A collection of 35 short stories offering guidance, humor, and reflection from women who have traveled America’s Great Loop.
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
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!
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.
It is normal for so many random questions and thoughts to pop into your head as you prepare for the Loop and to live aboard. First of all, you think you need to have way more stuff than you need from your house. I was guilty of this and so was my husband. I think I took all of my cleaning products from the house, tons of toilet paper (now a great idea after Covid-19!) and clothing that I never wore. For some reason, I thought I would be wearing cute resort wear for warm climates. The reality is that we had the coldest summer ever in 2017 and I had to BUY warm clothes. The marinas that we docked at were not “resorts” so those clothes just went along for the ride. That was a shame because it became apparent that if I bought something along the way, something had to go to make room for it.
A catamaran provides all kinds of space, including under the floor. It is much like a sailboat in that respect. I had stuff put away everywhere on the boat. Our biggest joke is that “I know it is here……it is somewhere on the boat”. We also had a giant hatch on the bow of the boat. We called it the “Man Cave”. I swear, our entire garage from the house was down there! You will become very creative with whatever storage space you have.
Another challenge that I had about living aboard our boat was the dreaded Changing the Sheets on the Bed. When we were boat shopping a “must have” on my list was a walk around bed. Well, of course, that didn’t happen. All of the beds on the cat were in the hulls which meant I had to climb up on the bed to make it. Oh boy, I learned to never change the sheets when I was tired because I got quite a workout trying to tuck things in and get the bottom sheet on correctly. There were times when I would just lay there exhausted on the bed. Can you imagine trying to make the bed from the top down? And, when company came more of the same gyrations multiplied. Having guests stay just one night really messed me up. I had to remake the bed again! After a month I gave in and had custom bottom sheets made for the mattresses. Why I didn’t do that sooner, I don’t know, but it sure made that task easier.
I would guess that 60% of boats cruise with their pets. On the Loop I saw big and small dogs that adapted quite well to this lifestyle. Jazzy is our miniature Schnauzer. Before we left on the Loop we tried to get him to swim in the pool with very little success. He was a “sinker” not a good paddler. He would just splash around and make very little progress so I knew he would not willingly want to go swimming.
One thing unique about us is that we left for the Loop with our neighbor’s dog to dog sit. Can you imagine? Our good friends owned a company that involved traveling a lot and that year they were going to be gone a lot. We were their normal dog sitters and offered to take Mozzy with us. He is a Shi-Poo and a good dog buddy for Jazzy. We left Boca Raton with him and they flew to Annapolis to take him back. However, they flew to Buffalo with him to give him back to us. He stayed until we got back to Florida – almost the entire Loop – a Looper Trooper!
Mozzy also managed a trip with us to the Bahamas where he staged “The Great Escape”. We were docked in Bimini for several days on nice floating docks. We had gotten lazy with the dogs in getting them on and off the boat. Our swim platform was so close they could step on and off. I had just walked the dogs and sat down when my phone rang. It was Mozzy’s Mom. She asked me if I knew where Mozzy was. Of course, I knew where he was as I frantically looked around. I couldn’t find him. But, I thought it was strange for her to call me and ask me this question. Then she said that she had gotten a phone call from someone saying that he had her dog!! What?? Then I looked out and there was Mozzy walking along with some guy and his dog! He simply decided he should go off on his own since he had mastered the art of getting off the boat by himself. My friend got the call from his dog tag. I was so embarrassed! Needless to say, the dogs have been untrained from that little trick.
Before we left on the Loop we bought a fake grass mat for the bow of the boat and started reading about how to train your dog to go on the boat. It is all about will power – ours vs. theirs. I started taking Jazzy out on the bow of the boat and he just liked sitting and sunning on the mat. However, Mozzy somehow picked up on the idea and started using it right away. And, sometimes, Jazzy followed suit. I have to admit that I wasn’t strict about it and mostly would walk them in the morning and early evening. This never is a problem until you want to anchor out and not drop the dinghy for shore leave.
This issue came to a head in the Bahamas. We were at anchor and the wind was blowing. There was no getting off the boat with the dinghy. My husband said it was time for Jazzy to learn to go on the boat. We waited 24 hours and only Mozzy went. Another day comes along with multiple trips to the bow even on a leash and still no results, but the wind was still blowing. He finally peed after 48 hours. We kept waiting and got up to 54 hours when I told my husband, “I need to get off this boat!” Seas had calmed down and the dinghy was dropped for shore leave with the dogs. It didn’t take one minute for Jazzy to do his business. So, now we know he can hold it if we can’t get to shore. He won – definitely it was more stressful for me than him.
We had some fun with this subject when we were in Little Current in the North Channel. This is a stop where a lot of Loopers congregate. We were hosting Docktails on our boat and talking about this very subject. Several of the Loopers with dogs were having training problems with their dogs not going on board. I had them bring their dogs over and their mats. We put their mats under ours because every dog that came on our boat christened our mat. They were so surprised that their dogs gave our mat a sniff and lifted their leg. It was one after another. We were officially known as “Gypsies Pee Palace” after that and Steve was called “Pee Daddy”!
These two Best Dog Friends are a lot of fun to have around. However, when the One Eye Dog, Abby, comes over it is chasing and happiness all around. She is a little Maltese and officially is the Admiral and in charge when it comes to these two. It is pure joy to watch the three of them play on a beach. Sand is flying, dogs are chasing and Abby is jumping in the surf. If you have a dog on the Loop you will encounter places where your dog does not need to be on a leash especially a beach. It will warm your heart to watch them play.
One last thing on Dog Tails, if your dog needs grooming do try to learn to do it yourself. My husband watched tons of You Tube Videos on how to cut a Schnauzer and he even got good at doing Mozzy. Groomers are far and few between in your travels, along with good hair stylists. Don’t get me going there……..There was a time when I did look like a boy after a Groupon haircut and didn’t need another cut for 4 months! Oh, and I got a $15 hair cut in a converted gas station. Enough said!!
Everyone’s favorite subject, right? Studying the Forum before leaving on the Loop, it seemed to be all about Docktails. I couldn’t wait to experience it! It seemed perfect – BYOD and BYOA – Bring Your Own Drink & Bring Your Own Appetizer. We departed from Boca Raton, FL and at every stop I would search out a Looper flag. It was crazy, but on every stop it was the same thing – No Loopers. Then when we would see Loopers they would be away from their boat or I never saw any Docktails. It wasn’t until Southport, NC that someone finally suggested that we have Docktails. I have spoken with some other Loopers, too, and this happened with them. What I finally realized is that I can “Call Docktails” and set the party! So, up and down the docks I would go inviting everyone to Docktails on Gypsies Palace.
We were the perfect Docktail boat with a super large cockpit in the back. One time I estimated that we had 25 people on our boat with room for more! In Chicago we even took our boat off the dock for a sunset cruise. We had so many people that we needed to count life preservers. It was one of those special moments to remember looking at Navy Pier and the lights of the city.
Docktails are named that because it is frequently done along the dock where everyone brings a chair and some people bring tables. Herb Seaton, Harbor Host extraordinaire, likes to call them “Porchtails” when he hosts them on his boat. One of the more interesting places we have had them was in the Benjamin Islands in North Channel on the rocks. We called those “Rocktails”. Those Rocktails stood out because the next morning our Looper friend became seriously ill. We had four boats traveling together at that time and luckily one couple were paramedics. It was a total group effect of getting Beth from Lab Partners back to Little Current on One Eye Dog. It turned out that she passed a kidney stone, but it scared all of us. Looping is all about helping others in need and this was one of those times.
When hosting Docktails the best part is that there is nothing that you have to do except maybe supply plates and napkins. I was amazed at the array of appetizers that people would create. Sometimes it would be simple like cheese and crackers and other times we would have grilled sausage or a baked dip. There is no need to stress about what you bring because it all about sharing stories and making friends. There is magic in Docktails. So much Magic in that you may meet your Buddy Boat.
We met our Buddy Boat in Cape May, NJ, the One Eye Dog. We “dated” for a bit by meeting up at common places along the way. However, by the Pig Roast at Shady Harbor we were a traveling twosome. Talk about a coincidence. Remember that I said that a couple had cancelled for the Rendezvous and we got to go? It was One Eye Dog! We were meant to meet! Somewhere along your Loop you will find another compatible couple and boat and make plans together for stops along the way. Buddy Boats don’t have to be together 100% of the time. In fact, our two boats frequently go in different directions, but we always have a mutual plan to meet up again to travel. Everyone says that they meet lifelong friends during the Great Loop and that is what makes the Journey so special.
The subject of docktails could not be closed without the Tale of Little Beers. Little Beers has become the un-official drink of the Great Loop, mostly due to the enthusiastic promoting by Gypsies Palace and One Eye Dog starting in 2017.
My husband had been communicating with someone who had been to Donovan’s Shady Harbor Marina, and they told him that he had to go to the bar and ask for a Little Beer. He would not tell him what it was. So, April, Larry, Steve and I sat down at the bar and ordered Little Beers. We watched the bartender make it and took our first shot. We loved it – we needed another! And, we needed to know how to make it.
On our next stop, we found a liquor store and bought a bottle of Licor 43 plus a container of heavy cream. We created the “Legend of the Official Loop Drink” as we shared Little Beers in many docktail groups. And, we always toasted, “To the Loop!”
Docktails can be taken to a whole new level by involving a group brunch. We were coming down the Rivers and got to Bobby’s Fish Camp way too early. We were with a few other boats and decided that we needed Bloody Mary’s and Brunch. We took an old camping idea of Omelets in a Bag. Everyone writes their name on a small Ziplock bag and cracks two eggs in it. Then everyone pitches in for the filling ingredients – diced ham, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, cheese are all laid out and everyone takes their bag and puts a little of this and a little of that in it. Then they mush it all together. All of the bags are dropped in a big pot of boiling water for 15 minutes. After that it simply slips out of the bag onto a plate as a perfect omelet. We have done this numerous times and all guests onboard love it. Of course, it is accentuated with a perfect Bloody Mary. We now had Brunchtails!
One final tale is how Gypsies Palace got her name. Steve and I are card carrying members of the Ft. Lauderdale Parrothead Club. We knew that the boat name had to involve a Jimmy Buffett song. One of the local members suggested the name from a Buffett song called, “Gypsies in the Palace”. The story goes that Jimmy was in Aspen talking to Glenn Frey of the Eagles about Jimmy’s upcoming tour. Jimmy needed someone to watch his house and Glenn recommended some guys he knew. Well, the song is about all the partying that went on in the house while Jimmy was on tour. We loved the song and the story behind it. Our party box is onboard and our playlist is set to Margaritaville. You can follow us at www.coastaljourneys.com
To read the full version of Ladies on the Loop you can download the attached file:
You may also find this on Amazon Kindle for $1.99 or free for Kindle Unlimited. Ladies on the Loop.
Ladies on the Loop: A collection of 35 short stories offering guidance, humor, and reflection from women who have traveled America’s Great Loop. by Susan Costa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a very entertaining and informative book for anyone looking to live on a boat. Read how these women have gone from novices to pros. There are plenty of tips and insights about traveling with your partner on a boat. The stories are funny and they also show how each person has grown as a result of this experience. I highly recommend that the Captain of the boat spends time reading this book. It is a joy to have been asked to submit my chapter, but I am so proud of these women. It is a life changing experience!
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