The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Finding Buddy Bear

A tiny whisper in the night, "I can't find Buddy Bear".

I begin to slowly awaken from a deep sleep.  Boats...not bears are all I have been thinking about every waking moment for weeks.  I am disoriented.  I have lists of things to do as we prepare to depart on the great loop, now only six weeks away.  Lists of boat repairs; lists of provisions; lists of routes and ports of call; hell, I have lists of lists...

A little louder, "I can't find Buddy Bear!"

I glance at the alarm clock, 5 AM.  Buddy Bear is on none of my lists.  Why am I thinking (dreaming) about him?  I am really losing it.

Suddenly the fog is parted by the voice of the Admiral, "Did you look for him on the floor?"

Oh yeah, I now remember my six year old grandson, Ben, and his four year old sister, Lia, are spending the weekend with Grandma and Nonno while our daughter Dina and son-in-law Darrin enjoy a few days of well deserved R & R (Garth Brooks and alone time) in Las Vegas.  I feign sleep as Grandma gets up to join the bear search and then feel a bit guilty as I hear her hobbling down the hall on her broken toe.
This is the first of two nights we get with the grandkids.  They love to stay with us and we love to have them.  We spoil them rotten.  What are grandparents for if not?  We also know we will miss them horribly when we leave for the boat in six weeks.  If more than a week or two goes by now, we acknowledge to each other that we need a grandkid fix and call Dina with a subtle hint like, What's for dinner?". 

Last night after our dinner alone with the two of them, we tried to talk to them about our upcoming trip:
"Did Mommy tell you guys that Grandma and Nonno were going away for a whole year on our boat?"
"Because we want to, do you know how long a year is?"
"Ben, you'll be in the second grade, almost the third grade when we get back."
Large eyes stare back in disbelief.
"But you guys and Mommy and Daddy can come to the boat and see us."
"OK, when are you going away?"
Grandma thinks for a moment and responds, "In thirty-eight days."
Ben says dismissingly, "Oh, that's a long time from now, can I have more pasta?"

Laying there at 5 AM I smile inwardly recalling the rest of the evening, watching Home Alone 3 (not for the first time) and the first 47 minutes of Free Willy (a first for me) with Lia on my lap, until Grandma releived all of us by announcing bed time (9PM!).  As Carrie slips back under the covers this wee hour she thinks I am still sleeping, but, I whisper, "I can't find Buddy Bear either."
Agan in her Admiral voice she replies, "Go to sleep".  Oh well, worth a try.

7 AM:  We are awakened by the shout, "NINJA BEAR!!!"  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


They say the two happiest days in a boater's life is the day he buys a boat...and the day he sells his boat.  Well, we just closed on our new boat in Sarasota, Florida.  So this is one of our happiest days.  Anybody want to go for making us really happy and buying Testa Dura???  Oh well...

Here she is:

Notice the striping?  For those who know me well, you will recognize that for 30 years we have put those exact strips (with the angle cut at the end and all) on all of our company trucks.  What are the odds the boat we would fall in love with had them?  Kind of a wierd coincidence, ya think???

 Looking forward from the cockpit door into the main salon

 The galley

The main salon looking aft

The master stateroom

The guest stateroom.  OK Leo, Dad, John and Rob, I admit, I enlarged this one so you guys wouldn't worry!

So, next we get some minor repairs done, just to remind me she's a BOAT.  And then off to the boatyard so we can BOATT and add a hydraulic dinghy lift/swim platform.  Always remember, "Boating is Fun!" 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good-Bye Ventura

Today was a little bitter-sweet.  After twenty months of having our boat in Ventura, we emptied out the Testa Dura of all of our personal belongings and readied her for the cruise back to a yacht brokerage in Alameda, California.  This picture is of us leaving Ventura. 

Well, not really, it is actually John and I taking her to the fuel dock so that when the hired captain arrives to take her north, she'll be ready to go.  But, you get the picture.  It was most likely the last time I will drive Testa Dura after owning her for six years.  We are excited to start our loop adventure aboard Once Around, but we will miss the old gal.

More than Testa Dura we will miss "my particular friend" John and his wife Linda aboard the Poseidon.  John has been part mentor part Godfather and one of my best friends for many years.  Linda's gourmet cooking and hospitality is something we will surely miss as we travel the loop.  One of the loopers we met said always invite great cooks to join you on your trip.  Linda is on top of that list!  If you think I am kidding, just visit her blog and website.  It is linked on our home page under "Poseidon Galley".

Since John and Linda have lived aboard Poseidon in Ventura for many years they have a great circle of friends, who adopted Carrie and me the minute we arrived nearly two years ago!  Bonnie and Curtis, Bobby and Cynthia and all the others are serious boaters and wonderful folks.  We will miss you all.

And Bobby, take care of our buddy while I'm gone.

Boat Bites

First, I need to add a few terms to our glossary:

Marine Survey-a detailed inspection of the hull and other systems on a boat you are about to buy or sell performed by a professional surveyor and paid for by the buyer, similar to a home inspection on a residence

Mechanical Survey-a detailed inspection of the diesel engines, generator, and other mechanical systems performed by a professional mechanic and paid for by the buyer.

Sea Trial-a "test drive" of the boat you are about to purchase with the boats owner, broker, the marine surveyor, the mechanic, they buyer's broker, the Admiral, and me

Hatch-a hinged or removable section of the boat's floor which opens to the engine room or other compartments below

Stringer-a framing member in the hull of the boat

Boat Bites-my first mate's term for the inevitable bruises, cuts and scrapes that occur while boating, docking or just moving around the boat

After a few days R & R in beautiful Sarasota, Florida, we were excited to actually get out on the boat we hope to soon own.  Thanks to Curtis, (our broker) who doesn't take "no" for an answer, we were able to schedule the marine survey for the Monday following the acceptance of our offer last Thursday.  We all met at 8:30 AM, and Tom (the seller) took us for a quick ride to the boatyard where the boat was hauled out and inspected.  Three hatches had been removed from the main salon and galley area to provide unhindered access for Ed and Dave, the surveyor and mechanic, who crawled into every nook and cranny looking for rust, corrosion, defective hoses, leaks, dryrot, stowaways, contraband (kidding on those last two) etc.  Remember, they are working for me, so I want them to find anything and everything that might prove to be a problem if we close the deal on this boat.

Now my first mate is widely known to bruise easily and after most of our boat trips has random purple spots in various wierd locations on her body.  Half of them she doesn't even remember when or where they occurred.  She calls them "boat bites".  Boating can be very dangerous, and we all get the occasional cuts, scrapes, etc., but Carrie makes it an art form.  Once when we returned from a month on our boat in Catalina, Carrie put on that cute little yoga outfit I like so much and I told her, "You can't go to yoga like that, your friends will think I beat you".  Really, she looked like she had gone a few rounds with a boxer or maybe a mud wrestler.  But back to our story...

After the haul out, just as we were pulling away from the boatyard dock, Gill (our broker's wife) rushed up the ladder to the fly bridge where Tom and I were putting the boat through her paces and announced that Carrie might have seriously hurt herself.  It seems she had gone downstairs to inspect the galley and after negotiating carefully around the first two open hatches, had a complete brain fart and stepped blindly into the third opening falling to the engine room floor.  She landed about four feet straight down on a stringer, which bent her big toe in a very unnatural angle and also rolled her ankle.  I rushed down to her and knew immediately that her big toe was broken.  But Tom had already administered first aid in the form of a large glass of vodka and a bag of ice, so, back to the fly bridge I went for the additional hour or so of sea trial.  Carrie sat in a chair in the salon feeling embarrased and hurting like hell.  What a trooper! 

After a quick trip to Tom's best friend (an orthopedic surgeon) Carrie returned with her foot in a snow ski boot looking contraption.  She had obliterated (my word, not the surgeon's) her big toe and would need to wear this thing for six or so weeks, with a twelve week full recovery.  She had taken "Boat Bite" to a whole new level.  We flew home from Tampa that night with her old friend Vicodin.  They had become close many years ago when she broke her arm rollerblading...but that's another story.

But, you have to be real careful when you tease your first mate about being clumsy.  It's bad karma.  This morning, as I was stepping off the back of Testa Dura with a fuel hose, I slipped on some moss (yes, grassy crap) growing on the edge of the fuel dock.  It was 7 AM, and my friend John and I had just fueled the boat for its' return voyage from Ventura to the Bay Area.  I wasn't planning a swim this morning, but...damn the ocean is cold there this time of year.  I manage to scrape my leg on either the boat or the dock on the way down and due to the new meds from my recent cardiac visit, I bled so much it looked as if someone had taken a chain saw to my leg.  It was nothing serious really, but John and I decided that we would forego our planned trip to the sewage pump out station.  It is a do-it-yourself affair and we just felt nothing good could come of it.  So, we returned to our slip and my first mate had a great laugh.

Boating is not supposed to be a full body contact sport, but you wouldn't know it by the week we just had.

Here is Carrie after first aid was administerd.  You can see the open hatch in the background that she had fallen through.

Here is her sexy new footwear, now I like black boots, but this is ridiculous...

And here is my leg after we cleaned it up!

Remember, "Boating is Fun"!!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Where the Sidewalk Ends

When my kids were little there was a children's book of poems that Carrie seemed to read to them more than any other.  It was called, "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein.  I don't remember much about it except that I often used to wonder...where does the sidewalk end?  Well, now I know:  It ends in Punta Gorda, Florida.  And kids, I have the proof:

Bra and Knee Pads

I have been inside a total of exactly two Walmart Supercenters in my life.  Loopers say Walmart is your best friend on the loop because you can get anything there from groceries to Mrs. Howell's manicures.  I am beginning to understand.

After crawling around the engine rooms and bilges of a few boats earlier this week, my knees were begining to ache and bruise.  Carrie also managed to pack only one bra for this trip and when I suggested she go without for the remainder, the Admiral gave me a piercing glare.  I couldn't think of any alternative that would carry both bras and knee pads, so, off we go to Walmart.

Now, I know there are a lot of strange folks in Walmart late at night, but  still, Ginger got a raise of the clerk's eyebrows when she went through with her bra and knee pads!  I just gave him a wink!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Searching for the Proper Loop Boat

So, we arrived in Florida to look at boats.  Did I mention that we love boats?  That was…five, maybe six days ago.  It has been a blur.

Sometimes in life you just need a nudge and for us regarding the Loop it was overdue.  We realized this and left home last Thursday at 8PM, driving to our boat in Ventura.  We arrived at 2AM.  The Testa Dura (our “for sale” boat) had just been hauled, painted, repaired and set back in the water that day.  Even though we are selling her, we are treating her like our own, and she is in terrific shape.  We are not.  Friday on five hours sleep, we took her on a shake-down cruise and everything went smoothly, so we packed up and headed for LAX.
The Friday night red-eye to Tampa was packed.  Lucky for me, my wife the AMEX Point Queen, uses points to get us business class, and we are able to get a few hours’ sleep.  That makes about eight hours total in the past two nights.  But we don’t care, it’s about boats!  We and our broker, (Curtis) whom we met only briefly a year ago, have identified some twenty or more possible boats in Florida and the southeast which fit our price range and needs.  We have a plan to first run down the west coast of Florida where six or eight of the boats live, and then meet up with Curtis in Miami and run up the east side of Florida where an equal number are berthed.  In the off chance we can’t find one suitable, there are another eight or so boats in Georgia, South Carolina, and points north.
Everything goes as planned for the first two days.  We fell in love with the first boat we looked at:  a 45’ Ocean Alexander in Sarasota.  However, it was a bit (OK quite a bit) more than we planned to spend, so off we went along the sunny Florida Gulf Coast viewing boats and eating fresh grouper at the local restaurants.  We even managed to catch up with Doug and Judy, some friends we made in Myrtle Beach last year at a Looper gathering.  They live in Port Charlotte and are leaving on the Loop in a few weeks.  We hope to see them along the way.
The surprise of the trip came on Sunday.  We had reluctantly agreed to stop and visit our daughter Carla’s boyfriend’s grandparents in Alva, just outside Fort Myers where we viewed two of the boats.  Yes, I said her boyfriend’s grandparents, whom we had never met.  Carla can be very insistent.  We intended to make a courteous fly-by and be on our way.
Kymble and Judy are in their eighties and live on two wooded acres on a slough just off the Caloosahatchee river, which is actually part of the Loop route we intend to make.  Carla told me they used to be boaters, and we would like them.  What an understatement.  People who have done the loop say it’s all about the people you meet along the way that makes the trip so special.   We just didn’t expect it even before the trip started!
Kymble had to sell his boat due to failing eyesight a few years ago.  However, he and his wife Judy are as vibrant and friendly as folks half their age!  Kymble was a real estate developer, and this was his winter home.  Out back was a covered barn structure that used to house their motor home, along with a fabulous h shaped dock that could handle about three sixty foot yachts, complete with power pedestals, water hookups and dock lighting.  It was like a mini-marina in his back yard and empty!  Time flew by and before we knew it our “quick stop for Carla” turned into a three hour visit.  Kymble and Judy had met Carla last summer and confided in us that they had told their grandson Evan, “Don’t let this one get away boy, she’s a keeper”!  OK, that won our hearts as well.  At the end of our visit, Kymblel invited us to stop by his dock as we passed on our loop adventure.  Better yet he said, if we ended up buying a boat nearby, we were welcome to dock it there for the month or so it would take us to get provisioned and ready to go.  He conditioned that offer only on one thing:  When we picked up the boat, we take him along for the ride back to his dock.  He really misses boating.  I told him he had a deal and secretly thought of the too expensive boat in Sarasota…too bad.
We met our boat broker as planned Monday morning, and the next four days are a total blur.  Curtis is a maniac dedicated to his customers in a way rarely seen in any business.  His wife, Gill, accompanied him as we tried to keep up with them moving ever north, looking, talking and dreaming boats.  Carrie went a little crazy on this portion of the adventure.  She was raised in a long line of map readers, but all we had was the Hertz “ever-lost” system GPS, on which it was impossible for her to figure out what cities, bodies of water, tourist sites, etc., we were passing by.  That suited me just fine as I am known to be singularly focused when I am driving somewhere and stop only to fuel or use the facilities.  Curtis is a man after my own heart. 
When we reached Deltaville, Virginia…yes, Virginia, we checked into a hotel in 37 degree weather in our shorts and flip flops.  At dinner we told Curtis he had beaten us into submission, and we were ready to buy any boat he told us to as long as we could get a good night’s sleep!  He just laughed and told us about yet another boat we needed to see in New Bern, North Carolina, thankfully on our way back (sort of, it was only a couple of hundred miles out of the way).
The Virginia trip did prove to be positive, as that boat made the final three from which we would make our selection.  Unfortunately the other two were down in west Florida and Curtis had not yet seen them.  So…twelve hours or so later we checked in at 1 AM to a hotel in west central Florida.  Today, Thursday, six days, more than a dozen boats and 3,000 car miles (sorry Hertz, but glad we got the unlimited mileage) later, we just made an offer, counter offer, and a deal on (you probably guessed it already) the first boat we had looked at:  the 45’ Ocean Alexander.  Once Curtis saw it, he agreed that it was not only the best of the boats, but the best buy as well.  Carrie and I absolutely love it. 
Curtis and Gill drove away until Monday when they will return for the sea trial and surveys.  That gives Carrie and me a few much needed days to recoup before returning to California, where we will immediately begin organizing for our hoped for May 1 departure on the loop.  Right now we are both exhausted…

But, we can’t wait to call Kymble and Judy.   

Glossary of Boating Terms (Unofficial)

OK, if you are going to be a regular reader of this blog, you will need to understand some nautical and not so nautical terms, so here goes (in no particular order):
Boat-a wood (or fiberglass) hole in the water into which you pour money
BOAT-an acronym for Break Out Another Thousand
West Marine-place you almost always BOAT
Boatyard-place for making boat repairs and BOAT becomes BOATT
Yacht-a boat that makes its own ice
Skipper-that’s me.  Captain works too, but that somehow belittles those professionals who actually know what they are doing.  Gilligan is arguably more appropriate than Captain…so, we'll go with Skipper.
First Mate-my beautiful wife, Carrie, when she is handling lines, fenders, boat hooks or otherwise assisting in docking, locking or whatever.
Admiral-my beautiful wife, Carrie, when she is doing anything else, like making decisions, navigating or giving orders to the Skipper.
Mary Ann-my beautiful wife, Carrie, in her normal small town persona, named after Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island.
Mrs. Howell aka "Lovey"-my beautiful wife, Carrie, in another persona, which appears very infrequently, but quite believably.
Ginger-my beautiful wife, Carrie, in my favorite of her personas…you get the point!
Port-a great wine from Portugal…no wait…there’s something else…oh yeah, the left side of the boat when facing forward; also a safe harbor
Starboard-the right side of the boat as you are facing forward in it
Fore-forward in the boat; a common (for me) golfing term as well
Aft-towards the rear of the boat
Bow- the front of the boat; also what you do when you do not destroy anything while docking
Stern-the back of the boat; also the voice of the Admiral
Helm-where you drive the boat from
Fly Bridge-upper deck with second helm
Cockpit-the deck area at water level aft
Transom-the wall at the stern between the cockpit and the swimstep
Swimstep-the walk space behind the transom
Bilge-engine room on the boat, often low, crowded, noisy and hot
Bilge Rat-the one elected to go down to the bilge to check fluids, bail water, or clean up the mess
Dinghy or Tender-small inflatable boat with outboard motor carried on larger vessel
Galley-the boat’s kitchen
Galley Slave-whoever is doing the cooking or cleanup; yes, the Skipper takes his turn…sometimes
Head-the boat’s bathroom or toilet; also, according to one President, a reference to not having sex…
Knot-Nautical Mile, 1.1 statute miles!
Chart-map of waterways, but they are charts, not maps
Lines-look a lot like ropes, used for tying boat to docks, etc…but, they are lines, not ropes!
Rode-anchor line
Windlass-small but powerful motor for raising and lowering anchor
Fender-padded rubber pieces used to keep boats from rubbing against docks or each other…and they are fenders, not buoys!
Buoy-a floating aid to navigation or marker
Looper-member of America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association (AGLCA) who is doing, planning on doing, or has done the Great Loop.
ICW-Intra-Coastal Waterway which runs from Miami to Cape May, NJ on the Atlantic as well as from Texas to Central Florida on the Gulf.

Why "Once Around"

Most folks will assume that the name of our boat, Once Around, signifies our plan to complete the Great Loop, and they will be partly right.

For Carrie and me, however, the Once Around theme goes back some twenty or more years to an offbeat comedy movie starring Richard Dreyfuss as a flamboyant and successful businessman, who believes that life is short and you only go around once.  Holly Hunter, who plays his small town traditionally raised wife, is pulled at first reluctantly, but soon willingly, into his whirlwind.  Hunter’s family, but primarily her Italian Father (played by Danny Aiello), are completely blown away by Dreyfuss’ penchant for living every day to its fullest and look on in something between disbelief and horror.  After her roller coaster of a marriage is cut short by her husband’s untimely death, Hunter, at his funeral, consoles her sister by telling her not to be sad for her because, “I just had the best time of my life”.  The first time we saw that movie all those years ago, I told Carrie if she could say that at my funeral I will have lived a happy life.  She (lucky for me) agreed, and we planned to try and always remember that you only go around once.

Our dream of travelling on America’s Great Loop is part of the fulfillment of that plan.  So, even if you think we are a little bit crazy for leaving the comfort of our family, friends and home and going on this ridiculous adventure, be happy for us as we go “Once Around”!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

America's Great Loop aka Great Circle Route

What exactly is Frank and Carrie’s great adventure?

About four years ago, I was reading one of the umpteen boating magazines that I subscribe to and came across a two or three page article about a couple who had just completed a 6,500 mile cruise around the east coast of the United States.  I was stunned.  I had no idea such a thing could be done.  Of course, I had heard of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) along the Atlantic seaboard, but considered travel on it confined to aging “Snowbirds” who took their boats from New York to Florida each winter and back each summer, paralleling their counterparts in motorhomes along the highway.  It never really peaked my interest…until I read that magazine piece.
Carrie became as excited as I about the loop as soon as she read the article.  We went to a website recommended in the article, (link posted). This is the home of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGCLA). It opened up a world of information and support to us.  We purchased a couple of books on the loop from their ship’s store, and it was on!  We began talking, thinking, dreaming and generally driving our kids and others nuts with our desire to someday do this cruise.  I got tired of drawing maps on napkins and took to carrying a little miniature route map in my wallet to show anyone who would look and listen.  What a nerd!  Most people looked at us as if we had lost our marbles.  We didn’t care.

Finally last year, we attended an AGLCA four day gathering in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  We walked into a room full of a couple of hundred like-minded crazies who had either done, were doing, or like us were planning to do the loop.  It was awesome.  We packed information in all day and lay awake at night until the wee hours talking excitedly about what we had learned. We also made fast friends with a couple from Seattle, Bob and Debbie, and another from Wisconsin (and Florida), Doug and Judy, who were also in the planning stages and hoping to be looping by 2011.

There are several variations of the Great Loop, but generally it includes the ICW on the Atlantic, then up the Hudson River and into the New York State canal systems into the Great Lakes all the way to Chicago on Lake Michigan.  You then head south down the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers.  Eventually the Tennessee-Tombigbee water way leads you to Mobile, Alabama and the Gulf ICW.  Most loopers cross the Gulf and then cut across Florida at Lake Okeechobee, although going around Florida is another option.  There are many variations and even more side trips if time permits.

Some loopers take years to complete the loop.  For us, it is a one year plan.  Taking a year allows us time in each quadrant of the country to get the best possible weather and avoid the worst…hopefully.  So, the plan is the east coast in spring, the Hudson and New York canals and Great Lakes in the summer, the inland rivers in the fall, and the gulf coast, Florida and the south in winter.  Of course, the weather is not always predictable and lots can go awry.  Also, boats are machines, and machines break, so keeping to your schedule can become a challenge.  There needs to be some “float” in your timing, pun intended.  Now, all we needed to do was sell our boat, buy another anywhere on the loop and, oh yeah, take a year off.

We had a few ideas about personal and business issues which had to be settled before we would feel comfortable about leaving.  Most of them have been.  However, we now realize that there is never a perfect time and you can always find a reason to postpone.  Also, a little medical scare in December made me realize how fragile life can be.  We agreed that the worst possible thing was to keep postponing so long that one day we looked back and find ourselves saying, “We should have gone when we had the chance”.  So, what the hell, we’re just gonna go for it.
We hope to start our trip in May at the AGLCA Rendezvous in Norfolk, Virginia.  First we have to buy and outfit a boat suitable for this trip, a process we started this week.  Then we need to make arrangements for everything to be taken care of when we’re gone.  My three kids and Chris, a rent-a-kid, are going to be a big help in that regard.  My business partner and good friend Bobby totally supports it, and my two best friends, Robbie and John along with many others, have been urging us on. 

There are still those that think we are a little whacko…and I agree!