loop Cruisers Association is an organization of people who share a sense of adventure and a curiosity about the boating adventure known as America’s Great Loop.” He read on. “The Great Loop is the circumnavigation of Eastern North America, a continuous waterway connecting inland lakes and rivers with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and the Great Lakes.”
“The Hudson is part of this Great Loop thing?” Gerry asked.
“Apparently. Looks like it goes north past Troy then takes a left at the Erie Canal.”
Pete pocketed his phone and pulled the gate on the side of the restaurant. It didn’t open.
“One way locks,” he said. “You can get out but not back in. Can’t reach around.” On either side the shoreline sloped steeply down from the street.
“This is our only way to the dock.”

“Look,” Gerry pointed. A tugboat was making its way to a group of large wooden pilings behind the restaurant. Deck hands scrambled and quickly secured the vessel. When its captain emerged from the wheelhouse, Pete stuck two fingers into his mouth and let out a shrieking whistle. The Captain looked up.
“Can you let us in?” Pete shouted. The Captain nodded and dispatched a wiry deck hand who nimbly jumped over the gunwale and scrambled up a stone wall. He made his way to the gate and unlocked it from the inside.
“Thank you,” Gerry said.
“It’s always locked,” the man said. “We have to stick something in the gate so we can get back to the boat.”
“It’s supposed to be a free dock,” Pete said.
“Yes, I know, but it’s always locked.”
The detectives walked to the top of an aluminum gangway that angled downward to the dock floating ten feet below them. A tall chain-link gate blocked their entry.
“It’s padlocked! No way around unless we swim,” Pete said. “So you can dock for free but you can’t leave the dock to enjoy all these cool shops and restaurants. On what planet does that make any sense at all? This is ridiculous.”
“Welcome to New York,” Gerry cracked. “Hey. Check this out.”  A section of chain link on the lower corner of the gate had been cut from its poles and could be peeled back enough to crawl under.
“There’s no way I can fit under that,” Pete said. “You go ahead. I’ll call the local cops and see if we can’t get this gate open.” Pete held back the chain link for Gerry. She slid under on her back. “And be careful,” he added.
“Betcha ass,” she answered.

Gerry slowly approached the shiny trawler. There was no movement visible inside or out.
“Hello the boat,” she called out. Nothing. She rapped on the hull.
“Hello. Ahoy. Anybody home?” she called out again. Again there was nothing. “Crap! I hate this,” she muttered and cautiously stepped onto the aft-deck. The boat rocked and recoiled slightly against the white fenders that protected it from rough edges of the dock. In one smooth controlled movement she drew out her Glock 21 and held it against her thigh.
“Is anybody here?” she called once more. She tried the door. It opened an inch. She took a knee and slowly muzzled the door open several more inches. With a two-handed grip on her gun, ready for anything, she peeked inside.
“Hey. Where are you”?
Gerry nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Christ, Pete! You scared the bejesus out of me.” Gerry sat back against the gunwale, hand over her heart, breathing hard.
“Sorry. Didn’t see you there. Couldn’t find anyone with a key,” Pete said. In his hands was a large bolt cutter. “So I got ol’ Betsy out of the trunk.” He smiled broadly. “Don’t leave home without it!”
Pete stepped onto the swim platform and joined Gerry on the aft-deck.
“Door’s open. Looks like nobody’s home,” he said. He drew his snubbie. “Ready?” he asked somberly. Gerry nodded. He pulled the door open wide and Gerry entered.
“Clear,” she said.
“Check below. I’ll go up.”
“Clear below,” she shouted. “You okay?”
“Looks like we’re alone,” he said and holstered his piece.
“Looks like,” Gerry answered. She relaxed and put her Glock away as well.
The interior of the cruiser was starkly beautiful and deceptively large. To the right, a sectional sofa wrapped around a table, to the left, an entertainment center between comfy chairs. Two steps down led to a large galley with full size appliances and even a washer and dryer. There was a guest cabin with its own shower and head. The master berth featured a queen sized bed and another huge bathroom. Everything had its place and at first glance nothing seemed unusual.
“This boat is amazing,” Gerry said to no one. Pete was upstairs.
“Hey, Gerry. Check out this pilothouse. It’s got everything!” he gushed. When she didn’t come up, Pete went down the stairs to find Gerry outside on the aft-deck talking on her phone. After a while she hung up, took a deep breath, and entered the salon.
“I could get used to this,” he said.
“Me too. In fact, I will get used to this.”
“What the heck does that mean Gerry.”
“I mean, I will get used to this. I just bought this boat!”



Good Girl Ginger Lee

She didn’t get her usual winter beauty sleep last year. Yup, stayed awake for a year and a half and travelled 6,000 miles without any major problems. Pretty good for a 43 year old boat. Today the XO and I cruised her to the Moby Dick Marina in Fairhaven, Massachusetts where she was taken out of the water and put up on jackstands for a well deserved rest.

We started the day at 6 AM with a good breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast.

Bikes are ready for the short trip to the waterfront.

Salty II awaits in 4 feet of water.

I wade out, untie Salty, and bring him ashore. The XO climbs aboard and I shove off.

The engine refuses to start so we have to row out to Ginger Lee. Damn that ethanol gas. It wreaks havoc with marine engines.

We’re off at 7:45 AM. Salty stays behind hooked to the mooring. I will use our other dinghy Pepper to retrieve him later when I remove the mooring ball and pennants for the winter. At that time I will attach a winter stick to the chain so we can reverse the process next spring.

Pepper and winter stick are ready.

The XO at the helm heading for New Bedford Harbor. Seas are one foot or less. Wind is negligible. Perfect conditions for the 4 hour trip.

Approaching the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier. They close these gates for storms to protect one of the largest fishing fleets in the nation.

Going through.

Inside the harbor, we must wait for this swing bridge to open at 11:15.

We have some time to kill so we take a tour.

We are surprised to see this small cruise ship which we encountered many times during our Great Loop adventure. It cruised the Intracoastal Waterway along the Atlantic.

The bridge opens on time.

They are ready for us.

No waiting!

The XO stays on board for the lift.

Power washing the bottom.

It’s a relief to get ol’ Ginger Lee out of the water, but kinda sad in a way. We went through so much together. She carried us safely through so many miles, so many ports, so many locks and docks. She was our home for a year. Our very lives depended on her and she never let us down.
You can rest now Ginger Lee, you did well. Thank you for everything. We’ll wake you up in the Spring when we will no doubt have many more adventures together.



Where Was I Last Year?

Where was I last year? Yeah. I know. The XO and I were doing The Great Loop. But here’s the thing: there were so many ports, and so much stuff going on, that I can’t help thinking of it as a single entity, as just “The Great Loop.” It’s like my brain hasn’t yet processed and organized all the little bits of information. I want to remember everything. To assist my brain in that formidable task, I started consulting our ships log on a daily basis. Between the log and our old calendar–which the XO faithfully marked every day–I know exactly where I was one year ago.
As the memories came flooding back, I quickly realized that in each and every port there was a memorable event. All I need to do is tie that memory with the place.
For instance: one year ago, in the second week of September 2017, we docked in Lexington, Michigan. At the marina restaurant the XO found twenty dollars on the floor. Free Lunch!
XO: “Remember Lexington?”
Rick: “No. Not really.”
XO: “The place where I found Twenty bucks.”
Rick: “Oh yeah. Paid for lunch. You had a reuben, I had a cheeseburger. We docked near the breakwater. There was awesome people watching.”

Free lunch.

Lexington Harbor breakwater.

From the port of Lexington we limped into Port Sanilac with a broken belt. Also memorable because they actually had a replacement belt.
From there we cruised to Harbor Beach, Mi. The log book says simply: “Futile attempt to anchor in weeds.” I remember a four-foot ball of weeds clinging to our Mantus anchor. It was the first and only time it failed to set.

Harbor Beach lighthouse.

After four tries we gave up and pulled into the Harbor Beach Marina. Turns out it was a good move because the weather really kicked up and we had to stay three days. It’s so much better to be tied up in a protected marina.

Twilight in Harbor Beach.

Next was Port Austin. Our assigned slip was next to a floating duck blind. Duck hunting is very popular here. Hunters will camouflage a skiff and float it to the area they wish to get the ducks. This particular skiff was huge. It was like a clubhouse with a kitchen,TV, running water, barbecue, and a full bar. It was fairly obvious this craft didn’t leave the dock. Several guys were drinking beer and cooking brats on a smokey charcoal grill. The XO and I were starved half to death after our 6 hour trip and it smelled so wonderful. Jeez! My stomach was rumbling. Suddenly there was a knock on our hull. It was one of the “hunters”. A big burly man with a round face and ruddy cheeks. Like Alan Hale dressed in camo.
“Thought you guys might be hungry,” he said with a smile bigger than lake Huron. In his large hands he held two of the biggest, most beautiful bratwurst sandwiches I have ever seen. Cooked perfectly and slathered in mustard. We were speechless. It was my first taste of bratwurst. From then on brats were a staple on Ginger Lee.

Port Austin morning.

And that’s only some of what happened in the second week of September 2017. It was one hell of a week I tell ya. It seemed as if fate had intervened for our safety, happiness, or simply for our amusement.
But wait! There’s more! There are 52 weeks in a year. It will be difficult to absorb and organize so much, but I will enjoy doing it.

Murder On The Great Loop Part Four

Detective Pete Jansen shouldered the handset to his ear and scribbled into his notebook.
“Okay. Got it. Thanks,” he said. The unmistakable sound of an old phone being hung up reached the ears of his partner, Gerry Sharpe. She knew right away it was not a regular hang-up, but a more urgent one.
“What’s up?” she asked, peering over her laptop.
“They found a body.” Pete already had one arm into a sport jacket big enough to cover his desk. “C’mon, were going to Stonington.”
“That’s near Fishers Island. ‘Bout time that dude turned up,” she said as she got up and pulled her jacket off the back of her chair.
“Dudette,” Pete said flatly. “Floater’s a woman. They’re saying it’s June Caruso.”

“Stonington is a small harbor. We don’t get a heck of a lotta bodies floating around here,” the Harbormaster said from behind an old steel desk. He pulled off his sun faded cap and ran a knobby hand through his white hair. Leaning back, he gestured toward two ladder-back chairs against the wall. The Detectives sat.
“One of our locals pulled her up in a net. Couldn’t have been dead all that long. Most of her face was still intact. Not so much the back of her head. I’m no expert, but I’d say she’d been shot. Family’s already ID’d her,” he said sadly, as if he’d been through that gruesome process. “Anyway, I heard about that fella went missing up in Chocomont Cove. Same name, Caruso. Thought I’d better call you guys.”
“‘Preciate it,” Pete said and pulled out his notebook. “They were married.”
“Interesting,” the Harbormaster said looking over his glasses.
“Very interesting. Not sure what to make of it. What time was she found?”
“‘Bout four in the afternoon.”
“We were supposed to meet her at four,” Gerry chimed in.
“It appears you’re late.” The old Harbormaster cracked.
“Was the body tied up, weighted?” Pete asked.
“Oh yeah. Standard 5/8 line. Big ass Danforth anchor and–this is weird–a thirty pound kettle bell.”
“Kettle bell?”
“Exercise equipment,” Gerry said. “It’s a round metal thing with a big loop handle so you can swing it. The weight is usually marked right on ’em. Maybe June Caruso was an exercise nut.”
Pete nodded and noted.
“I’d like to talk to the fisherman. If it’s okay,” he said.
“Sure. Last slip down the end of this dock. Should be there right now. Name’s Ferguson, John Ferguson. Captain of the Cara-Lyn. ” The Harbormaster pointed out the window.
“Where’s the body now? I need to talk to forensics.”
“In Hartford. We got nothing like that here.”
“Right. Seems fairly straightforward. Your guy pulls up June Caruso in his net, she’s obviously been shot in the head, body’s been identified by family, and we have no idea who did it,” Pete said and tucked his notebook into his jacket. “That’s all I got. Gerry?”
“What kind of knots were used,” she asked. “Might tell us something about the murderer.”
“Don’t know. Bet John would.”
“We’ll go see him now,” Pete said. “Anything else Gerry?”
“I’m good,” she said.
“Thank you for your time Harbormaster.”
“Anytime guys. Good luck with the investigation.” They all stood and shook hands. Pete held the door for Gerry.
“Detectives,” the Harbormaster called out as they were leaving.
“Ya?” Pete answered.
“I’ve been haunting the waterfront a wicked long time. There’s something I’ve heard more than once.”
“What’s that?” Pete asked, turning toward the older man.
“If you want to kill somebody, do it at sea.”

Pete and Gerry headed off toward the fishing boat Cara-Lyn. Lobster traps, buoys, and various pieces of marine equipment lined the edges of the aging dock. Sea gulls roamed at will, many preferring to perch on the rigging of the untidy working vessels that were docked sometimes four abreast in the crowded harbor. The whole place smelled of fish, diesel, and old wood.
“What did the Harbormaster mean by that “killing at sea” remark?” Gerry asked. “It sounded so sinister.”
“I totally get what he was saying. I mean, take a look around. There’s like a thousand boats. And that’s just the ones we can see. You got one guy policing this whole area. He can’t be everywhere. Once you cruise your boat out of the harbor you’re completely on your own, and usually alone to do whatever the heck you want.”
“What about the Coast Guard?”
“Wicked underfunded. And besides, there are hundreds of thousands of square miles of open water. There’s just no possible way to watch all of it.”
“Doesn’t seem right, or safe,” Gerry offered.
“Boating isn’t safe. Not totally. Heard tell it’s part of the attraction, that element of danger, being left to your own devices and such. Man versus the sea. It’s kinda exciting. Don’t you think?”
“Holy crap Pete. You sound like a boater.”
“Ha! I wish.”
“Well why not?”
“Ya know. Bills.The job. No money, no time.”
The pair stuck out like a sore thumb. Pete, a large man in his brown suit and Oxford’s, and Gerry, a trim woman neatly dressed all in black. They would have seemed unusual anywhere, but here on the working dock, they couldn’t have been more at odds with their surroundings if they were wearing fancy evening clothes.

“Told me you’d be coming by,” Captain John Fergusson said without looking up. He sat on the gunwale amidst a pile of fishing nets and engine parts.
“Sorry to keep you from your work,” Pete said and thrust out his hand. “Pete Jansen. And this is Detective Sharpe.”
“Just as well. Got plenty to do,” he answered and swept a ropy arm proudly towards his salty fishing boat. “This old girl is way past her prime. Held together with bubble gum and duct tape,” he said as he wiped his hands on a rag. “Gotta get another season out of ‘er,” he smiled. “That’s exactly what I said last year.”
Pete ignored the grimy hand and shook it firmly.
“Heard you had quite a day, Captain.”
“Call me John.” The smile left his face. “Yup. Quite a shocker.”
“I know sweetheart. It wasn’t one of my better days, but I’m so happy they’re together. Such a nice couple. Remember how nice they were to you?  What’s that? Yes, yes of course we can dock soon. Huh? I know dear. We all have needs.”



We’ve been home on dry land for only two months now, but apparently it’s long enough to grow roots. It’s a little strange to think that there was a time when we called Ginger Lee our home. We’d be out on a dinghy adventure, hanging with new acquaintances on the dock, or maybe checking out the town in one of over 200 ports we found ourselves in. When we said “Let’s head home,” we meant our floating one.

We try to get something from every port. It started with magnets.

We ran out of magnet space so we switched to hanging stuff.

We ran out of space on our bulletin board too.

I can’t speak for the XO, but my brain is not quite recalibrated to full landlubber status. It’s going to take a while longer after cruising full-time for a year. It required constant awareness and every little thing had to be considered. There were no days off from that. I lived nearer to the edge of my comfort zone than I ever thought possible.
The other day I was driving down the road in my old Jeep. “How easy is this?” I thought. It’s like one-dimensional, just keep it between the lines. Not so boats. They move in all directions at the same time. They pitch, roll, yaw, and are easily influenced by wind and current. You’ve got to keep an eye on your depth as well as your air height. And don’t ever count on getting the right-of-way from fellow mariners because most of them, I’m sorry to say, are obviously ignorant of the rules. Boats could pass you on either side coming or going. It’s a lot to think about.
So now here we are at home. The house and the ground doesn’t move so there is no need to figure out where we go next and how will we get there. We have real flush toilets! There is no need to find a pump-out facility. Water and gas are piped into the house so there are no tanks to fill. We no longer need to check the lines, fenders, anchor, batteries, or bilges. The grocery, liquor store, pizza shop, and gas station are all right down the street. Our laundry can be washed right in the basement without quarters! Suddenly, everything is a no-brainer. What the heck am I going to think about now?

The XO sailing Windsey in Swifts Neck, our home port.

Well there’s plenty of stuff to think about. It’s just different stuff. Stuff I forgot about. Like that fence that needs replacing, and the garage that needs cleaning out. The lawn, the old carpet in the sun room, the bad dog down the street, the annoying leaf blowers. The list goes on and on.

Messy garage.

Travel is good and important, but it’s also good to have a place to come home to. It’s not as exciting as passing a tugboat pushing 40 barges on the Mississippi. Or as frightening as a boat full of drunk teenagers zooming right at you in the dark, but I’ve come to see it as another chapter in the book of life. We add pages every day we are alive. Hopefully, there will be many more to come. SOCOBO 8/13/18

Murder On The Great Loop. Part Three

“Sharpe! Jansen! Get your butts in here!”
The detectives looked at each other. Gerry cringed.
“Crap!” she said. “I was hoping we’d have more time.”
“Well, we’ve just got to convince her,” Pete said.
“What’s this we shit? This is your deal.”
“Oh. So now you’re runnin’ out on me?” Pete’s tired old chair nearly expired as he suddenly leaned his big body forward. “Whataya ‘fraid of? Her?” he swept a huge hand toward the Chiefs office.
“Goddamn right I am! And so should you.” Gerry’s emphatic tone literally shook her long dark hair from her bun. She wrestled it back together along with her composure. “We got nothing,” she said softly, settling back into her chair. “Nothing. Not one friggin’ thing.” She looked up at the dirty ceiling tiles. Pete sighed loudly and leaned back as well.
“I know,” he said. “I know.” Her use of the word “we” did not go unnoticed.
“NOW!” Chief Meriwether bellowed. Three patrolmen hustled out of the room, knocking over a chair and leaving full cups of coffee behind.
“But she doesn’t know that,” Pete said.
“No Peter. Oh HELL no,” Gerry shook her finger. “I am not lying for you again.”
“Just follow my lead,” Pete said as calmly as he could. Gerry stared at him shaking her head
“You goddamn sonofabitch,” she said finally, spitting the words out. “C’mon. Let’s go before she has an aneurism.”

June Caruso waded out to the 12 foot aluminum dinghy floating 20 feet off Waretucket beach. It was a beautiful Summer morning. Hot, humid, and hazy, just like July should be. Even on a weekday, the residents-only parking lot was already filled to capacity. The sounds of shrieking children and tinny radios mingled with the aromas of salt water and sun screen. Waves of heat radiated off of anything that wasn’t wet. June stopped briefly to wave to a neighbor then continued on.  The tide was just right, about knee-deep.
“Perfect…I hate getting my clothes all wet,” she thought as she climbed into the silvery dinghy and tilted the 9.9 Mercury outboard into the water. She pressed the starter button. The little engine fired right up and settled into a nice even burble. She patted it on its shiny black cowling and twisted the tiller into the “forward” position. The little boat started moving slowly through the mooring field.

Chief Julia Meriwether stood behind her oversized desk, arms akimbo, and stared out the window. Her back was to the door when Sharpe and Jansen walked in.
“Please have a seat Detectives,” she said calmly, still facing the window. The pair exchanged a nervous glance: Chief was even scarier when she was acting nice.
“Do you know why the good people of this fair community put me in charge?” she began. Pete and Gerry looked at each other, not sure how to react. Pete was about to offer his thoughts when the Chief cut him off.
“I know what you’re thinking Detective Jansen, but you’re wrong. It’s not my sparkling personality, or my good looks, contrary to popular beliefs,” she clasped her hands behind her back. Pete wisely kept his mouth shut.
“It’s because get things done. I offer the gift of closure. The ability to tie things up in a neat little box, and tuck that box away in an orderly and timely fashion. The people expect that of me. And well they should, because I never disappoint.” She paused, still staring out the window.
“Do we understand each other?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Good. Now get your sorry asses out of my office and don’t come back until you give me something on this Caruso case.”
Pete started to speak, but Gerry put her hand on his arm and shook her head.
“Please close the door on your way out, Detectives.”

“That went well,” Gerry said in the hallway as they walked back to their desks.
“Actually, it went very well. Chief didn’t give us a time limit. Not really. And she didn’t ask for any specifics. I’d say we were getting the benefit of a doubt.”
“Yeah well…” What’s the plan man.”
“For starters, I’d like to have a look at that boat, and we’re going to talk with June Caruso at four o’clock. But to be honest, I’m not convinced we’ll get anything out of it. Hey, you never know. Right?” Pete said, trying to sound upbeat.
“Right. What about Chocomont cove? A person falling off a boat has to make some kind of noise. Somebody may have seen or heard something. We’re gonna need a trip to Fishers Island.”
“On my list, Gerry,” he said as he sat down and opened his laptop. “There must be a Harbormaster somewhere willing to give us a ride across the sound.”

June pulled the dinghy alongside the swim platform of her big cabin cruiser. Using a boat hook, she caught a cleat, hauled herself up, and quickly tied the little boat fore and aft. She thought it odd that the key to the cabin was not hidden in the usual place, hanging from the ship’s bell clapper. She tried the door and it opened.
“I must have forgotten to lock up the last time I was here,” she thought. “Well at least I’m not locked out.” She stepped through, walked up to the counter and poured a glass of white wine. The door suddenly slammed shut behind her. Startled, she quickly turned, then froze with fear. Her wine glass shattered on the parquet floor.
“Wha… What are you doing here?” she stammered. It would be the last words June Caruso would ever speak. The .380 caliber bullet smashed through her left orbit and blew out a large chunk of the back of her skull. Bits of blood, bone, and brain splattered all over the tidy little galley.

Murder On The Great Loop Part II

Detective Gerry Sharpe fired 13 shots, all center mass. She calmly and methodically pushed the clip release button on her Glock 21. The empty clip fell and she slammed in another. The next 13 rounds were all head shots perfectly centered as well. She removed her safety gasses and ear protectors, then wrangled her dark hair into the grip of a red hair band.
“Beat that,” she said. Her dark eyes sparkled.
“You know I can’t,” her partner Pete Jansen said.
“Not with that antique,” she said, referring to his Smith and Wesson snub nose 38 revolver.
“I’ll have you know this was the standard of the industry for decades. My dad never left home without his snubbie,” he fired back. “And it fits so nicely in my pocket.”
“Anyway,” he continued. “I did some reading up on this Great Loop thing. You know it takes at least a year,” he said as he took aim. “You have to follow the seasons around the eastern half of the country, including the Great Lakes. Don’t want to be in northern Michigan in November.” He fired six shots, re-armed with his speed loader, fired six more, then pushed the target return switch. The cardboard target with an outline of a person on it had only four holes in it, none of which would be considered a kill shot.
“Hey. I’m from northern Michigan. What’s wrong with northern Michigan?” Gerry shouted from down the hallway. “Jeez! This coffee machine sucks. I can’t pour a cup without making a freakin’ mess!”
“There is nothing wrong with northern Michigan Gerry, unless you’re travelling by boat. Boats don’t move so well through all the ice,” he said somewhat sarcastically. “All I’m saying is you have to get your boat through the Mackinaw straits and start heading south before it gets too cold. Then you have to get around Florida and start heading north before it gets too hot.”
She handed him a steaming mug and eyed his target.
“Nice grouping. I think you pissed him off.” She patted him on his massive back. “You’ve got to get a modern weapon. Here, take mine, I’ve got a few.” She flipped the well-oiled piece around so that the grips faced out.
“A few? Thought you’d have dozens,” he said, refusing the offer with a wave of his hand.
“Yeah but who’s counting.” She holstered the gun and took a sip of coffee. “I wish I could take a year off.”
“That’s my point, Gerry. A whole year together on a little boat. Could you do that with your husband?”
“Ex-husband. And no friggin’ way. We were at each others throat in a 2500 square foot house!” She pecked at her cell phone.
“Pardon my French, but the dude’s a prick, Gerry. No offence.”
“None taken. He’s a wicked prick. Anyway, boat’s not so little. Look.” She turned her screen around to face him. She had the specs of a Great Harbor GH 37, the same model used by Dave and June Caruso on The Great Loop.
“Three floors, full size appliances, washer, dryer, queen sized beds. More than what I got on land.”
“It outta be. Keep reading.”
Pete grabbed the phone and scrolled down. His eyes opened wide.
“Wha! Half a mill? Are you kiddin’ me?”
“I kid you not, and that’s for a fixer upper.”
“Well, if this boat is worth, say, something north of half a mill, and you count in the victim’s life insurance, which is also north of half a million, that would be a darn good motive for murder. Wouldn’t you say?”
“I would say. But that’s just me. It’s my job to say that, but with no body, no witnesses, and basically no evidence whatsoever, it’s gonna be a tough nut to crack. All you got is your damn gut instinct. Not really enough to go to the chief with. She’s already bitchin’ about all the time we’re spending on what’s supposed to be an accident. Are you sure about this?”
“People kill for less, Gerry, a lot less.”

June Caruso toiled away in the backyard of her modest Waretucket home. The small seacoast town on the south coast of Massachusetts boasts a summer residency of nearly fifty thousand people, yet after Labor Day, that number dwindles to a less than ten thousand.
She labored for hours. Trying to get her garden just right. Just the way she wanted. It was hard work, but well worth it. Her irises were beautiful, as were her stella d’oros. They shone bright yellow beneath the tall cypress which she loving grew from small saplings. She wiped the sweat from her face with a red and white kitchen towel and settled into a tall drink laced with dark Black Seal rum. Her favorite. She swirled it around in the glass, enjoying the clink of the ice, then tucked her legs under her and leaned back into the cream-colored Adirondack chair. She was pleased. Not so much with the lawn mowing part, a job her husband usually did regularly, depending on the weather of course, specifically, the rainfall. No rain, no lush, green lawn. Fortunately, there was not a lot of either going on this hot, humid summer. Still, the yard always looked so much better after a trim. “Time to drag out the old lawnmower,” she thought. Oh well. One must do what one must do. Life goes on. She was about to get up when her cell phone nearly vibrated off the glass-topped table.
“Mrs. Caruso?”
“Yes. This is she.”
“Good morning Mrs. Caruso. This is Detective Jansen down at the precinct. I wonder if I may have a word with you sometime today. In person, I mean. Are you busy?”
“Uh. alright. I guess so. What’s this about detective?”
“I just need to clear up a few details. It won’t take long. I promise.”
“Could you make it later on this afternoon? I have someone coming by to look at my boat.”
“Sure. How’s four o’clock work?”
“That’ll be fine Detective Jansen.”
“Good. We’ll see you then. Goodbye.” Pete hung up the phone and looked at his partner.
“What?” Gerry asked.
“She’s selling the boat.”
“So soon?” Gerry raised two well-trimmed eyebrows.
“I think it’s time to see the chief,” Pete said. “If I’m right, that boat is a crime scene, and it’s about to sail away!”


We were anchored in Point Judith, Rhode Island when I realized we could make it home in one jump. Only 39 nautical miles. If we leave early in the morning and catch the fair current, we could be home by early afternoon.
“What! You mean that’s it? One more jump and it’s all over? I screamed to myself. Silently of course; it was an inner scream.
“Oh.” the XO said when I told her about the do-able distance to home. “I didn’t realize…,” she trailed off.
We both fell silent in reverence for what we have accomplished.
This is the last night. The last night we light the gimballed night-light in the head. The last night we check the anchor position on the AIS, check the condition of the batteries, check the bilge, the windows, the screens, the lines, the anchor lights, Salty’s bridle. The last night we plot the next days course and enter it in the GPS. The last weather check, ocean conditions check, fuel check, holding tank check, fresh water level check, and all the other things that must be done to keep us comfortable, safe and afloat. Things that we’ve done every single day, hundreds of times in the past year. Things we’ve done so many times they became second nature. After tomorrow afternoon we will no longer have to do any of them.
“I guess I didn’t really think about this part, the end I mean. I was so busy with planning and the day-to-day,” the XO said.
Well I have thought about it. I totally envisioned Ginger Lee bringing us and everything on her back to Swifts Neck safe and sound. And she did just that. At about a quarter to two on the afternoon of Thursday, June seventh, 2018, after nearly a year of non-stop cruising, and 6,020 miles, she arrived at our home mooring in Wareham, Massachusetts. Her twin Lehman diesels, Castor and Pollux, logged over 900 hours of faithful operation. To put this into perspective, on a normal boating season, they would run less than one hundred hours.
The XO secured the pennants to the bow bitt and I turned off the engines, then the electronics, and then it was strangely quiet.
It’s difficult to put into words the feelings that ran through my head at that moment. All the years of planning and saving. All the preparations and dealings with our jobs and the post office and the bills and the cars and the house. We jumped through hoops, forded rivers, climbed mountains. The triumphs and setbacks. Oh. The setbacks. At times it seemed The Great Loop was impossible. But here we are. Done. Finito. Check that one off the list. It’s gonna take a while for that to sink in.
My wife found her way back to the salon and we embraced for a good long time. Her arms, strong from handling lines, wrapped tightly around my waist. I pressed my cheek against her fragrant hair. Is there more gray than before? I know I brought her way out of her element with this crazy dream of mine. I also know I would not be here without her resolve in making it come true. I held her tighter. An osprey chirped his welcome, gulls called out hello, I could see our neighbor Bernadette excitedly waving her arms on the beach, but this special moment was ours and ours alone. I kissed my wife lightly on her forehead, ending our hug.
“And that’s how you do the Great Loop”, I said.

Murder on The Great Loop. Part One


“Mayday Mayday Mayday!, Mayday Mayday Mayday!” A womans voice crackled over the radio on VHF channel 16, the international marine hailing and distress channel.
“Vessel in distress. This is Coast Guard Northeast Sector, over.
“Coast Guard. Thank God! Please help me!”
“Vessel in distress. What is the nature of your emergency, over.
“My husband fell off the boat! I can’t find him!”
“Vessel in distress. What is your present location, over.”
“Four one degrees, decimal one three, decimal four three, zero seven two degrees, decimal three nine, decimal two eight. How copy?”
“Good copy. What is the name and description of your vessel, over.”
“The name is Andiamo. Thirty seven-foot Great Harbor, White with green trim.”
“How many people on board? over.”
“Just me,” the woman answered. “Just. Me.”

Nearby boaters came by after hearing the emergency call on their radios, but no one could find the man. The Coast Guard sent out a R.I.B. but no luck either. There was a search, an investigation, and all the usual things that happen when somebody goes missing on the waterways. It was soon determined that the man was lost at sea and presumed dead. It happens more than you think, and since the parties involved have no prior problems with the police, or anybody for that matter, it was labeled an unfortunate accident.

Detective Pete Jansen closed the new manila folder and let it flop onto his desk. He looked up and rubbed the area between his bushy eyebrows.
“So that’s it huh? Just another poor bastard who fell off a boat and that’s that.” His eyes bore a hole into the back of his partners head, right through the thick black bun that was loosely tied with a red hair band. Finally, after a long drawn out sigh, detective Gerry Sharpe turned her squeaky old chair around to face him. She had that “now what” look in her dark brown eyes. He, as usual, ignored the look, and pressed on.
“What if–and that’s a big if– a woman wanted to get rid of her husband. Let’s say she was dissatisfied for some reason. The guy had bad breath, or he had a temper, or maybe he was cheating. I don’t know. Could be anything. They’re on the boat, she conks him on the head, he falls in, no more hubby,” he sat back, crossed his big arms, and stared with arched eyebrows, waiting.
“You’ve been watching too much NCIS. This is the real world. Normal people don’t do that sort of thing, and by all appearances this woman is totally normal. She looks like a god-damned librarian for crissakes,” she countered. “Anyway, there’s no proof of any wrongdoing,” she sat back as well, cocked her head, and raised one well-trimmed eyebrow.
“Exactamundo!” Pete exclaimed, putting both of his large fists on his desk while rising up out of his chair. “So you agree. It could be murder.”
“No I do not agree. And sit down, you’re getting crazy.”
“Gerry. It’s not so crazy. It’s almost too perfect,” he softened his tone and sank back down in his chair. It groaned in protest.
Gerry stared at nothing for a long moment, thinking. She put elbows on her desk, steepled her fingers, and said:
“Okay. Why this one. What is it about this one that’s different from all the other deaths we’ve investigated?”
“I don’t know really. I can’t explain it. Just a hunch I guess.”

The black Ford Explorer pulled into the newly paved driveway of the modest three bedroom cape. Dormers, cedar shingles, and white trim whispered “Cape Cod.” The front yard was well-kept but not overly so. Flowers and small trees decorated the edges and the grass was mostly green and freshly mowed. A patch of daffodils peeked out from under a pine, and a small stand of black-eyed susans struggled next to the cement walkway. Gerry looked at her partner.
“We’re just here to ask a few routine questions. Okay?” she asked. “OKAY?” she repeated more forcefully.
“Ya fine,” Pete said somewhat begrudgingly as he opened his door. They walked up to the front door. It was wide open, and through the screen they could see into the back yard. A woman in a large straw hat was fussing with some plants on a glass-topped table.
They went around to the side gate and opened it.
“Hello. Mrs. Caruso? Hello.” Pete called out.
“Hello. I’m back here,” the woman answered.
They pushed through the gate and walked past a small shed into the back yard. Flowering plants, pines, apple trees, and hostas lined the tall stockade fence that completely surrounded the premises. Like the front yard, it was also well-kept but not overly so.
“Mrs. Caruso? Hi. I’m Detective Jansen,” he said as he extended his big hand. “And this is Detective Sharpe,” he nodded toward his companion. “Sorry about your loss. We would like to ask you a few routine questions if you don’t mind. For our files. Have you got a moment?”
“Oh. Yes. Certainly. I have time,” the woman pulled off her dirty gloves and perched on the arm of a big, cream-colored Adirondack chair.
“Please. Have a seat. Can I get you anything. Some lemonade perhaps?”
Pete and Gerry each took seats in brown folding chairs under a large umbrella. The shade felt wonderfully cool in the July heat.
“Nothing for me thank you,” Pete said as he opened a small notebook.
“I’m fine,” Gerry said, trying to smile enough to offset her partners gruff manner.
“What’s this all about?” the woman asked. Her eyes searched both detectives.
“Mrs. Caruso…”
“Call me June,” she interjected.
“June,” Pete corrected himself. “Would you call yourself an experienced boater?”
“I guess we both were. I mean, Rob, my husband, more so than me, but we were doing The Great Loop…”
“The Great Loop?” Pete interrupted.
“Yes. It’s a boat trip around the eastern United States. After 6,000 miles and eleven months on the boat, I guess I became quite experienced,” she explained.
“And that’s when the accident happened?” Gerry noticed Pete’s use of the word “accident”.
“Yes. That’s correct.”
“I understand this could be painful, but would you go over exactly what happened?”
“But I’ve already gone over everything with the other officers.”
“I know June, but we need to hear it from you again. I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” she began. “We were anchored right off Fishers Island in a place called Chocomont cove. It was a beautiful evening. We had just finished a dinner. My husband went up front to the foredeck to smoke a cigar. I was in the salon…”
“Yes. It’s like a living room on a boat. I was talking to my sister on the phone. I heard a noise, and when I looked up my husband was cartwheeling over the bow rail. I called out. He never surfaced. I called the Coast Guard and that’s about it.
“Mrs. Caruso, do you swim?”
“Yes I do.”
“And your husband?”
“Yes. He is, ah, was a swimmer.”
“Did you try to go after him?”
“Yes. Of course. But it was getting dark and obviously I didn’t find him,” she said flatly.
Pete and Gerry sat silently and let the moment hang.
“Thank you for your time June. Again, we’re so sorry for your loss,” he stood up and tucked the notebook into his inside breast pocket. “We’ll find our way our out,” he said and handed her his card. “If you think of any more details, no matter what, please don’t hesitate to call. Again, sorry. Good night.”
The detectives closed the gate behind them and got into their SUV.
“What do ya think? Gerry asked as she buckled herself in.
“She’s lying,” Pete answered and backed out of the driveway.