Skip to main content
Gypsies Palace with Buddy Boat


Wondering what it is like to be full time cruisers?  Gypsies Palace was interviewed by Gulfshore Life Magazine along with our Buddy Boat, One Eye Dog.  This is a copy of the article where you learn what it is like to live on a boat full time and create a community on the water.


Two liveaboard couples leave dry land and create a community on the water.


It’s a particularly hot morning on the Caloosahatchee River, the sun warms the back of my neck despite the clouds threatening an afternoon shower.

Debbie and Steve Russell’s dog Jazzy relaxes on the couch on their boat, “Gypsies Palace” while docked in Fort Myers on May 22, 2020. Jazzy rides with Debbie and Steve while they travel in their boat throughout the year. (Photo by Scott McIntyre for Gulfshore Life Magazine)

The gentle, lulling snores of a sleeping schnauzer, named Jazzy, are audible in the background as he cuddles up against my side. Abby, a one-eyed Maltese, crawls across my lap to get to her owners sitting beside me.

We’re poised around a table at the stern of April and Larry Smith’s home, an Aquila 44 power catamaran lovingly named One Eye Dog, with their boating buddies Steve and Debbie Russell. The Russell’s own Endeavour 500 power cat, dubbed Gypsies Palace, is docked next door.

April and Larry Smith relax on their boat “One Eyed Dog” alongside their one eyed dog Abby (on table) and April and Larry Smith’s dog Jazzy while docked in Fort Myers, FL on Saturday, May 23, 2020. (Photo by Scott McIntyre for Gulfshore Life Magazine)

The four typically cruise from port to port together, and are part of a group of boaters known as Loopers—people who travel the approximately 6,000-mile Great Loop that encompasses waterways throughout the eastern United States and parts of Canada, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River and channels that connect the Great Lakes.

When the pandemic hit, the two liveaboard (a term used for people who reside on a boat) couples decided to stay at The Marina at Edison Ford in Fort Myers until docks along the loop started to reopen.

Marina at Edison Ford
Docked at The Marina at Eidson Ford

Southwest Florida’s quiet marinas serve as temporary homes for many boat-dwellers, with some docking at The Marco Island Marina or Goodland’s Safe Harbor Calusa Island once they reach the Gulf. Steve tells me that even beyond the pandemic, Fort Myers is particularly appealing for longer stays, due to its proximity to the city and its plentiful dining and entertainment options, as well as being close to Marco Island, Naples, Sanibel and Captiva.

When on land, they travel on foot or on electric bikes that they stow aboard. Sometimes, they’ll get a rental car.

Riding our e bikes
Riding our E Bikes

Once, a landlocked stranger they’d met on their journeys let them borrow his $80,000 sports car to tool around the area. Serendipitous moments like these are not uncommon in their seafaring lifestyle. “The difference between us and the regular winter visitors is that when we’re tired of this view, we just go to another view,” Steve says. Larry adds: “And it’s more than an RV on the water, because we have all of the deck space, too.”The couples docked at Edison Ford soon after helping the Smiths’ daughter move from California to Palm Harbor, about two hours north of Fort Myers. The plan was to head to Canada. But then marinas started taking precautions against the coronavirus and stopped allowing new boats to dock. “We were lucky to be here, we have this beautiful environment and all we have to do is open our doors,” Debbie says. “I would have gone crazy if we were stuck in a house,” April adds.

The liveaboard lifestyle has evolved significantly. Though they still take a minimalist approach, families who live on boats now have  access to spacious, high-end cabins stocked with top-of-the-line amenities, including internet hot spots, full-size showers and heating and air conditioning. The most luxurious yachts might even have stylish living areas, media rooms and hot tubs.

The Smiths and Russells take a particularly unique approach to boating life. In addition to having completed the Great Loop multiple times (for most, it’s a one-time, bucket-list experience) and doing so in power cats (which is less common, since the wider beam could make docking at some places difficult), they have also created a floating community between the two boats. While most boaters link up from time to time, these couples stick together most of the time.

I can tell from my first 30 minutes with the group that they are kindred spirits, as they all take turns finishing each other’s sentences. They live like tight-knit neighbors—when one  couple’s boat is low on supplies, they hop over “next door” to borrow from the other boat.

April and Debbie compare themselves to a modern-day Ethel and Lucy—texting each other every morning to see what their plans are for the day, doing yoga on their decks and shopping together when they’re on land, while the men play video games or work on the boats. “April and I are both high-energy people,” Debbie jokes, adding that the husbands are more laid-back.

Kayaking at Eidson Ford
Kayaking at Eidson Ford
Debbie and Steve Russell look out over the marina from their boat “Gypsies Palace” while docked in Fort Myers, FL on Friday, May 22, 2020. Debbie and Steve Russell have been traveling through the East Coast’s waterways on their boat for the past three years. (Photo by Scott McIntyre for Gulfshore Life Magazine)

The boats also complement each other. When it’s raining, the group is more likely to hunker down in Gypsies Palace,  which has all the indoor fancies, such as a spacious kitchen island and a fully-stocked wine fridge. When it’s a picture-perfect day, One Eye Dog’s ample outdoor spaces provide the ideal setting. 

The group met about three years ago in Cape May, New Jersey, while they were traveling on the Great Loop, headed toward Staten Island. Coincidentally, both had been living on their boats for about a year at that point. When they realized they shared a destination, they made plans to link up at a pizza place. “We always joke that it was our first date,” April says.

The Russells were on the dock with their previous catamaran, a Leopard 47, and the Smiths were curious about switching to a power cat for its smooth ride, expansive deck and access to shallow waters, such as those in the Gulf.

Soon after, the Smiths purchased their Aquila 44. They customized the boat by turning one of the three bedrooms into a storage unit, removing the indoor dining table to open up the living room area and adding an Abby-sized safety fence around the perimeter, as well as a faux-grass pad on the deck. They’ve since become involved with the boat’s maker, and have provided insights on livability and possible improvements the company can make to future models.

Around the same time, the Russells bought their Endeavour 500—which is one of only 10 ever made. Named after the popular Jimmy Buffet song “Gypsies in the Palace,” the Endeavour feels more like a condo than a boat, with 850-square-feet of interior living space that features a capacious master suite with a walk-in shower; a full kitchen with an eat-in island; two additional bedrooms; a living area with a large sectional sofa; and a top-deck dining area that comfortably seats 12 guests. Creature comforts, like a washer-dryer unit, large TV and built-in storage space, make for easy living. “You get to move and go to all these places,” Steve says. “And you bring your house with you—there’s no need to pack a bag,” Debbie adds.

When looking to upgrade from the Leopard, they had their eye on an Endeavour 500. When a boating friend showed them his, it was love at first sight. Steve tapped connections from his former profession as a yacht broker but quickly learned that the only way they’d acquire one for themselves was if a current owner relinquished theirs. When their friend finally decided to sell, he called the Russells and they made the deal immediately.

After living on the boat for a while,  Steve decided to get back to work at his old day job of selling boats to help others looking to live aboard. Now, they travel the country helping others buy their dream boats. They recently helped facilitate the sale of another rare Endeavour 500.

Both couples willingly left their “dirt houses”—as they call their landlocked homes—behind to escape to a life on the water. They tell me that there’s usually a reluctant spouse who needs convincing, but for them, the decision to sell their homes and condense their belongings was mutual all around.

Debbie, who had grown jealous of Steve’s time spent on the water, transporting boats, was more than ready to sell their Boca Raton home and move onto the boat. April and Larry sold their ranch in Grass Valley, California, after Larry retired from his job in IT, but April continues to work for her mortgage firm from her home office on the One Eye Dog.

The four typically dock at a marina in the afternoon to explore the town, or drop in at an anchorage in the evening to cook dinner and relax for the night. While idle, the couples will sometimes cook meals, watch football or work on their computers. “This lifestyle gives you options,” Debbie says. “It’s like a permanent vacation,” Larry chimes in. 

The couples describe their boats as mini cities, with them serving as city planners to operate their vessels. They use solar panels to create power, and a reverse osmosis machine allows them to get fresh water from the saltwater. They only need to get off the boat for fuel, food and the occasional appointment (they have established favorite doctors, dentists and hair salons across the country and set up P.O. boxes on the mainland for incoming mail).

“We constantly get questioned wherever we go, ‘Where are you from?’” Steve says. “Well, we’re from Fort Myers right now. And next week, we’ll be from Naples. Wherever we’re at is where home is.” The Russells’ official “address” is a mail-forwarding service called St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, Florida. They joke that they have 7,000 neighbors. That’s how many people also have mailboxes there.

Traveling by water also gives the boaters a unique view of the country, taking in the changing landscapes devoid of highways, chain restaurants and commercial buildings like Walmart. Instead, they encounter small, family-run restaurants, shops and marinas, where they support local businesses and meet interesting personalities.

Girls Day Out

April jokes that they travel by stomach, trying as many restaurants as they can on their journeys. “We eat all the food, we drink all the booze and we party,” Steve adds, with a content smile. Every evening around happy-hour time, the four will gather to one of the boats for what they call “docktail hour.”

As Happy Hour approaches, Debbie Russell pours Licor 43 for the group’s traditional drink together called, “Mini Beers.” The shot is made with Licor 43 and heavy cream and the group typically drinks them at the end of a day of cruising. (Photo by Scott McIntyre for Gulfshore Life Magazine)

When we last talked in July, the couples were cruising up through the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which (if going south) is a common route on the Great Loop. But this time, they’re not rushing through to get to the next checkpoint. Instead, they’re taking their time to explore the area and each other’s company.

Living on the water may sound like a lonely pursuit, but these four will tell you otherwise. They all agree that the boating community is deeply connected—it’s common for boaters to carry cards with their photo and contact information that they swap upon meeting.

With more than 300 cards between the two of them, the Russells’ and Smiths’ stacks put my own collection of business cards to shame. “Wherever we go, there’s family,” April says. “We could go to almost any town and we would know someone, and that’s really special to us.”

Ladies on the Loop

A collection of 35 short stories offering guidance, humor, and reflection from women who have traveled America’s Great Loop.

Gypsies Palace Great Loop Track
Our track of the Great Loop in 2017

In 2017 Steve and I achieved an amazing accomplishment of completing the Great Loop on Gypsies Palace. Approximately 150 boats every year cross their wake by making an entire trip around the Great Loop. A friend and fellow Looper, Susan Costa, came up with the idea of gathering stories from women who have traveled the Great Loop. 35 women, including myself, volunteered to write a chapter in this e book. The stories are amazing and cover a wide range of topics. I am so proud to be part of this project.

Below is the part of the Chapter that I wrote called Cat Tales, Dog Tales and Docktails. At the end of my chapter I will provide a copy of the book and hope it will inspire others to accomplish their dream.

Cat Tales, Dog Tails & Docktails By Debbie Russell On Gypsies Palace. 47 Ft. Leopard Power Cat / 50 FT. Endeavour Power Cat Gold Looper 2017

Cat Tales

Most people spend a lot of time in the Planning Mode to do the Great Loop.  We went backwards – we decided to live aboard full time on a boat and go “All In” without even hearing about the Great Loop.  We sold our house and bought this big (47 feet long) and wide (25 feet wide) power catamaran.  We didn’t even talk about where we would go, but it would be somewhere fun.  Our first task was to move our “stuff” onboard and make some modifications to cruise.  One day I opened Passage Maker Magazine and there was this big ad for the Great Loop from this organization AGLCA.  I joined it without telling my husband and began to read up on the Loop.  It was fascinating. I couldn’t keep it a secret for long because I was getting so excited about all of the places along the Loop that we would see.  Very soon I was a daily Forum reader and found much of the information was overwhelming.  How could we ever do this?  We bought the boat in October and by December my head was filled with Looper Lingo, including a Rendezvous that was taking place that Spring!   My heart sank when I learned that we were too late to attend, but we would be on a wait list. I hoped that someone would cancel.  It turned out that Kim Russo emailed me in February saying that we were in!  Now we had to figure out how to get there in time! 

Leaving on the Loop on Gypsies Palace
Leaving on the Loop on Gypsies Palace

I also wondered about our big and wide Catamaran.  Could we really take it on the Loop?  We didn’t have anyone to ask (no one had big catamarans then) so I started researching any restrictions on the Loop for width and height.  Gypsies Palace is certainly a “Wide Body”.  When she is coming at you all you see is width.  I learned that we could not fit in the Trent Severn Waterway, but we could use the Welland Canal and go through Lake Erie to get to Canada.  Great!  One obstacle solved.

The second restriction is height.  We had to fit under the Chicago Railroad Bridge of 19.7 ft.  I cannot tell you how many times that we measured our air draft!  We could fit if we took the satellite dish down and that would put us to 18.5 feet.  But, this part of the trip was going to be a worry for me.   What if we got there and had to turn around?   What about getting under bridges in tight situations?  The one thing I didn’t want to do is to be the one to go look at our roof and say, “Yeah, we can make it…..I think…..”  So, what my husband did is that he created a pole that I could stand on the bow of our boat that would equal the height of our boat.  If the pole touched the bridge we couldn’t make it.  I will say that this really helped us on the Erie Canal because we were close for one of them!  But, we never touched.  Another worry got put away.

Read More
Gypsies Palace

Meet Gypsies Palace – An Endeavour 50 Power Catamaran

Since we are starting over with our Coastal Journeys blog I thought it would be a perfect time to provide a more detailed look at Gypsies Palace and why we selected her.  The majority of our 1st blog was on a Leopard 47 Power Catamaran with a 25 foot beam.  Gypsies Palace now is an Endeavour 50 Power Catamaran with an 18 foot beam.  As you can tell, we love Power Cats! 

Gypsies Palace – Endeavour 50 Power Catamaran

We often get the question when people look at Gypsies Palace – “Isn’t she top heavy?”  I admit the boat does look that way, but she is not.   The boat is 52,000 lbs. and extremely stable in the water and wind.  This Endeavour appears to be tall, but she is only 19 feet to the top of our running light so we fit under many bridges. 

Gypsies Palace is an American made boat manufactured by Endeavour Corp., who has been making sailboats and catamarans for over 30 years in Clearwater, FL.  This is not a mass produced boat.  Only 11 Endeavour 50’s have been built with the last boat being splashed in 2019.  Endeavour also makes a 40 foot model that is very similar to the layout on our boat.  However, their most popular model is their Endeavour 44 Power Catamaran, which is also a great Looping boat. 

Bob & Alice Vincent from Endeavour Corp.

We truly did love our Leopard 47 Power Cat, but after two years cruising on it we decided that it just did not provide enough living space in bad weather.  The exterior cockpit was gorgeous, but frankly, we experienced more cold weather, rain, wind and bugs that made sitting outside unpleasant.  The interior salon was just too small for our needs. 

Why Did We Select the Endeavour 50?

  1.  Space – Gypsies Palace has nearly 850 square feet of living space.  There is plenty of room to entertain guests with a salon downstairs and a large Sky Lounge upstairs.  The feeling of openness with windows 360 degrees that can be opened up for cross ventilation.  That is a rarity in trawlers.  People find that a catamaran feels more open which is important when cruising long term.   Steve is 6’2’’ and is able to stand easily throughout the boat.
  2. Galley – It is a pleasure to cook on Gypsies Palace with an island bar much like you would have in a condo.  There is a dishwasher, propane stove, convection microwave, ice maker, 2 refrigerators, freezer and wine cooler.  There are deep pull out drawers and plenty of cabinets for storage.  Additionally, there is shelving behind one of the couches to store extra supplies.  Creating a dinner on board is just like cooking at home!  
  3. Master Bedroom – Again, plenty of space including a complete walk around bed that can be either king size or queen. 
  4. Master Head and Shower – It is mostly the shower we love.  It is down in one of the hulls and provides so much room!  There is plenty of room for toiletries, too.
  5. Comfort While Underway – We can easily carry on a normal conversation.  The helm / Sky Lounge has 360 degree visibility with windows (with screens) that we can open.  This is particularly nice when traveling the area with the biting files.  We are protected!   The staircase is inside so no one has to go outside in bad weather while underway.  The enclosed helm is also really nice on cold and rainy mornings.  We are dry and comfortable. 
  6. Stability and Maneuverability –  A catamaran provides greater stability and it is easy to control.  Our 18 foot beam allows us to fit in many marina slips. 
  7. Hull Design – Our props are protected in a tunnel drive.  Our hulls are actually flat and we could beach the boat and float off at high tide if we wanted to.  Our draft is 3.5 feet and even if we “touch” we can back off easily and continue on without any damage.  It is also harder for us to grab a crab pot!
  8. Economical – We typically travel at 10 mph and we burn 10 gallons per hour of diesel fuel.  We can also carry 1,000 gallons of fuel.  We have 2 Cummins QSB 6.7 engines at 425 horsepower each.  We can pump the speed up to 18 mph, but the fuel burn is considerably more.  It is go to know that we can do this faster speed if we need to outrun a storm. 
  9. Exterior Design – While we do not have a large outside seating cockpit area we do have 2 outside patios   The bow of the boat has an upper patio plus some cushioned seating below.  We also have a sliding door to an upstairs back patio with chairs if we want to face that direction.  The sides of the boat allow easy access to cleats and fenders.  The boat is smartly designed with 2 stepping areas on the stern which allow for low or high tides.  Additionally, we have a mid ship ladder for exiting on high fixed docks.
  10. Quality of Workmanship – Both the interior and exterior of the Endeavour is well thought out with beautiful woodwork and craftmanship.

So, how long are we going to do this?  


Endeavour Owners