Titusville and New Smyrna: Poor Social Distancing and Rockets

Starting our day at the Kennedy Space Center

Friday, we did our now-usual routine of waking up early and heading northward up the ICW, this time heading to to Titusville. This had been a planned stop for a couple weeks, aiming for a weekend day to see the Kennedy Space Center, so we got a spot in the city marina for a few days.

Manatees were all over the Marina, and we even started seeing them in the ICW near Titusville

We had an uneventful glassy morning cruise up, and upon arriving in the marina, were greeted by several manatees swimming around, and our first in-person fellow great loopers, Larry and Mary Bailey (the link is to their travel blog). They were super friendly, and we ended up spending a bunch of our stay in town hanging out with them and a couple of their friends that came down to visit as well.

After working Friday, in the evening we had some drinks with the Baileys and then we had a late appointment at an escape room a few miles down the road, so we unloaded the bikes and headed inland to find some dinner. Titusville has a cute little downtown area, but as soon as you get outside of that, it feels like you’ve been teleported back in time. Aging half-abandoned strip malls (and indoor malls), sketchy diners, the works. We ended up picking a pizza place in the mall where the escape room was and had a great cheap meal before heading to the room.

The escape rooms were interesting. It sounded like the owner basically bought plans for them off someone in Vegas that sells escape room plans, and then just built them. One of the rooms was “The Hangover”-themed, and required a nontrivial amount of trivia from the movie to get through, which we required hints for. We got through that one and since the night was still young we did another Harry Potter-themed room that was pretty good, with some neat new tricks, aside from one super-tenuous connection in the last area of the room that even the owner couldn’t really describe how anyone was supposed to understand. Oops.

Saturday was the main event for us — the Kennedy Space Center. I’d been once, ~25 years ago with my family, and Hannah had never been, so we were pretty excited. I’ve been a space dork my whole life, so the color that this added to all the stories that I’d grown up reading about was just beyond awesome. As a pretty incredibly unpatriotic person in the current environment, it was still an awe-inspiring tour de force of the era back when America was actually great. This juxtaposed with the sadness of having them sell off daily tickets to astronaut lunches at the museum, because there’s so little else for astronauts to do these days. In any event, before I get stuck on a rant, the museum was incredible. I teared up more in one day than I have in the last decade combined. If you are even slightly intrigued by space, engineering, or US history, you’ll have a great time.

We got back to the boat, and were invited back onto the Bailey’s boat again for cocktails and snacks, and ended up heading in with them all for a night on the town. We ate a pile of seafood, hit up a wine bar, drank at a great brewery, and finished off at a dive bar. Look at us being all social.

After the night of heavy drinking, waking up early the next morning was rough, but it was supposed to be worth it. As it turns out, SpaceX had a rocket launch scheduled for 9:22AM, and so we couldn’t not go see it. Saturday, I posted on the looper Facebook group and asked what the best place to see the launch would be. Most people suggested just watching from the marina, but Ferrell & Tamara Shaffer (link to their Facebook blog) responded that they were at anchor just southeast of us at the closest spot boaters could get to the launch, and invited us to come join them. So, we gathered the troops and trundled out of the marina at sunup and went over to join them.

We rafted up on them with about 45 minutes to go until launch, chatted for a while, ate breakfast, and then gathered on the bow for the countdown. SpaceX did its usual great livestream leading up to launch — “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, Liftoff! Wait, abort! We have an abort.” Apparently some sensor measuring the force of the rockets as they build up to launch thrust detected an anomaly and auto-scrubbed the launch right at T-0. So, that was disappointing, but what can you do? It was a pretty morning anyway, and we got to meet a second group of loopers. We dropped everyone off at the marina, said goodbyes, and continued our journey north.

This segment of the ICW was a little wacky. It was a very-dredged section, so any deviation from the channel got real shallow, real fast. There are regularly-spaced “spoil areas”, where they dumped the sand from the dredging back in the early 1900s, which had turned into tiny tropical islands in the intervening decades. There were lots of boaters out there today, fishing from the little islands and hanging out under tents in portable chairs. We had to take one long cut (the top picture) that was packed solid on both sides of the channel with people fishing from either the shore or tiny fishing boats in the shallows.

Dolphins playing in our wake — they’re everywhere

We’re also seeing dolphins and porpoises all over the place. It’s pretty crazy compared to the northwest, where if you see a little pod in a weekend you’re lucky. Everywhere we go, as long as we’re doing ~6-7kts, they swim over and play in either the bow or side wake to catch a free ride for a bit.

We ended up anchoring for the night in New Smyrna, a cute little town where the only things open on Sunday are the brewery (even the smallest towns have a microbrewery these days — what a time to be alive) and a little knick knack shop, so we didn’t do much other than walk around and get a beer before heading back to the boat for dinner. We’re anchored in a tight little spot between 2 boats on one axis and a sandbar and a crab pot on the other axis, but amazingly it seems to be holding quite well in what otherwise appears to be loose sand. We’ll see if we get woken up in the middle of the night by the anchor alarm that I have set on a super tight circle…

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Picking Up The Pace, COVID-19 Adjustments, and More Repairs

The ICW has lots of large power line stays just a few dozen feet off the channel. It’s a bit otherworldly going through the gaps when the water’s super calm.

After being holed up at a windy Nettles Island for three days, and finally free of set-in-stone scheduled destinations, we were ready to get moving. Our next two plans were:

  1. Get up to Titusville by the weekend to hit up the Kennedy Space Center.
  2. Get up to Jacksonville the following weekend to then rent a car and drive down to Disney/Universal with Hannah’s brother and a friend of ours.

Early this week is also when COVID-19 officially transitioned from “Seattle’s kinda screwed” to “the country/world is on the exponential infection curve now.” We’d been assuming for a few weeks that many of our desired activities would need curtailing, but it took a while for businesses to finish playing virus chicken with each other and actually start closing. I put the kibosh on the Disney plan 48 hrs before Disney actually closed themselves, but I had some hope that, at a museum at least, we could more or less determine our own desired level of infection risk by how many things we touched/how many people we got near, so for the moment, we held onto the Kennedy plan and proceeded toward Titusville.

Our Vero Beach anchorage — sketchy shallow, mere feet off the ICW, but a pretty area

Our first stop after leaving Nettles Island was Vero Beach. We didn’t really have plans to do anything there, but on working days, it’s hard for us to make too much forward progress. Wake up early, try to get somewhere by 10:30am or so, then fire up the computer and work for the day. On the southern ICW, where you spend much of your time going 6kts, that doesn’t allow for a lot of daily distance. So, we found a nice looking anchorage on Navionics and headed up that way. The anchorage turned out to already have 2 boats in the best spots, spaced just perfectly to not really fit a third in between, so we set anchor ~100 feet east of the ICW channel and monitored to see how bad of an idea it would be.

It turned out to be a pretty great spot. A few boats waked us pretty good, but that was pretty expected. In the late afternoon, Hannah finished up her work for the day and wanted to try out the dinghy. Everywhere we’d been so far, we had backed into Marina slips, so we hadn’t actually had an opportunity to try it out since transporting from the west coast yet. So we put the boat in the water, the motor turned right on (a great sign, since the battery hadn’t been charged in ~3 months), and Hannah went out for a quick spin. She started idling away from the boat toward the channel, and then … frantic arm motions, then a cell phone call. It won’t throttle up at all, it’s stuck in idle. Damn. She tootled back to the mothership, and I started diagnosing.

Dismantling the shift lever down to its core compounds showed how much salt had made its way into the mechanism

Somehow, on the 3 week voyage across the country, salt had managed to find its way everywhere on our boat. We had most things cleaned as soon as it got to the dock in Ft. Lauderdale, but some things, like the dinghy, apparently escaped that cleaning. The shift lever had gotten tons of salt outside and in, blocking the shift mechanism and rusting some of the pivots. Fully dismantling everything, scraping off a lot of salt and corroded metal, and reassembling it fortunately completely cured the issue, and late in the evening we declared success. We were originally going to go ashore and try out an escape room, but the dinghy issues had removed our motivation, so we sat back to enjoy the evening.

The sunset looked promising, so I got out the drone, charged the batteries, got everything set up, went to take off and … red warning, can’t take off. Turns out, there’s an airport inland and our anchorage is right in the approach path to one of the runways. Damn #2 for the day. I called it, put everything away, and decided it was beer:45. So I grabbed a beer and settled in. Hannah went to take a shower, and immediately returned with the bad news that the water pump wasn’t working. Damn #3. Don’t they always come in 3s?

Our water pump setup, a Jabsco “smart” auto-flow-regulating pump

Our water pump had been not behaving super well even while we were still in Anacortes, and had gotten worse since starting the Loop, so we knew this day was coming. I was just hoping that it wouldn’t be, you know, today. So, I spent a few minutes tinkering, and decided to just give up, grab all the tools, and swap the damn thing out. An hour later, we had water again! But this pump wasn’t turning off some of the time when water pressure ramped up. I’m hoping it’s just learning, since it’s an “intelligent” pump, but in the meantime, sometimes we have to power cycle it to get it to stop running…

The next morning, we moved again. Next stop was Melbourne, which the book generously described as, “there’s not much to do here, but it has a great anchorage.” Hannah found an escape room here too, so that was our next intended activity. We got up to the anchorage, which was a roughly half-mile-square of 8 foot deep water to the east of the ICW channel with no other boats, and dropped anchor… and dragged it all over creation. We tried a few different directions, and couldn’t get it to set up strong anywhere. Fortunately, we were over a thousand feet from any even vaguely worrying water, but we really needed to get to work, so we set up an anchor alarm and started working.

For the next 5 hours, once an hour I would hear the anchor alarm go off, move it over another 100 ft, and go back to work. In the late afternoon, I got tired of this, and we found another better-sounding anchorage in Cocoa, another 15nm north. We pulled up the anchor and discovered several cubic feet of seaweed taking up permanent residence on the anchor and chain, explaining the earlier difficulties, but we decided to move anyway.

I am unlucky with airports. Also not smart enough to check the map first.

This section of the ICW fortunately has several 25mph speed zones for us to take advantage of, so we got up to Cocoa in an hour and set a great anchor in some sticky mud just SE of town, next to ~30 other anchored boats, west of the channel, just outside of the under-construction marina. The sunset looked exciting again, so I, not learning my lesson from last time, got the drone ready to go, went to take off, and … no takeoff allowed. Another airport. As my dad always says, he with weak mind has strong legs, so I put everything back away.

Later on, we took the now-working-great dinghy ashore after dark, tying up at a boat launch and hoping no one stole it (and immediately buying a 15ft locking chain on Amazon), and hit up a local escape room. The escape room was a serial-killer basement themed mission with some mostly-non-tech-based puzzles, which was fun. We knocked it out with 22:51 left, which is pretty great for us. We dingied back to the boat in the pitch dark and called it a night.

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Settling In

Current Status: Messy But Manageable

The only set-in-stone date on our trip for the next several months is having to be in DC for the March 6-8 weekend for a funeral. A couple months ago, with that date in mind, and expecting that we’d want to deal with some stuff on the boat before heading too far north, we guessed randomly, picked West Palm Beach to fly out of (~50 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale), and bought plane tickets.

Fast forward to being on the boat, and we think that guess is going to work out pretty well. We have the second round of canvas repairs that will be done either Friday or Monday (contractor-speak for “maybe Monday, probably Tuesday”) as the long-pull work item right now. Knowing we’re here until then, we have been taking the opportunity to catch up on all the boat prep that we missed out on in January when we had to send the boat out on 48 hrs notice.

Hannah taking advantage of a canvas-less cockpit to do some stretching in the breeze

With Sunday spent doing basic provisioning, the weekdays are our first trial of working full time from a boat on the other side of the country while trying to organize shipments, start planning travel, find/book future marinas, and do maintenance.

Monday, we had the pallet full of several hundred pounds of supplies from home arrive, and spent the entire afternoon unpacking and organizing. I stayed up late and installed a new chartplotter (navigation computer/display) and radar to replace our ancient ones. Despite wearing full protective gear and heavily using a vacuum to eat up a bunch of fiberglass, I’m still assuming I took another chunk out of my expected lifespan. Amazingly, I also managed to sell the old units, which I assumed would be nearly worthless, on Craigslist and eBay for 900$ in under a day.

Tuesday, the couch pallets arrived, and we had an exciting afternoon of frantically getting the existing couch out of the boat and getting the new couch on board with literally seconds to spare before the sky opened up. Once everything was installed and cleaned up, we utilized our rental F150 to its fullest, bringing a completely overflowing truck of old couch, pallets, and other misc junk to the dump before returning it in the evening.

Tech-wise, working on the boat has been going fairly well during the day. I picked up a second unlimited SIM card from an AT&T reseller (NoLimitData), stuck it in the second modem on the Cradlepoint router, and enabled intelligent trunking (with the existing unlimited Verizon card), so the router splits our traffic between the two connections. The results, at night at least, have been great (see picture). Midday, when the networks are congested, with the two connections sharing load, we’re at least barely noticing that we’re not on a cable modem, so we can’t ask for much more than that. I still can’t wait for StarLink next year…

Today, after work, I started digging into a few nagging problems we noticed on the boat on our quick trip up to Vancouver. A few of the switches on the flybridge helm had stopped doing anything, including the horn, and there were some issues with the trim tab sensors on the NMEA 2000 network. After messing around with the trim tab sensors for way too long, I finally just unplugged the device, plugged it back in, and quickly tried a fresh re-calibrate before the computer finished initializing it. Boom, all fixed. On to the electrical. I chased one of the issues down to a wire pulling out of a previous crimp connection, another of the issues down to loose spade connectors, and then fully debugged the horn down to it being a hardware issue. I pulled the horn off the boat and popped it open to check it out, only to be met with a horn element full of rust and spider webs/poop. So, a replacement is on its way from Amazon now.

In general, though, things are coming together. More storage/organization supplies are arriving from Amazon by the day, so our living spaces are pretty usable now, especially with the new storage in the couches. The ghetto-rigged A/C unit is doing a decent job, though with it being 88F and quite humid today, it was struggling to keep the inside below around 75, but that’s fine for working. On the fun side, we’ve been soaking a tiny 1 quart oak barrel for a few days to get it ready for aging cocktails, and tonight we declared victory and filled it up with a bunch of Negroni. In a couple weeks, that’s going to be delicious.

Tomorrow, we plan to actually unload the bikes and take some rides around town — hit up an escape room, maybe head over to the beach, etc. We have a pile of Amazon packages coming in the next 2 days with more storage/organization supplies (and some boat parts…), so that’ll take up plenty of time, but we’re hoping to be able to relax for our first weekend of the trip.

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Final Preparations and Initial Plans

As I go to bed tonight, we tick down past the 8-days-to-go mark. So, we’re just finishing up some fairly frantic last-minute planning and logistics, and are ready to move into see-what-happens mode.

Today, we dropped off the last pile of stuff at the freight company to be sent out to the boat. Since the boat had to go through Victoria, we couldn’t send any alcohol out on it, so instead we’re shipping out a few cases of wine and a case of northwest liquor (small batch stuff you can’t get in liquor stores out east). Combine that with a radar and chartplotter upgrade, throw in a folding dock cart, some art, and a few miscellaneous other things, and you have 460 lbs of shrink-wrapped boxes on their way out east to meet us. It’ll give me some fun projects to get started on from day 1!

Speaking of the chartplotter upgrade, we made the call to upgrade the main ancient Garmin 5012 chartplotter to a new 1242 Plus unit. I was looking into prices for getting all of the map cards we’d need to safely do the loop with the 5012, and it was getting up over 2000$. At the Seattle Boat Show, I talked to the Garmin rep and he said he actually knew a few people who had recently just done the Great Loop, entirely using the built-in G3 base map that comes with recent Garmin chartplotters. Given that I could get the new unit for essentially the same price as the map cards I was looking at, it seemed like a vastly superior answer. The reps at the Garmin booth don’t actually sell anything, and I’m sure the margin on hardware is lower than a mass-printed SD card, so it seemed like a genuine suggestion to save some money. But then I found a nice combo sale to upgrade our decade-old radar unit to a Fantom 24 at the same time, and suddenly everything got more expensive…

We also got news this week that our new couch was ready to ship, so it’ll head out east about the same time as our random-stuff pallet. We’re excited for the extra storage!

Lastly, we’ve started trying to look at what a timeline MIGHT look like for our loop. We currently only have 2 hard dates:

  • March 7th, we have a celebration of life for my grandmother, who passed away earlier this year. We have plane tickets from West Palm Beach for the weekend, so we need to get ~100 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale up to PBI by then.
  • November 1st, or so, the locks south of Chicago open from 4 months of maintenance closures, so we can start hauling ass down the Illinois to the Mississippi, away from what will, by then, be quite cold weather.
Transit days on the standard Great Loop, according to Captain John’s Great Loop Cruising Guide

Outside of those two dates, pretty much anything goes, so I’ve been trying to add some constraints/odds to give people a rough idea when to come out and visit us. If we follow a roughly-72-to-75-degree-average high daily temperature for the first bit (colder than we want, but we get north earlier and can explore further northeast), we end up with the following vague-but-quite-aggressive schedule:

  • Feb 28: Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • March 7: West Palm Beach, FL (100 miles)
  • March 25: Jacksonville, FL (300 miles)
  • April 15: Charleston, SC (300 miles)
  • May 1: Wilmington, NC (250 miles)
  • May 15: Norfolk, VA (300 miles)
  • June 1: Washington DC (250 miles)
  • June 10: Baltimore, MD (200 miles)
  • June 25: NYC (250 miles)
  • July 15: Providence, RI (250 miles)
  • Aug 1: Portland, ME (250 miles)
  • Aug 20: Back to NYC -> Enter Hudson River (500 miles)
  • Sept 5: Montreal, QC (400 miles)
  • Sept 15: Leave Lake Ontario into Trent-Severn (200 miles)
  • Oct 1: Leave Trent-Severn onto Lake Huron (300 miles)
  • Oct 15: Enter Lake Michigan (400 miles)
  • Nov 1: Head south from Chicago, IL when the locks open (400 miles)

We, of course, have no idea if we’ll be able to hit that aggressive of a timeline, since we’re also going to be both working full time and trying to enjoy everything along the way. So, we might just skip everything east of NYC, enter the Hudson in late July, and hang out more in Canada. We’ll see!

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Arrived, But Not Quite in One Piece

Highwind getting unloaded at Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

As the date of the boat’s arrival in Florida got closer, we were thinking that it was probably too early to fly out and start our loop in late January. I’d told my job that March 1st-ish was when we’d start, and while I could have gotten away with it, it was a better idea to stick around for another month to keep building work relationships. So, we started reaching out to our boating community connections to find a captain to pick up the boat and a slip to hold the boat for a month and change. Amazingly, someone found a captain in FL who had a friend with a slip outside a house they’d bought that would be free for a couple months until they got around to buying a boat in the spring, for an amazingly reasonable price. So, we paid a deposit, coordinated pickup details, and slowly watched the Garmin tracking site as the boat wandered its way over.

An Inreach track of the cargo ship’s route (loaded via Google Maps)

It was fun following the boat on its route. They stayed hundreds of miles off shore down the west coast of the US, and then hugged pretty close to Mexico on the way down to Panama, making a pretty consistent 14 kts the whole time. Once they hit Mexico, we’d get emails every day or so with the cell modem on the boat picking up a signal for that middle part of the trip. Then, when they headed north from Panama, they were taking a weird route and going very slowly for a couple days, before turning to the west of Cuba and picking up speed again. We didn’t know what to make of any of it, but it was interesting to watch.

The first picture texted by the captain during the pickup — sooooo where’s the rear canvas?…

On January 18th, after some delays that pushed unloading of our boat into the late evening, they let the captain aboard to start checking out the condition of the boat. We got the first text above, and our hearts sank a bit. Over the last year, we’d replaced all of the canvas on the boat, and paid a premium for some fairly high-end stiff isenglass that would last longer and stay clearer than standard materials, all of which now appeared to be hanging broken or missing from the back half of the boat.

First picture from the captain of the inside of the boat

They let him aboard the boat to check things out, and the inside was a mess. Nothing on a quick inspection by the captain appears to be damaged, but everything was tossed around quite a bit. We later got the story that the cargo ship hit a big storm just north of the Panama Canal, and was seeing steady 35 degree lists in the ocean swells. Another big ship they were also transporting had a large granite countertop break off and bounce around the kitchen for a day and a half. So, things could always be worse.

After some more time aboard, the captain found a pile of stuff nearby that the ship operators had apparently collected as it all fell off our boat. All of the canvas is there, though much of it was destroyed. The grill apparently snapped the railing off the port side of the boat, so that’s going to require some welding and likely a new grill. Not ideal, but nothing catastrophic, at least. Money and a few weeks can fix all of these things, but it’s not really the experience we were looking for.

Eventually, all of the parts were gathered and it was Highwind’s turn to get unloaded. The batteries lasted the whole trip, so my gamble worked out. The engines fired right up and the captain had an uneventful trip inland a couple miles to the dock where Highwind will sit for a bit.

The captain has some local connections, so in the couple days since the boat landed, we’ve gotten the boat fully cleaned to see what other damage there might be, and it doesn’t appear that anything is notably damaged beyond the canvas/railing/grill. Some of the furniture that ended up exposed to the elements in the storm needs some heavier work, but everything else cleaned up nicely.

We are getting estimates for the various required work on those items early next week. We have a special insurance rider as part of the transport, so hopefully most of the costs of repairs are covered by that, but we’ll know more after we get the estimates and start the claims process. Insurance companies are always eager to fulfill claims, so I’m sure this will go smoothly…

No return flight this time…

After assessing the situation, we decided that the Feb 22/23 weekend would be a good option for moving out east, and performed the weird act of buying one-way tickets to the opposite corner of the country. This should give us enough time to get the boat fixed up before we head out, with some time to settle in and receive freight shipments before we should be heading north in early March.

On one last slightly-brighter note, back in November, we commissioned a custom couchbed for the boat to make better use of space and replace our aging and not-terribly-comfortable one, and it’s now finished and ready to ship (the pictures above are the latest ones they sent before saying it was done)! We were intending to have it completed before the boat got shipped, but the early transport changed the situation a wee bit. At this point, it will be shipped to the driveway of the house where our boat is after our arrival in late February, and we’ll swap couches from there.

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On Its Way

After several back-and-forths with Florida on Thursday and Friday, we got our ISF filed (customs forms) and were cleared to load. 3pm Friday, they loaded it up, and 7am this morning the ship departed Victoria, headed to Ensenada. There’s no going back now.

Progress as of this posting from the InReach tracker

I’m gambling a little bit with the batteries on the ship for the voyage, basically entirely because I’m a geek. I disconnected almost everything from the NMEA 2000 network on the ship other than my prototype ShipIt hardware and the GPS antenna, and pulled as much off the rest of the 12V system as I could. This left the boat pulling about 1.8 amps to have the router + cell antenna going to hold connectivity to shore/my house (automatic VPN tunnel), the ShipIt hardware/N2k network, a USB charger for the Garmin Inreach, and whatever else is floating around using power.

A during-assembly shot of me building the solar setup on top of the hardtop last winter

The kicker, and the other side of the bet, is that there’s 500 watts of solar on the roof, but only 390 amp-hours of AGM batteries as a buffer. So, if solar does absolutely nothing, we’ll drain ~43Ah per day and the batteries will be too low to do anything sometime mid next week. But if the solar does, well, really much of anything (which is more likely as it goes south), it’ll keep everything more than topped off. But mostly it needs to make it through the deep dark north before running out of batteries to then find some sun…

Of course, for the vast majority of the trip, the boat looks like it’s going to stay way off shore, well out of range of any cell antennae, so the InReach will be the only reliable tracking mechanism outside of Ensenada, the Panama Canal (we’ll see how Google Fi roaming does!), and then Florida. So, it’s likely that most of my work to keep the network alive will be a waste. Oh well. Experiments are fun.

The current ETA is for the boat to arrive on Jan 2nd in Ensenada, and then ~Jan 20th in Florida. We currently have no plans in place for what to do when that date arrives. It’s still too up in the air around Hannah’s job search and how my job progresses to know if we’ll be ready to move aboard on the 20th or if we’re going to stash the boat somewhere for 5-6 weeks before heading back to actually begin the loop. More updates forthcoming, as soon as we make some decisions…

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A Journey of 6000 Miles Begins With a Single Email

I hadn’t heard from the boat broker in a month, so last Tuesday night (Dec 16) I fired off a quick checkin email to see if he had any update on when the January/February sailing was going to happen. I woke up to a lovely response:

Hi David , when would be the earliest you could be ready to go ?  Would December 28th be too early ? We will have a ship in Victoria at that time would have to double check and see if space is available. Next one will likely be early to mid Feb ..

Anthony

We were two days away from heading to Big Sky, MT for a week of getting together with the family for skiing, arriving home on the 28th. I was also scared by the word “likely”, so I shot him a call in the morning to clarify. He did some research and found that the “likely” February boat was currently not planning on even stopping in Victoria due to not enough customers, so we were looking at more likely an early April shipping at best, arriving in FL in May, significantly too late to start the trip.

Frantic calls to marinas and brokers ensued, and we threw together a list of everything that we’d need to get done to get the boat up to Victoria. The week is compounded by it being Hannah’s last week of work (due to the company management imploding, she put in notice a few weeks ago), so we couldn’t just take a couple days of emergency vacation. At least we were planning on driving to/from Big Sky, so those plans are flexible.

Logistics aside, we were looking ahead at weather for the next few days, and were not thrilled by what we saw. When push came to shove, we decided that the additional expense and hassle of days of logistical hell was worth making sure that we could start the loop in time. So, the plan unfolded:

  • Wednesday/Thursday Nights: Pack the boat with clothing/tech equipment/gear, while the record-setting rain makes everything we own soaking wet. Pack car for ski trip.
  • Friday 5AM: Take the boat out from Kirkland in the dark, through the cut, out the locks, and moor in Shilshole Marina for the day/night. Uber to/from work.
  • Saturday 8AM: Head north to Victoria, clear customs, place boat in Victoria Marina, show the captain how to start/run the boat to load it up later in the week.
  • Saturday 5PM: Take the Victoria Clipper back to Seattle.
  • Saturday 8PM: Drive east to Big Sky.

Somehow, amazingly, the plan worked out without a hitch. The promised rain did come, dumping over 6 inches of rain on us over a 48 hour window, and clearly demonstrating that it’s time to re-do the waterproofing on our bimini top. About the time we crossed the Canadian border, it stopped pouring on us, and we had an uneventful clipper trip home and a reasonable drive out to Big Sky.

We got some last minute news about some customs forms that need filing, which will be done tomorrow morning, just in time for them to load the boat a day early, on Friday. If the loading goes well, then it’s just a waiting game, to get a final date to buy tickets out to Florida to pick up the boat.

The GPS tracking link for the boat (also in the links bar at the right) has our Garmin Inreach active on it, so unless the house batteries run out (here’s hoping that our solar can keep it topped off), we can all follow the boat’s transport together!

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Preparation for The Loop

TL;DR: Early in 2019, Hannah and I made the decision to start seriously planning on doing The Great Loop, a year-long marine circumnavigation of the eastern third of the continental USA — up the east coast from Florida, into the great lakes, down the Mississippi, and around the gulf. After much planning, we will be starting the loop in early 2020 on our boat, Highwind, and this blog will attempt to document our adventures along the way. Hopefully, at the end of the trip, we will have done a good enough job to use something like Pixxibook to print out photobooks of the trip.

Hanging our second boat sign in the decaying hut in the Octopus Islands

Despite buying our first boat only a few years prior, we’d very much enjoyed our month-long summer voyages up into Canada, and were looking for ways to spend more time boating and exploring new areas. The obvious next step was to do an Alaska trip, which would take an entire summer, but unfortunately there’s essentially zero cell coverage over much of the transit route and essentially all of the Alaskan waters, making working remotely difficult. Satellite internet is still incredibly expensive for remarkably little bandwidth, so this basically ruled out Alaska as an option. We’re hoping that Starlink will bring a huge improvement to worldwide high-speed connectivity, but that’s still 2-3 years out at this point.

The next major trip we looked into was The Great Loop, because it keeps you close to cell-covered civilization for the overwhelming majority of the trip, and also covers a bunch of the country that both Hannah and I have nearly zero experience with. We’d heard of the Great Loop in the past, but didn’t really connect it with the trip my cousin Kevin did several years ago until were deeper into planning, amusingly enough. Planning started out as a vague joke, until I kept reading trip reports, finding solutions to the major issues with the trip, and getting more excited about it.

Hannah with Aunt Helen at our wedding in 2013

The unfortunate passing of Hannah’s aunt Helen to cancer in late 2018 kicked us into gear to stop putting off future plans, because, really, who knows if you have a future to plan for. So get to it. We decided to just jump into Great Loop planning and see if we could make it work, and have it be a bit of a Helen Parkinson Memorial Tour. Somewhat surprisingly, after a couple months of planning, we both had approval from our jobs to work remote for the year and had determined that we were going to ship our boat, Highwind, to Florida (via a larger boat) to start our trip in early 2020.

We spent much of the summer of 2019 modifying the boat to get ready to work remotely for a year, living aboard. Our boat is a 2004 Meridian 408, an aft-cabin powerboat, which is a good start for a live-aboard, with its huge bedrooms and expansive salon/living area. However, it wasn’t designed for tech-workers, shockingly, so we needed to make some changes. Also, our boat was built for the northwest, so it had diesel-powered heat, but no way to keep the boat cool for the balmy Florida weather we’re looking forward to.

Test-fitting a custom desk as we were shaping it, one cut at a time

We first ripped out the starboard couch, which was already an awkward small 2-ish person couch, and replaced it with a custom desk we built, with room for two of us to work all day. With 2 rolling office chairs, we have even more versatile seating for dinner as well.

The WirEng GigaMIMO Lite, our huge LTE antenna, undergoing testing on our porch

For internet access, I built a complicated 12V-powered internet system involving a giant cell antenna mounted on the hardtop, a router usually used by metro busses to provide wifi, and our existing wifi extender for the rare case where we could actually use remote wifi. We’ve been able to get 50-90Mbit on anchor in the San Juan islands and around Kirkland with the setup, so I have pretty good confidence that internet access is mostly solved.

Our somewhat-ghettorigged reverse-cycle heat pump climate control solution for the loop

For climate control, we worked with several vendors to get estimates, but retrofitting the existing boat with adequate heat pumps was going to be on the order of 25k$, while adding nearly zero value to the boat. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to simply get a home portable AC unit, adapt a custom polycarbonate window insert, and secure the heck out of it. Experiments through the fall have shown that it is a very effective heater, so we have faith that it will work well as an A/C unit in the summer.

Attempting to navigate a giant swath of dozens of boats on Lake Union during one of the Argosy Cruises Christmas boating events

With the boat and our lives prepared as much as possible, we hunkered down and got ready for final transit plans. At the beginning of December, we left our rental slip in Anacortes to bring the boat down to Kirkland to have easy access for final preparations of moving clothing, electronics, food, gear, etc. onto the boat when the time came for transport. A side benefit of this plan is being able to decorate the boat and spend the month following along the Argosy Christmas Cruises, which is always a fun way to get friends together in the winter.

Working with a transport broker since late summer, all signs point to getting on a boat in late January or early February, arriving in Ft. Lauderdale, FL around March 1st to begin the loop. So now we wait…

Posted on Categories PlanningLeave a comment on Preparation for The Loop