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