For This Boating Couple, Less Is More
By Pat Piper
The first hint of a change occurred last year, while they were cruising the East Coast in a 40-foot Fathom trawler. The Favors had been living aboard for almost five years since selling their home in Traverse City, Michigan. "An adventure" is how Jim describes the decision to see the sights from a boat, and how he describes the move to a trailer boat.
"The idea to get a smaller boat came in stages," Jim remembers. "It wasn't like a light bulb went off. I remember the beginning of the discussion, saying, we've been on this boat for a few years; we've done the Great Loop, traveled to the Bahamas, Florida, Canada, and the Chesapeake Bay, but we've been pretty much disconnected from our family and friends during that time. Still, during some initial talks there was never any intention to seek a trailer boat."
As is a theme with the Favors family, things are subject to change. They retired in 2005, Jim from his job as a financial advisor and Lisa as a graphic artist. "We'd made the decision to sell our home, buy a boat, and take off on the Great Loop boat trip for a year, and look at different towns along the way to see where we might want to live," he says. "One thing led to another, and we decided we liked living on the boat and it ended up being a five-year cruise."
Lisa remembers the variety of reactions from friends, neighbors, and family when the words, "We've bought a boat and we're taking off," were first said. "You guys have gotta be nuts living on a boat," she recalls hearing, with a laugh. "And being in such confined space and being away from this and that, and who's going to get your mail? Others, though, were living the adventure through us and saying it was great. We have always wanted adventure in our lives."
Jim at the helm as they cruised the Chicago River in the 40-foot Kismet during one of the Favors' many explorations of the United States. Today, they're doing the same thing along the West Coast in a smaller Kismet (below), next to their GMC. Made in America is a theme on this trip.
That word again. It's what they got as they traveled from port to port, anchorage to anchorage, exploring towns, meeting fellow boaters, and seeing America by water. By early 2010, however, the idea to set foot on land once again had taken hold. They purchased a home in Traverse City, put the trawler in storage in Key West, and spent time with friends and family, some of whom had been the very ones to suggest they were a little looney for having left in the first place. But while the home was being renovated and they were getting used to solid ground, something happened. Lisa calls it "a revelation" as they started looking at what they wanted to do versus paying for what they wanted to do. "We realized we had an expensive boat that was in storage six months every year and it just made sense to get a boat that was trailerable."
Finding The Middle Ground
"We started boating together on a 21-foot runabout," Lisa remembers, "and we camped out on it and went all the way up to Mackinac Island to overnight on it, and those were some of the happiest times we've ever had boating. So we knew we could do that." Jim adds they were both aware that towing the 21-foot runabout to a local ramp and towing a 27-foot trawler long distances were two very different things. "We had to do a lot of research to get the right vehicle to do the job. And in the course of doing that research, I learned you've got your GVWR [gross vehicle weight rating — allowable weight of the loaded tow vehicle], you've got your CGWR [combined gross vehicle weight rating, weight of the loaded vehicle and trailer], tow capacity, tongue weight, trailer weight — electrical hydraulic brakes on the trailer. Do I get gas or diesel? It was all part of the adventure. There was a learning curve and you hear all these acronyms and all of those things, and what did it all mean? Those are all acronyms that have a significant impact on selecting a tow vehicle that is capable of towing. That's critical for safety reasons. I enjoyed the research immensely."
And in the proverbial chicken-egg dilemma every trailer boat owner has faced, the Favors first found the boat, a Ranger Tug R27 trawler, and then went looking for the tow vehicle to pull it, a GMC Sierra. "Our goal was to buy American-made products,” Jim says. "We wanted an American-made truck and an American-made boat to support our economy." This included taking a tour of the GMC plant in Flint, Michigan, where they learned it takes 17 hours from start to finish to build a Sierra. A Ranger Tug, built in Kent, Washington, requires about six weeks to be completed. They got the truck in mid-May and drove to Washington state to pick up the Ranger Tug in late August.
At that point, a few weeks were spent on Puget Sound learning the ropes and becoming familiar with their new Kismet before heading toward Gig Harbor for a Marine Trawler Owner's Association (MTOA, boat club) Summer Rendezvous, then northwest to the San Juan Islands, south to Bremerton for the Ranger Tug Rendezvous before they headed farther south to Oregon, California, Lake Tahoe, and Lake Powell. Then, they drive farther east to the America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association (AGLCA) in Alabama before heading back to Michigan for the holidays.
Lessons So Far
The Favors are advocates of boating forums, having found valuable advice on the Ranger Tug blog where they learned about a handy connector for use when overnighting in an RV park, instead of spending money on a hotel. "They call it a boater home instead of a motor home," Jim says. "They hook up as an RV would, use the showers, the pool, but in researching that, I found RV parks require a different electrical receptacle than a marina requires. We got a pigtail that converts from what you have to what will work in the RV park."
Another lesson was learned even before leaving Traverse City. After looking at the destinations on their itinerary and then looking at storage space aboard the trawler, Jim says a decision was made: "We realized you have to have a chart for Puget Sound, Lake Powell, Lake Tahoe, the Tennessee River in Alabama, and that's just for this trip; there's an expense for each individual chart and then there's the storage. We found Navionics, a mapping company that supplies charts with different GPS companies, has an app you can get for an iPad so you can access that, pull it up anytime you want after it's downloaded, and you need not have an Internet connection to look at the specific chart. Plus you can use the iPad to store a lot of other things, including books."
Looking at the big picture, they've come to realize how certain aspects of boating are different from years past. "It's incredible," Jim says, recalling his years on the water. "Several years ago I was talking to a friend of ours in his 80s. He remembers they'd leave Bay City to go out to Lake Huron, didn't have radios, and didn't have any electronics. They used horn signals to send a message to other boats nearby. That wasn't that long ago. Today boating is more enjoyable as a result of this and, I think, safer."
The transition from more to less has required a change in perspective, too. Lisa suggests that anyone thinking about downsizing "look at it like camping out, but with a few more creature comforts and the big plus is that you're still on the water. Safety is high on the list so have everything that is required. Other than that, I think it's important to keep it simple. There are a lot of variables depending on the level of boating skills, but try to be as adventurous as you can possibly be. On the other hand, if you're a people person, you should experience different harbors because boaters are so friendly. You'll get to meet people all over the United States. You just have to know what works for you, and what's important to you."
Having a boat, trailerable or not, has kept the Favors in sync with the big picture, too. Lisa puts it this way: "It's taught me something about the rhythm in life, and how you move with that in boating. You have to be conscious of a lot of things before you start out, mostly weather. It's the ebb and flow, especially in tidal waters, with the daily cycle of water coming in and then going out, and you learn to live by that. Sometimes you can't move until a slack tide. Deep down inside you learn to live according to the natural rhythm."
Jim adds, "It's not what we learned so much as what we've gained. As boaters we have a direction so we can form friendships. Because we boat, we've made friendships all over the United States."
As you read this, the Favors are making more friends, somewhere out there on Lake Powell. Soon after that they'll be back on the road with their boat in tow en route to Alabama for the America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association (AGLCA) Fall rendezvous.
Follow the Favors
Dramatic canyon walls and rock buttes, similar to the Lake Powell but on a smaller scale
The Great Loop allows you to navigate, thanks to locks and canals, all the way around the eastern US
The captain of a souped-up pontoon boat takes on the historic Great Loop