The hardest part was deciding what kind of boat to buy. Sailboat? Powerboat? Catamaran? Monohull? How many engines? How big? How old? How much fuel will it burn? All these questions, and only we could decide which was most important to us. There are several parameters that we knew were non-negotiable. The draft (amount of boat under the water) could be no more than 5 or 6 feet, because much of the Loop is shallow, and a deep draft would mean limiting where we could go. The second limitation was the height of its “mast” (highest point of the boat), primarily because of one bridge in Chicago, guarding the entrance to the portion of the circuit leading into the river system heading south. This bridge is 20 feet high and can’t open. The final parameter was the boat’s range—how far it could go on a tank of fuel., because there was one portion of the Loop (the Gulf of Mexico) where we plan to travel 170 miles without access to fuel. This last parameter is more flexible since one could always carry extra containers, but it was still an important consideration. We began looking all over the internet for the perfect loop boat. (Hint: it’s subjective). Finally narrowed our choice down to catamarans, since they have relatively shallow drafts and more space, which we thought would be more important for a year of togetherness. I kept half joking that we needed “his and her hulls”. The final, and most controversial, decision was whether to go with a sailing vs power cat. David wanted a sailing catamaran because he knew they’d be simpler—outboard engines are cheaper, efficient, and easier to replace if necessary. I on the other hand agitated for a power boat—if we were going to be on the boat for a year, I didn’t want to “camp”; I wanted at least some of the creature comforts of home, like air conditioning if necessary (especially for us Alaskans for whom anything over 70 degrees is sweltering) as well as running small appliances, like an instant pot, or a computer/printer, or providing hot showers without having to plug into an outlet. However, my primary concern was the resale value–there are many more powerboat owners than sailors, and since we knew that at the end of the year we’d in all probability be selling our boat rather than hauling it across country, we didn’t want to have it on the market long when we did. In the end, I managed to convince David. However, if anything major goes wrong with the engines over the next year, guess who’ll be blamed? Gulp.
We narrowed our choice down further to a power catamaran built by a small Canadian company called “PDQ” who, after building only 115 power cats in the early 2000’s, ended up closing during the economic downturn of 2008-09. They remained extremely popular boats for the loop, however, because of their outstanding interior spaces for a relatively short (34′) length, shallow draft, and their fuel efficient diesel engines. After sending offers on several boats from thousands of miles away, and then arriving to find they were actually not at all what was advertised, we realized we needed to look for our boat in person. So we drove our 2005 Sprinter van across the country and traveled all over the southeast looking at boats. Finally, by scouring multiple websites and want ads, we found one—the vessel “Golden”, being sold by owner through the AGLCA want ads. She had a lot of engine hours on her (almost 4000) compared to others we’d looked at, but as the surveyor explained, running the engines frequently is actually a good thing. Diesel engines (and boats in general) don’t do well sitting in a harbor, particularly in warm, salty air. And the former owners were obsessive about maintaining the engines and everything else, and the price, though a bit higher than we’d wanted to pay, was reasonable. So we went ahead and closed, and immediately had a major attack of buyer’s remorse. What were we THINKING? We knew NOTHING about power boats! Now we had $200,000 invested in something we had no idea how to care for. We both felt sick and scared.