Life on the Loop

Home is Where the Heart Is

Pretty shy but doggone cute. Great conversation with their Dad.
I think he and his wife gave up on the boy lottery.

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. The single most important thing about choosing a boat for the Loop is to understand that this will be your home as well as your car for the next year or so. You will want to pay attention to design, engine(s), electronics, appliances and a myriad of other things, but you’re really buying a home. You don't want it to feel like a motel room. It needs to feel comfortable and fit your personality. Things can be adapted or changed easier than your personality. If you don't believe me, ask your spouse. Home is where the heart is - or something like that.

​The most significant decision is size. 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. Many cast an envious eye at my L.T. Looper. “Well, maybe not that small, but I wish…” 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.

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.

So back to size. 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.

The favored boat for Looping are trawlers, specifically designed for long distance cruising with galleys (kitchens), saloons (living rooms), one or more staterooms (bedrooms) and head(s) (bathrooms). They’re generally in the 32’ to 46’ foot range. Trawlers are probably 60-70% of the annual Great Loop fleet, but you see every type and size of boat on the Loop, including sail boats, demasted for at least part of the trip.

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. Getting around the boat – both inside and outside – may be critical because of physical limitations or keeping the Grandkids corralled. Thrusters and the dinghy/outboard configuration may be an absolute. Your dog may need a poop deck.

​Put lower priorities on a ‘want’ list. Keep it short too. Flexibility is a key to enjoying the Loop and will take some of the stress out of buying a boat too. Cooking preferences, food storage and refrigeration, a windlass, power management: things you may prefer but could live with as is or change if necessary.

 

Most important, does the boat you’re looking at fit your personality. Does it fit what appeals to you about the Loop?

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and have camped extensively in the forests and deserts of the mountain west. I don’t need many creature comforts to be happy. To the consternation of my arthritic knees, I’m always curious about what’s around the next bend or over the next rise or if I can squeeze through that narrow place.

​At 23 foot, my L.T. Looper is small, very small, by Looper standards. But she fit me and my curiosity perfectly and contributed mightily to my enjoyment of the Great Loop. I identified the C-Dory line as my preference early in my 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 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 handles big water and more than a few who couldn’t believe I lived on her for nine months.​

L.T. would not be the boat for most Loopers. If socializing is higher on your priority list than exploring, or you view the Loop more as a novel way to explore new cities, museums, theaters or events, you’d want something different, i.e. bigger – and that’s not even considering the Grandkids or snoring.

Power management probably fits better in ‘Learning Curve’, but I’ve put it here because it may be a consideration when buying a boat. That makes this story longer than intended so if you’re never going to buy a boat, you may skip to the last paragraph.

Power management is important on a boat because you don’t want to lose the ability to start your engine(s) – kind of like leaving something on in your car and not being able to start it in the morning, except that there may not be a friend around with long enough jumper cables. You also don’t want to lose your electronics, refrigeration and certain cooktops which all have safety cut offs if power gets low enough to damage them.

To the best of my knowledge, all trawlers have diesel generators to recharge their bank of house batteries if their main engine(s) aren’t running enough to do the trick. It’s a little trickier on a smaller outboard powered boat like L.T. with just one house battery and no auxiliary generator. I ruined an expensive battery and had some tense moments with my diesel cooktop (which has a convoluted reboot process) before I got the hang of it – something you really don’t want to do on any boat.

I carried a small portable power generator and an extra can of gas (which doubled as emergency fuel) to power it – something generally frowned upon on boats as a fire and carbon monoxide hazard. All Loopers have (or need to get) a good wired in battery charger. But they require shore power. If you want to stay at an anchorage for more than one night, i.e., not running your engine to charge the battery, you generally need some form of generator.

Solar panels and/or another house battery or two are on my wish list to help with this issue. But L.T. has to find a place to put them and I have to do a lot more studying. Neither of us are holding our breath. Your ability to deal with power management may put the amount of house power, solar power and  recharge rate on your ‘absolute’ or ‘want’ list.

Don’t stress over getting 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’ll look forward to coming home to every night – and drive the next day.

Common Sense