This is the story of a relatively newly married couple (7 years) who decided to do the Great Loop. From decision to departure took about 2 years, which included buying and outfitting the “perfect” boat. The name of our boat is Meraki, which is a Greek expression meaning “to do something with all your heart and soul”. Our story begins like this:
The first time I ever heard of The Great Loop, my husband, Jim and I were at a dinner party and, I over-heard him talking about this fantastic boat adventure. As Jim is an animated story-teller, everyone soon got quiet at the table to listen as he regaled us (including his slack-jawed wife) with the details of this adventure. To understand the magnitude of the words “I want to do The Great Loop” coming out of Jim’s mouth, you have to understand how rooted to the ground he is. If ever there was a nester, it is he. If ever there was a risk-adverse individual, it is he. In most ways we are quite compatible, but in the seeker/nester ways and the risk taker/risk adverse ways, not so much. Examples: before we married, he had had the same job and lived in the same house for 30+ years; I had once moved 13 times in 11 years and had never lived in one place longer than 6 years (in fact, I had never done ANYTHING longer than 6 years, including being with a mate, staying in one job or living somewhere.)
But I digress. Eventually, the group around the table (slack-jawed themselves) looked to me to say “do you buy into this idea?” To which I had to reply, “well, it’s the first time I’ve heard of it, but it sounds exciting, so sure, I’ll do it.”
I had often thought of living on a boat; in fact, the old Jim (yes, my former mate had the same name, thus, the “old” Jim. Not to be confused with the “new and improved Jim”) had a legitimate sailing career, having sailed across the Atlantic, and many times bare-boating in the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the Keys. Before that marriage went sour, we had talked about living on a boat someday. But that day never came.
Fast forward to now. My first comments were along the line of “well, it seems as though we ought to spend more than 3 days a year on the boat we already own (a 25’ Grady White center console) before we start talking about a Great Loop.”
But he kept looking at websites and magazines and talking to yacht brokers and others who owned boats and started doing considerable research on what makes the perfect Great Loop boat. I decided I was going to sit back and watch and wait to see how much steam this train could generate. In a few months, the answer was -- a lot. He narrowed down the kind of boat we wanted (a “fast” trawler) and almost determined the make and model, which was when I stepped in. At this point, he’d been talking about it for almost 8 months, so I was thinking this actually might happen. I suggested that we charter the kind of boat he was looking at, which happened not to be too far away from us. So, shortly after our daughter’s wedding in April 2016, we took off for a 4 day cruise down the west coast of Florida, from our home port of Clearwater, to Captiva, and back again. We took along another couple who were sea-worthy and could help us evaluate everything about the boat. Great weather and good times prevailed and we were hooked!
Upon return, we made the list of the have-to-haves and want-to-haves. We both wanted an aft cabin and 2 engines. We disagreed a bit about how big the boat needed to be, but I finally caved in to 43’ length overall (LOA). Jim continued to troll the internet and we hired a broker. We went out on a few looking expeditions. Finally, we found a 2003 Mainship whose home port was not far from ours . . . Venice, Florida. So, we made an appointment and went for a look-see.
For the last 6 years, this boat had been owned by a former naval aviator and his wife who had cruised back and forth from their summer home in Annapolis to Venice, FL multiple times. The boat had low hours and the former pilot had meticulous records and a log that detailed everything that had ever been done on the boat. The engine room was clean enough to eat in . . . there was no dank smell and everything in and around the 2 berths and heads was clean as a whistle. Long story short, we made an offer, got the contract and showed up for the sea trial. The next day, she was ours!
The now former owners were so gracious in meeting us the next day to go over the details and idiosyncrasies of our new to us boat and we spent the night on it the first night we owned it. The next day, a local captain met us at the boat at 6:30 to help us move it from Venice to Clearwater (about 80 miles by land). On our maiden voyage, which was in the Gulf of Mexico as opposed to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW) we learned about auto pilot (and how to dodge crab pots while auto pilot is engaged); plotting a course; using our various instruments to fullest effect, and, upon arrival, setting up our dock lines at our home port.
It hadn’t been too long a period of time in between making an offer and bringing the boat home, so we had to act fast in order to have somewhere to put it once we arrived back in the home port. Our first choice was the country club marina where we had our little boat on a lift, but there were no slips in that marina to house a 40,000 pound boat. So the marina built one for us! The slip was ready when we brought the boat home and we moved right in.
From that moment, we began to make the boat “ours”. Over the last year, we have:
Renamed the boat;
Replaced the battery bank (6 in all, weighing 175 pounds each . . . no small feat);
Had her hauled out to have the bottom repainted;
Dealt with a “galvanic corrosion” issue (don’t ask);
Replaced all the canvas on the flybridge;
Repaired a leak in the hydraulic steering line;
Moved the lower helm chair to the flybridge such that there are now 2 helm chairs on top (we decided if the weather was ever bad enough for us to NEED to pilot the boat from down below, we wouldn’t WANT to be out in that weather and it would never happen. Plus, in order to see out the windshield, you had to stand up anyway, so the helm chair was just taking up space in the salon);
Hinged the mast (which holds the radar, Direct TV, radio antennae, etc.)(If you can’t get under a fixed 15’5” railroad bridge in Chicago, your Great Loop becomes the Great U-Turn. So being able to lower the mast was imperative);
Replaced the rugs down below; replaced the bedding in the forward cabin and outfitted the galley;
Ordered 2 comfortable chairs and a table to replace the table and 4 chairs in the salon (we decided we would never eat down there – we had bar stools overlooking the kitchen and large table up top – we may live to regret this choice, but my priority was to have a comfortable place to read and watch TV after we had docked for the day);
Installed Direct TV with all the sports stations. As most everyone knows, I am a rabid Alabama fan, and in fact, we don’t watch much TV that doesn’t involve a ball or puck. So being able to watch games in the comfort of our new “home” meant being able to access sports channels;
Replaced every hose, filter (sometimes twice) and, so it seemed, every screw to try to prevent failure once we were underway.
Then, we WENT THROUGH A HURRICANE!! This entailed stripping the boat to its bare bones, removing EVERYTHING from the decks and double wrapping the lines to make sure that we had double coverage. We made it through without a scratch!
We are now a few weeks from our departure date and itineraries are being finalized and guests are making reservations to join us along the way. It’s a big adventure and one which we believe we will thoroughly enjoy. We hope you enjoy coming with us as we experience The Great Loop.