If We Knew Then What We Know Now!


In terms of boating, Lisa and I had led a very sheltered life prior to 2005, when the Great Lakes was our primary boating playground, and most of our adventures were in and around Lake Michigan. Because our exposure to boat styles, makes, and models was somewhat limited to the more prevalent vessels used in the Michigan area, we were naïve when it came to the broader world of boat choices.

As I write this log from the pilothouse of our new Fathom trawler (more on that in our next log), I can see by surveying our homeport marina in Charlevoix, Michigan, that the same holds true today. Of all the boats moored in the marina, most are express models, runabouts, convertibles, motor yachts, sailboats, and only one other trawler. There’s nothing wrong with this picture, these just happen to be the more popular boats for our home cruising area. Before our new Fathom, Lisa and I had a 42-foot Silverton Convertible, our dreamboat, and one I thought we’d own forever. We fit right in. However at the time we purchased the convertible we knew nothing of the Great Loop, had no thoughts of cruising outside of our own stomping grounds, and the thought of retirement hadn’t started gnawing at us.

We set the bar high for our first tour inside a trawler -- this 47-foot Nordhavn docked at Burnham Harbor, Chicago.

In September 2005, after we departed Charlevoix in our dreamboat, we started seeing boats we’d never laid eyes on before. We’d never seen a Kady Krogan, Selene, Great Harbor, Gulfstar, Island Gypsy, Albin, DeFever, Symbol, Monk, or Fathom. We didn’t know a Portuguese bridge from a wide body, and had only seen a handful of Nordhavns, Nordic Tugs, Grand Banks, or American Tugs.

Within eight days of departing Charlevoix our knowledge of trawlers with wide bodies, Portuguese bridges, and expedition-styled hulls started to develop. Lisa and I arrived at Burnham Harbor in Chicago, by far the largest marina in which we’d ever moored, and found ourselves in a whole new boating world. Moored just behind us was a vessel flying the AGLCA burgee, signifying that the owners were current Loopers. Although we’d seen one other Nordhavn before, we’d never seen a 47-footer and were fascinated by it. In the short time since our departure we found that Loopers were easy to approach so we felt comfortable introducing ourselves to the Gordons. The double bonus was that we were able to make new Looper friends as well as get a personal tour of their 47-foot Nordhavn. We were in awe of the dedicated, raised pilothouse, walk-in engine room, and overall roominess of their boat. And of course we were overwhelmed by the Gordon’s hospitality. Our knowledge bank was starting to build.

Based on our journal from our first Loop, I calculated that we had 129 separate moorings, whether they were at a marina, free city wall, lock wall, or at anchor. The trip was 285 days long. Therefore our average stop was 2.2 days. This time, if we travel approximately 6,000 water miles over a two-year period, even with the same number of stops, we’ll be able to increase our average stop to just under six days, making the entire trip more enjoyable. The luxury of taking our time will give us a great deal more flexibility in deciding where to stay, and how long to stay. This time, we just don’t want to be boxed in by a schedule.

Bobby’s Fish Camp is on the tranquil Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Alabama. It’s one of the many memorable stops on the Loop because of the to-die-for catfish dinners, served family style USS Wisconsin

As our Loop journey continued down the Illinois River, we came upon an Albin aft-cabin trawler, just east of the Mississippi River, that was preparing to negotiate into a small cove to set anchor. I’d read on a webpage earlier that day about the entrance to this cove being shoaled in and that it should be avoided. I called Mishap on the VHF radio to alert them of the potential dangers and we subsequently tied up together just down river in Grafton, Illinois. It isn’t hard to imagine that Lisa and I had never seen an Albin trawler in the Great Lakes before. Again we admired its displacement hull and its fuel-efficient design and have since spent many days and nights traveling with Wade and Susie. The knowledge bank continued to grow, and at that point in our voyage we began to see why our boat was not the most prevalent type navigating the Loop.

As our 2005-06 Loop trip continued we kept adding to our database as we met more folks traveling south. Lisa and I would play boat-identifying games where we’d try to out guess each other as to the true identity of a boat we’d see at anchor, in a marina, or in open waters. Lisa would say “I think that’s a 42-foot Kady Krogan wide body” or “a Selene with a Portuguese bridge” -- boats and styles we knew nothing about when we embarked on the Loop. As we became proficient at our game it became apparent that we were starved to understand more about the wide world of boat styles. At this point we hadn’t yet connected the dots as to where this was all leading. Lisa usually won our boat-identifying games.

We enjoy the solitude of being on the hook. This beautiful spot is on the St. Lucie River, just east of Stuart, Florida. We anchored 35 percent of the time during our 2005/06 Great Loop

By the time we arrived in Tarpon Springs, Florida, we were three months into our nine-and-a-half-month Loop. We’d met hundreds of boaters plying the same waters as we were and the majority were in trawlers, sailboats, and catamarans -- most diesel-powered. As we were gathering this knowledge traveling down the rivers and ICW we were also moving most of the time at eight to nine knots. It didn’t make much sense to get up on plane, burn a bunch of fuel just to slow down for a no-wake-pass for fishermen, barges, or blind bends in the rivers. So we found ourselves traveling 80 percent of the time at trawler speeds in a planing-hulled boat. We found that we were not only saving fuel but we were enjoying the sights and sounds along the Great Loop route more than every before. We were traveling in a convertible-style boat masquerading as a trawler, without the many benefits we were beginning to find attractive and more suitable for long-range cruising.

Lisa and I arrived at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin in January for a 30-day visit. Unlike our homeport marina, the Yacht Basin had a large concentration and wide variety of trawlers, making the overall mix of vessels more proportional to what we were becoming accustomed to. We were tucked in between Kady Krogans, Grand Banks, Manatees, a Krogan Whaleback, a Gulfstar, and more. What a difference 2,000 water miles can make to your perspective. It seemed as though the boating Gods were trying to enlighten us.

Lisa and I spent a month at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin. The spectrum of boats was wide and varied, such as this grand old lady

Shortly after we arrived in Fort Myers some friends came to visit. Because our visitors are boaters the subject of boats worked its way into our lunchtime conversation. Chet and Betty had heard of a 42-foot Kady Krogan that they wanted to look at while they were in town, so we made an appointment for a walk-through. Even though this boat had not been kept up, Lisa and I were impressed by the roominess of the saloon, we loved the visibility of the dedicated raised pilothouse, and the fuel efficiency. We were turned off by the maintenance that would be needed for all the exterior woodwork as well as the displacement hull limiting the speed to seven or eight knots. With all the knowledge we’d gained it was starting to sound like we were trying to visualize ourselves in a different boat!

By the first of April Lisa and I were working our way up the ICW of Florida’s east coast. Our minds were whirling with the excitement of the entire Loop experience and our new-found knowledge. We decided to make a two-day layover in picturesque St. Augustine, Florida, to take in some history. Because the Mainship trawler plant was close by I also made arrangements for a plant tour. This side trip gave me a perspective on boat-building processes such as how molds are made, how the hull is constructed, weight distribution, engine selection, and the miles of wiring that go into a boat.

We decided to add to our boating knowledge bank while in Stuart, Florida – we took a day to tour all of the trawlers at the Kady Krogan dealership

Our glorious 6,000-mile expedition came to an end when we returned to our homeport in July 2006. We arrived with the same vessel in which we departed; however we also returned with the knowledge of what goes into making up, for us, the ideal boat for Great-Loop traveling. Upon our return we began to apply this newly minted information into a plan for our new dreamboat. On our must-have list Lisa and I decided we wanted a trawler with dedicated raised pilothouse for good visibility and comfort. We also were looking for a single diesel engine big enough to travel faster when we desired or needed to, along with the fuel efficiency of traveling at seven or eight knots. Also on our short list was a keel to protect the prop, an inverter to provide power while the generator isn’t running or when we’re not on shore power, the convenience of a washer/dryer, and a bow and stern thruster to help maneuverability in tight situations.

Our first Loop was an incredibly rewarding journey. We were rewarded by scenic beauty, historical education, the friendship of new friends and fellow Loopers along with the ancillary knowledge gained about the wide world of boating and boat styles. This all helped when we decided to change boats. We found all we were looking for in the 40-foot Fathom expedition fast trawler we had built earlier this year… our new dream boat!

The Fort Lauderdale ICW area is a paradise for boat watching. Here’s a 42-foot Kady Krogan trawler.

We can’t help but wonder: If we knew then what we know now, how would it have affected our travel plans and lifestyle change. With the right kind of vessel, we learned, you can live more comfortably for longer periods of time. With this in mind, we decided to stay out for two years this time. Now we have the boat to do it in comfort.