Today we’re calling day one. The date is January 25th, 2018. We haven’t left the dock, but we don’t think that really matters. We are here at Safe Cove Marina and Boat Storage in Port Charlotte, Florida and got dropped off Tuesday by my brother, Mike and his wife, Cam. They were very sweet to make the 3 ½ hour drive down from Gainesville. We’ve got no car here, so it feels like this is really the beginning. It’s been a long process to get to this point, but like lots of life events, it got here quickly.
I’ve known about the Great Loop for quite some time. The Loop is a circumnavigation of the Eastern United States. Basically the route is (if you start in Florida) up the Intracoastal Waterway in the spring, then into NY Harbor, up the Hudson River to either the Erie Canal or Champlain Canal to the St. Lawrence River and then across the Great Lakes via various routes during the summer, out through Lake Michigan and Chicago by way of the Illinois River, then down through the River systems during the fall which brings most Loopers to Mobile Bay, then cruising across part of the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida west coast and back to the point of beginning to “Cross the Wake”.
We’re not sure when we decided to do this, but at some point one of Jane’s patients suggested that she read Honey, Let’s Get a Boat…. I latched on and for a while, it seemed like a great retirement activity. Then, one day last spring the realization came that there’s no guarantee that we’d be physically or mentally able to do it if we wait to retirement age. So we decided to pull the trigger and go for it early and return to work afterward. A sabbatical year so to speak, so that’s what we’re embarking on and why we’ve renamed the boat “Sabbatical“.
We were lucky to find what we consider the consummate Looper Vessel. She has a shallow draft (less than 4 ft), can clear all the low bridges, and doesn’t burn a lot of fuel. Sabbatical (formerly the Chester B) is a 1988 Albin 36′ foot double cabin trawler. She’s been lovingly rehabbed and cared for by Tim and Valerie O’Neill. They did the Loop in 2015. The boat has the original single engine Ford Lehman diesel engine with a 700+ mile range and carries 300 gallons of fresh water. She cruises at around 8 knots and seems like a tiny house, but floats. The O’Neills did a bunch of work to this boat while they owned it. So much so, that I won’t even get into the details for fear of losing your interest. Suffice it to say that we scored big time in the used trawler market. They even included two folding bicycles that we pedaled to Ephesus (Greek restaurant) last night.
The prep for this journey has been considerable. We attended the Trawler Fest seminars in Stuart last spring, read all the books we could find on the subject, took safe boating, seamanship and piloting courses (taught by my brother, Mike, through the Power Squadron) and even learned how to maintain and repair marine diesel engines and boat systems thanks to Captain Chris. Attending the Fall Rendezvous of the AGLCA at Joe Wheeler State Park on the Tennessee River in Alabama during October was also helpful with many classes and meeting other Loopers. I’ve completed several items of needed maintenance and last week we passed the US Coast Guard Safety Inspection.
So we will shove off today and the great adventure begins. I’m sure it will include wondrous days and nights of glorious splendor mixed with disappointments, breakdowns, injuries and arguments. Hopefully, the arguments won’t cause the injuries, but Jane and I are committed to growing closer to each other and God as we cruise.