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.
“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.
“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.
We didn’t know what it would be like, this Great Loop thing. How could we? We’ve never done it before. But, I for one, had certain general expectations. I figured the boat would act like it usually does, maintenance would be like the normal routine. We’d have to fuel up, pump out, keep water in the tanks, and oil in the engines. I knew that wouldn’t change. But there’s a heck of a lotta other stuff goin’ on. Where will we stay? We have to put the boat somewhere, and I mean every single night. You can’t just pull over to the side of the road. On a year-long trip, that’s 365 times you have to figure out where you will put 16 ton, 32 by 13 foot thing. And you can’t just pull into a marina and dock. You’ve got to call ahead and make sure they have room for you. If they don’t, which was sometimes the case, you need to find another place. The XO is really good at this. She would set up three different options, one of which would always work. This is just one of many things we had to deal with, and eventually figured it out. I wont get into food shopping and laundry except to say that it will be nice to go to our familiar ol’ Market Basket where we know where everything is, and to wash clothes at home will be like heaven on Earth. I know that for a long time after this trip is finished, and the XO and I are safe at home tucked into our beds for the night, we will wake up in the morning and wonder how far we need to travel, and what town we need to dock, tie up, or anchor Ginger Lee in. When we rub the sleep out of our eyes, we will be relieved that we don’t have to get out the charts, cruising guides, search the web for an acceptable port, and make sure the weather supports our aspirations.
It was nothing like I expected, and everything I wanted. I was hot where it was supposed to be cold, and cold in places that should have been warm. I also thought it would be more social, yet we were alone most of the time. The “docktails” we heard about (drinks on the dock with other loopers) were few and far between, but I suppose that made them all the more enjoyable.I joined AGLCA because I heard there is much useful information available to all its members. I didn’t particularly find that to be the case, but I like being a part of something; I am proud to fly their burgee. And now, we have a new one to replace the old white one. It’s only for those who have completed the Great Loop, and it is gold.
I was talking to a fellow boater the other day. I told him my wife and I took off for a year to do the Great Loop and explore the eastern half of the United States.
“That’s such a short amount of time,” he said. “Heck. I’d like to have a year just to explore the Chesapeake!”
Based on our experiences in the short amount of time we’ve spent here, I’m inclined to agree with my fellow boater. I would love to take a whole year just to explore the wonderful Chesapeake Bay. Maybe someday. SOCOBO 5/20/18
It’s so difficult to describe Tangier Island in Virginia. Unique comes to mind. Generations of watermen have eked out a living from the sea. Mostly crabs and oysters.
The island is very small. About a mile long.
There are no cars, only golf buggies, motor scooters, and bikes.
They bury their dead family members in the front yard.
Shacks and docks that the working watermen use are not connected to land.
They park their working boats there and dinghy to shore.
There is something horrific about a sunken boat. It just rubs me the wrong way, and saddens me too. I grew up in New England, a place where a derelict boat is a rare sight. Every once in a great while you may come across a vessel washed up on shore, but never one that is washed up on shore and abandoned for what looks like years. We started seeing them in Alabama. Not a lot. Maybe one or two. Storm damage, we reasoned. Must be. But when we got to Florida not a day went by that we didn’t see at least a dozen.
They are everywhere. In the anchorages, the mooring fields, docks, and even in the marinas. They line the shore, marring its beauty.
In most states, boats must be titled just like cars, they have hull identification numbers similar to vehicle identification numbers, and they must be registered and display registration numbers and a dated sticker, also like cars. Ownership can be easily traced.
In a perfect world, the authorities would contact the owner and order them to deal with it. But what if they can’t deal with it?
It’s such a shame. No wonder so many residents of the state of Florida are against anchoring in open waters.
I was talking to a fellow boater about this problem. He pointed across the waterway to a small sailboat that was half underwater.
“When I was younger, that was my dream boat. Not that particular sailboat but one exactly like it. I saved for many years until finally I was able to buy her. It was a banner day in my life and I enjoyed her for many years. I actually sold it to buy this boat. I look out my window and see that poor vessel just wasting away out there. Part of me is outraged. There must be someone out there who could take that beautiful boat and return it to sailing condition. Look. It still has all of its rigging.”
He was upset. I could see it in his eyes. How could you not care? I don’t even live here and I care too. Maybe changes in the laws are needed. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer, and until there is one, I’m afraid derelict boats will remain part of the southern waterway scenery. SOCOBO 4/27/18
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
“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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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