To start a little bit before the beginning…. When we retired, we were still in our 50’s and wanted an adventure. There were a lot of ideas in the hopper. Should we move to a warm, beachy, inexpensive, foreign country for a few years? Or maybe buy round-the-world plane tickets for a year? Or could some time living on a boat be fun?
We spent a couple of years investigating each of these options, visiting some potential foreign countries, investigating RTW plane ticket prices and itineraries, and looking at hundreds of boats on Yacht World, and learning about America’s Great Loop.
Then in 2020 Covid hit. Our options were narrowed. A boat it was! But what kind of boat? So many possibilities!
A sailboat would be cool. But wow…. Quite a lot to learn…. Especially since we didn’t have any real significant boating experience! And there are a lot of bridges to deal with on the great loop, and that pesky mast would probably be a pain to deal with.
So, a power boat seemed like the right choice.
Still more time on Yacht World…. Trawlers, electric hybrids, catamarans, motor sailors…. The list goes on and on. And then we happened on Ranger Tugs. We liked the idea of buying straight from the manufacturer. We were happy that they were made in the Pacific Northwest. They can go slow (6-8 knots) very economically, and fast (16+ knots) when necessary. We loved the look, and the boats seemed super versatile. Every feature had 2 or 3 different functions. Perfect for a year on the Great Loop!
Another decision made? We thought so… but needed to touch and feel before we bought.
The 2021 Seattle Boat Show had gone virtual, and in its place, Ranger Tugs was doing a full line up of their boats on their delivery dock in Des Moines. We made an appointment and toured them all from the R-23 to the R-43. Again we narrowed our options. The R-29 was beautiful, and the large back window opened up onto the cockpit making it feel very indoor/outdoor. But the R-31 was just a little bigger, and we thought it would be nicer for us and for our (occasional) guests. Should we do it? If so, which one?
After having lunch and a beer at the Quarterdeck, we decided that we would put in an order for an R-31 CB, Northwest Edition. So exciting!!!! We worked with Andrew and Tim on the options we wanted, gave them a deposit, and we were on our way! It was February, and our boat was supposed to be delivered in late May. This was good, because we could keep the boat in the Puget Sound for the summer and learn how to use her, while still being close to the Ranger Tugs support group in case we needed their help.
The "display boat” that sold us on the R-31. So pretty. So practical. So perfect.
With that GIANT first step taken, we had so much to think about, so much to do to prepare!
Financing was the first orders of business. Again, many options on all fronts. After listening to lots of advice and exploring several financing options, we decided to get a home equity loan. We actually initiated the loan in January, a full month before we even visited the Ranger Tugs dock. Good thing we did, because it took some time working with our bank… more than three months. After two home appraisals, we were approved, then after several tweaks to the payment schedule, we had a loan!
Next was boat insurance. With relatively little boating experience, we were worried that it would be difficult and/or expensive to get insurance. But it was actually an easier process than we thought it would be. We were insured for the Puget Sound and its tributaries, the San Juan Islands, and Canada up to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. No open ocean. Good enough for us!
The third thing we needed was a marina to put the boat in. Marinas in the Puget sound were tight. We put ourselves on several waiting lists. In a couple of months, we had a spot at Dock Street Marina in Tacoma. Yay! It was a great choice for us. It shortened our drive, was close to relatives, and was a really nice marina. With a great view of Mt. Ranier to top it all off!
And last but not least, the boat needed to be registered and titled. We registered the boat in Oregon and bought a cruising permit for Washington. Easy. We decided to title our boat federally with the USCG. Not so easy. But it would enable us to go into Canada and the Bahamas easily. Once we understood the process, made the application, sent supplementary information, and paid the (reasonable) fees, the USCG documentation took 3 months.
With all of this in order, we were set for a summer (and fall) of driving between Eugene, Oregon and Tacoma Washington. A week or two at home. A week or two on the boat. Sounds exhausting, but it was actually fun!
We started to understand what it would be like to live on the boat.
We spent a lot (I mean A LOT) of time with dock carts, putting stuff onto the boat (bedding, kitchenware, electronics, etc), living with it for a while, then taking stuff off the boat that we didn’t need. Then putting more, different stuff on the boat that worked better. All the time, thinking about what we were going to need to feel good about living on the boat for a year. It was a real process.
We had a lot of time on the waters of the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands. We saw a lot of gorgeous places. We learned to anchor out, grab a mooring ball, transit locks, and dock in many challenging situations. It was fantastic. And fun. And glorious!
Even so, we did have a few mishaps.
After an engine service, one of the hoses blew off and emptied the engine of its oil into the bilge and left us adrift in the Sound (with guests on board). It was nerve wracking and time consuming to get it fixed, but Tim at Ranger Tugs helped us know what to do and in the end the service folks made it right. And there was no damage to the boat, the engine, and the crew. A good learning experience for all involved!
Another time, we were traveling (probably too fast for the conditions) in windy/wavy waters, and didn’t see a 10ft, 12” diameter log in the trough of a wave. It bumped the bow of the boat, then swung around and our prop took a little bite out of it. Ouch. Then 10 minutes later we hit another (smaller) log, but no prop contact this time…. Sheesh. We slowed down, made it to Dock Street Marina, and promptly called a dive service to look at the hull and prop to see if we did any damage. The hull was fine, but the prop needed to be straightened. A few hundred dollars later, everything was right as rain. Again, a good lesson for us, at relatively little cost. Whew.
After all of this it was late November, and the boating season was getting decidedly less pleasant. We mostly stayed at home and checked on the boat with our BRNKL monitoring system. We could see GPS location, track cabin temperature, see when the bilge pumps were running, tell if anyone hit the boat or vice versa. We could even take a photo of the view from the cockpit whenever we wanted. We visited in person a few times, but really didn’t take her out much. Just kept prepping her for the journey to come.
At home, we were doing loop planning in earnest. We knew we wanted to take about a year to do the loop, but that was about it.
We started spending a lot of time on the AGLCA website, bought some books about the Great Loop, and learned more about the geography of the eastern US. It was like drinking from a fire hose. Overwhelming is an understatement. We decided to adopt the AGLCA suggested itinerary and make changes on the fly as we went.
Insurance needed to be updated with a rough itinerary, so that the geographic restrictions could be changed. Our premium went up a bit, but not too bad.
Also, we needed to get the boat to Florida. Again, Ranger Tugs helped us to find a carrier. Blue Earth Express does regular boat deliveries from the East Coast to the Puget Sound and agreed to put our boat on their flatbed on the way back. It was a win-win. Still expensive at ~ $9,000, but given the price of gas, and the distance, it was to be expected.
But exactly where in Florida, and exactly when did we want to start?
We imagined that we would start the trip by cruising around the Bahamas for a few weeks, so West Palm Beach seemed like a good starting point. We had a friend who needed a place to stay and agreed to take care of our cat starting early March, so that set our schedule.
And just like that…. We were ready to start our adventure!
Special thanks to Patty and Gary for sharing their story with us.
Check back for more Great Loop updates in the weeks to follow.
You can read more about Patty and Gary's Great Loop journey on their Substack page.