Life on the Loop
Home on the Loop
If you don’t already have one, or if the one you have is too small to carry enough ‘stuff’, the first Loop chore is buying a boat. You need a home as well as a car for the next year or so.
At 23 foot, my L.T. Looper is small, very small, by Looper standards. It would not be an appropriate boat for most Loopers even though many looked at her wistfully, saying something like “well, maybe not that small, but…”
But L.T. fit me and my reason for doing the Loop perfectly. I identified the C-Dory line as my preference early in my boat selection process. I couldn’t find an acceptable used one, so I wound up ordering it new and had the luxury of outfitting her to my preferences. I don’t feel too guilty because I was thinking about more trips even before I started the Loop. Hopefully, I’ll trailer L.T. across the country a couple more times before age takes its toll on both of us.
As a bonus, she was a great ice breaker to start conversations for a sometimes less than socially gifted Captain. Some were curious about her name, some about the Suzuki outboard, some about the Loop, some about how she handled big water and more than a few who couldn’t believe I lived on her for nine months.
Pretty shy but doggone cute. Great conversation with their Dad.
I think he and his wife gave up on the boy lottery.
I'm guessing 'Grl Pwr' will be a handful.
You want your boat to fit you as well as L.T. fit me.
Don’t get sidetracked by ‘sea worthiness’, ‘convenience’, or other talking points. Any boat will handle big water better than you and your crew. Fuel consumption is more a factor of speed than size. Speed is probably not as important as you may think. Age of the boat should be considered but can be mollified by a tolerant attitude toward unexpected down time. Structural and other major problems can be minimized by an inspection by a respected boat surveyor.
Size is the critical decision. You will want to pay attention to design, engine(s), electronics, air and water draft, and a myriad of other things, but size is the driving force. A dinghy, bimini, windless, anchor and even electronics can be changed. Size can’t. You don't want your boat to feel like a motel room, but you may not want to feel like you’re driving or parking a tractor trailer either. Your boat needs to feel comfortable, fit your personality and the reason you’re doing the Loop.
You don’t have to answer out loud, but what is the relationship between the Captain and Admiral? It will come as a surprise to some, but many couples often sleep in different beds or even different bedrooms as they get older. I’m not here to play Dear Abby; let’s just say the snoring gets to be too much. If that’s your case, you’re going to need a bigger boat: two berths take more room than one.
How do the Captain and Admiral argue? Or settle arguments? If slamming doors is part of the process, you’ll at least need a boat with doors. And if you want the Grandchildren on board, you may have to invite their parents too. You’ll need a bigger boat, even if the Captain and Admiral don’t snore.
Your boat will undoubtedly be smaller than anything you’ve lived in before. How much ‘stuff’ makes a boat feel like home? Probably not as much as you think. Most Loopers will admit they lugged more than they needed. Big screen TVs, full size refrigerators, lounge chairs, air conditioning, queen size beds and showers all take space. They take maintenance too, but that’s another story.
The favored boat design for Looping are trawlers, specifically designed for long distance cruising with a galley (kitchen), saloon (living room), one or more staterooms (bedroom) and head(s) (bathroom). They’re generally in the 32’ to 46’ range. Trawlers are probably 60-70% of the annual Great Loop fleet, but you see every type and size boat on the Loop, including sail boats, demasted for at least part of the trip.
One of my favorite couples have done the Loop several times aboard the Jill Kristy, a permanently derigged 26' MacGregor sailboat. The craziest and maybe most fun were The Pirate and The Princess, a good description of them as well as their homemade, slow moving houseboat flying a pirates flag and decorated with fake palm trees. Their partying reminded me of my younger days. I didn't even pretend to keep up with them now.
The practical interpretation of ‘long distance’ is SLOW: usually 7-9 mph, up to 12 or so in a pinch. That’s the sacrifice made for space, range and reasonable fuel expense. There are some trawlers that get up and go in the 25+ mph range, but at an eye-popping consumption of fuel. The bigger versions of these are best described as luxury yachts, sometimes equipped with huge egos and wakes, neither particularly endearing to most Loopers. I watched one in Baltimore take on three 20,000 gallon tanker trucks of fuel.
As you consider size, make a list of ‘absolutes’. It should be pretty short. Budget may well top that list. Accommodations to get around the boat – both inside and outside – may be critical because of a Captain’s or Admiral’s physical limitations - or keeping the Grandkids corralled. Handrails, ladders (or no ladders), thrusters, dinghy/outboard configuration or a poop deck for your dog may be absolutes.
Put lower priorities on a ‘want’ list. Keep it short too. Flexibility is one key to enjoying the Loop and will take some of the stress out of buying a boat. Cooking preferences, food storage, refrigeration, power management: things you may prefer one way or another but could live with or change if necessary.
It will be hard, but don’t stress over buying a boat. It’s a bad way to start the Loop. You’ll never find the perfect boat because all boats are a compromise. You may want to engage a boat broker but trust your instincts. Find a boat that you and the Admiral will look forward to coming home to every night – and drive the next day.