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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 27-Feb-14 11:07:15

Home on the waves

Jane Ainsworth was looking forward to retirement, envisioning plenty of tennis, hill-walking and home improvements. Her husband had other ideas...

Jane Ainsworth

Home on the waves

Posted on: Thu 27-Feb-14 11:07:15


Lead photo

Life on the open sea

When I retired in December 2011, I looked forward to spending more time with my family and friends, playing more tennis, doing more hill-walking, and most of all, spending time in my garden on those beautiful days when it would have seemed so hard to go to work. I enjoy cooking too, and had in mind a few improvements to our house, which had been a bit neglected while we were both busy working.

But Mr A. entertained no such plans. Having managed large civil engineering projects, and enjoyed arguing with people for the last 40 years, he now needed a new project about which he could argue with me.

He’s always liked dinghy sailing, and for some years we had a share in a narrowboat, so it was perhaps inevitable that the project would involve a boat. Inspired by Monica and Terry Darlington, who took their narrowboat, The Phyllis May, and their whippet Jim, to the US and wrote about their experiences in Narrow Dog to Indian River, Mr A thought we could go one better and do a trip called the Great Loop.

The Great Loop is usually started in Florida. You go up the Intracoastal Waterway along Florida’s east coast, up through Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and on to New York, then via the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, then coming south via the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. Then you cross the Gulf back to Florida. It takes about a year.

Having managed large civil engineering projects, and enjoyed arguing with people for the last 40 years, [Mr A] now needed a new project about which he could argue with me.

"A year!" I quailed. Away from my family and friends, and home? Living on a boat? Much as I enjoyed our times on the narrowboat, exploring Britain’s waterways, I was always glad after two weeks of cramped living to get home again. What if any more grandchildren were to arrive? The only upside, as far as I could see, was that we would be able to make more visits to our son and his family, who live in Virginia.

We compromised. We would do the Loop, but in bite-sized chunks of two to three months at a time, and store the boat when we’re not using it. We arrived in Florida on 7 January. Mr A has spent the last year doing boat-handling courses, navigation courses, communicating with other "Loopers" on an online forum (at least it deflects criticism of the amount of time I spend on Gransnet), and looking at numerous "boats for sale" websites.

He had a short-list of about six boats, and had arranged to view the top two the day after we arrived in Florida. The first one simply did not tick enough of my boxes (comfy bed, fridge, adequate storage space, reasonable toilet and shower), but I knew within five minutes of boarding Carina that this was the boat I wanted. She measured up to all my requirements, and then some. She’s 35 years old, and registered as an antique vessel, so we got a lot of boat for our money. She’s spacious, well laid-out and finished in teak inside, shabby chic if you like.

We’ve been living on her since January 26th, and she’s already our second home. We’ll be back in England on March 12th to await the arrival of a new grandchild, and of course I’m excited about that, but part of me will be sorry to leave Carina and I’ll be looking forward to coming back to the US in the Autumn.

Jane also writes a blog detailing her adventures on the sea at

By Jane Ainsworth

Twitter: @Gransnet

rosesarered Thu 27-Feb-14 11:22:02

Jean what an interesting life you are leading. Better to do it in chunks I suppose, then you don't miss too much of what is happening back home. The boat sounds great, and what an adventure!I think your DH was right, you can do all the other things later, but you should do something like this now, I am envious.envy

rosesarered Thu 27-Feb-14 11:22:58

Sorry, I called you by the wrong name Jane

Galen Thu 27-Feb-14 11:42:05


Granny23 Thu 27-Feb-14 12:45:00

I'm envy too. When I was 4 my Dad took me with him to see his friend who was repairing his boat. It started to rain so we were ushered inside the wee cabin and treated to a cup of tea (juice for me) and biscuits. We sat on the bunk, the kettle was boiled on a small stove, and there was room for a tiny table, a few books, a paraffin lamp, two small windows with gingham curtains. I was enchanted with this 'wee hoose' which became the subject of my dreams for years to come.

Sadly, my father could get seasick crossing a puddle and my DH has no interest so living on a wee boat has had to remain a dream but when I win the lottery

GadaboutGran Thu 27-Feb-14 15:32:17

Glad you're having such a great time Jane. Sounds much more interesting using the Waterways than ocean sailing & sensible to do it chunks so you have time to absorb the experiences you have.

Lona Thu 27-Feb-14 16:35:21

jane That sounds wonderful. I love boats, and a long holiday with lots to look at, time to settle in and enjoy it, must be great. Then home for some quality family time too!
envy and even more envy

janeainsworth Fri 28-Feb-14 12:56:50

Thanks for your good wishes everyone! It has been a great experience, and yes Granny23 I love my 'wee hoose' and have even managed to cook quite appetising meals in the little kitchen.
But I am really glad we are doing it in stages - I think I'm almost at saturation point of landing at new places and trying to absorb the history and see the sights!
And quite apart from my new grandchild arriving at the beginning of April, I'm looking forward to seeing the English spring. And seeing the pictures on Facebook of the Northern Lights has really made me feel quite envious!

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 28-Feb-14 13:01:44

Do you get crocodiles in Florida? [innocent emoticon]

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 28-Feb-14 13:02:26

I'm sure your boat has got very high sides. smile

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 28-Feb-14 13:03:41


I'll shut up.

annodomini Fri 28-Feb-14 13:30:02

I have been enjoying your blogs, jane. They are well worth reading.

Riverwalk Fri 28-Feb-14 13:54:03

I'm very envy

This must be the most interesting blog we've had on GN.

janeainsworth Fri 28-Feb-14 14:24:15

jingl yes and yes.
Well alligators anyway. We have seen them in Myakka State Park, coming out of the water to eye up their potential lunch in the form of some birds paddling about on the river bank. And mrA thought he saw an alligator nose sticking out of the water at one point, but I wasn't convinced.
And gator pie is often on the menu at local restaurants, but I am not tempted.
It's not the hurricane season at the moment, but obviously that's a concern. But there's lots of advance warning so you can have time to get to a sheltered place <says she, confidently>

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 28-Feb-14 14:46:03

I'm sure it's lovely. smile

You've got very white teeth haven't you. Very good.

janeainsworth Fri 28-Feb-14 15:37:34

Thank you for noticing, Jingl.
I've put an alligator picture on the pictures thread for you.

Galen Fri 28-Feb-14 16:28:40

They've bigger teeth than you though jane fancy doing any dental work on them?

janeainsworth Fri 28-Feb-14 22:10:00

Well Galen at least they would open wide, unlike some human patients grin

MiceElf Sat 01-Mar-14 07:49:10

I've just read the entire blog. It's so well written and gives a wonderful window into a route that I never even knew existed. I love your comments about American patterns of speech. They have a wonderful of making a point which remaining super polite.

Lilygran Sat 01-Mar-14 11:57:09

Lucky you! And so enterprising!

ffinnochio Sat 01-Mar-14 17:32:00

Jane I've been thoroughly enjoying your blog entries - and have only just caught up with this - the background to your Grand Loop adventure. Bite sized on-going adventures sounds perfect. Do you need a galley cook, 2nd mate or cabin girl?

janeainsworth Sat 01-Mar-14 21:57:20

Thanks again for all the kind comments. Doing the blog is a kind of therapy, if that doesn't sound too melodramatic.
ffinnochio I will let you know should any vacancies arise smile

NfkDumpling Sun 02-Mar-14 08:04:58

Just read the whole blog - didn't mean too, but couldn't stop reading!

Wonderful! Would have loved to have done the same or similar when we retired but having elderly patents and no siblings limited our time. Encouraged by my dad we took off for a three month 'gap' round the world trip 'while he was still around' as he knew he was on limited time and we wouldn't be able to leave mum for more than a couple of weeks.

I would say to anyone reading to go for it if you can while you can. I'm an orphan now but we're finding decrepitude limiting our horizons more than lack of dosh ever did.

janeainsworth Mon 03-Mar-14 19:00:35

nfk I do feel very fortunate and grateful that we can afford it and that we are reasonably healthy. We do have MiL still with us, and she is another reason to not stay away too long. But she's still in good shape, and MrA has two sisters, and we keep in touch through Skype, so we feel ok about it.
At the moment I am more concerned about DD1's pregnancy, and hoping no complications arise before we fly back next week!

Grannyknot Tue 04-Mar-14 13:31:36

jane great blog(s) and I love that you negotiated doing it in "chunks" - like you, I need a buffer zone in between adventures. That's why I'm happy to go off with husband on numerous road trips, as long as we have a couple of nights in each place (or even more) in between.

Having just come back from 2 weeks in that wonderful part of the world - Florida - I too am envy