Many have asked for a recap of our thoughts and observations from our three years and over 13,000 statute miles of water travel and live aboard experience. So, in no particular order here are some ruminations....
We started out way back in 2010 thinking about 15 month Great Loop that would begin in the Spring of 2015. Well one needs to be flexible...our start date quickly became delayed and a two, then a three plus year Loop plan evolved. But very early along the way, we decided this live aboard lifestyle could also easily be a lifestyle we could enjoy in our good health with which we are blessed. We are so glad we sold the home, cars and reduced down our belongings to a 5'x10' storage unit. This simplification and our floating home provides us great flexibility to follow the seasons...we don't do winters anymore.😎 No worries about anything other than our boat and travel schedule this way.
We made it a point not to have too many fixed schedule commitments. We made general plans and revised them along the way due to weather, repair delays, etc. When we had a firm date and place commitment, we made sure we had plenty of time to arrive and explored areas near the destination more thoroughly if we arrived a few days (or weeks) early. This proved to greatly reduce the stress levels of travelling long distances. But it also enabled us to have family and friends join us at various locations to enjoy the highlights of those particular areas. When we had an event we needed to attend far from where the boat was located, we found it easy to find a marina to store the boat for a period of time, fly or rent a car and travel to the family event. We also flexibly arranged a number of short term plans and friends or family visited us in those circumstances. Flexibility is key.
Budgeting thoughts. Overall, we ended up pretty much on plan but we'll share some observations. We did not specifically track food, beverage, phone and clothing with the thought that our lifestyle aboard would not differ from a land based home. And looking back, we think this was pretty accurate in total. The major expenses incurred were repairs/maintenance, marinas, fuel and car rental/air fare, in that order. We ended up a little under our planned marina and fuel budget but spent way over our maintenance and repairs plans. Your "mileage may vary" on this, we just had some ill luck with some major unforeseen mechanical issues. Many boats complete the Loop with very few repairs, others have spent much more on larger problems than we have..."luck of the draw" here. Just have some funds set aside for major repairs, no one wants to have these "ruin" your travels.
Biggest surprise? The people you meet. Just wonderful!! Such a friendly and social lot cruisers are! We now have friends in every area of the country (and countries!...Bahamas and Canada) that we visited. And it is not just boaters. We met many friendly and competent repair technicians, marina personnel, car rental and transportation folks, restaurant and grocery store employees etc. along the way. Most want to "hear your stories" and go out of their way to help with local recommendations and such.
What would we do different? Probably nothing. Your boat selection is a big part. Make sure the "livability" criteria you have are well covered with your choice. There is no perfect boat and ours proved just fine. Yes, it burns a lot of fuel, but we used the speed flexibility to our advantage a number of times (bridges, locks, weather/waves). If it were only a "slow boat" we would definitely look for one with stabilizers based on our experience in the ocean. Our "stabilizers" are speed and fuel burn and it worked for us. The "walk around" decks proved very useful in the 130 locks we traversed. The fly bridge is very nice for visibility in the Bahamas or heavy crab pot infested areas and has proven to be a great entertainment area as well. The dual helm is wonderful for weather and insect issues....never have to be hot or cold or swatting nasty flies on the fly bridge, just come below and run the genset for air or heat! The lower helm with the pilot door is also nice for locks....no stairs to traverse to handle a line. And the two heads/showers is great for visitors for a few days at a time as well as redundancy should one head malfunction. Not perfect as no boat is, but we found it stable, comfortable and functional.
To those contemplating the Loop we say, find your boat a year or more early, learn and update its systems, get training on handling and education on cruising challenges, put together a rough "seasonal" planned itinerary, practice a bunch and then head out! Don't make firm plans for more than 3 days out...the weather will likely change them anyways! Just build that rough seasonal schedule and work against that. Utilize Active Captain, Waterway Guide, other online resources and local knowledge inquiries to learn about route challenges in your next few days travels. Understand tides, currents, weather, and other hazards and plan accordingly, including a contingency plan for each day's travel. Join the AGLCA, sign on to their and other boater forums and search their websites for answers to questions you might have. Post questions you cannot find answers to...others have already experienced your concern and will be glad to help. The Loop is then a bunch of well planned day trips put together with the knowledge and planning you complete.
Someone said or posted a comment that we found to be a good reminder... "The difference between a crisis and an adventure is attitude". We found this to be great advice. Make your plans, including contingency plans and adjust your expectations and plans when those unanticipated repairs or nasty weather get in the way. It all works out to be a great experience!
Final Monthly and 3+ Year Statistics (August 2015 to September 2018):
Miles travelled: Month: 229/ Trip to Date: 13,089
Travel days: 9 / 308
Engine hours: 26 / 1492
Locks: 0 / 129Days on hook or free facilities: 25 / 193
Bridges opened: 4 / 114
Bridges opened: 4 / 114
Gallons of diesel: 176/ 10197
The cruising lifestyle and the people we meet…priceless!!!
Sum Escape was finally put in a building the week of Nov 5. We just beat the snow!
Living out of our suitcases now and for the next few months....we already know we prefer cruising!
Our belongings for our 6 months of travel are awaiting us....
We went to a rental home in Florida October 10. We went to Kalamazoo to visit family for Thanksgiving, then back to Sarasota until Dec 17. Then our travels took us to Denver and Bellingham for more family visits. After some additional travel we will return to Bellingham in February 2019 to be near for the birth of our first grandchild (a girl)!
Our next update may not be until after we are grandparents in February. Happy New Year to all!