Monday, January 31, 2011

Hail to the Chief

This morning found us at a TA truck stop in Wildwood, Florida (map). We parked in the car parking area, next to the restaurant, as the truck section was very busy and we are very sensitive to not taking up a truck stall when there are few to be had. Signs all over the lot said "Customer Parking Only," so we went inside and had the soup and salad bar for dinner at the Country Pride full-service restaurant. TA must be in trouble, because this is the fourth or fifth one we've seen in the last year or so, and they all look rode hard and put up wet, as if no maintenance is being done whatsoever.

When we pulled in shortly after 4 or so the only other rig in the lot was a delivery. However, three other rigs joined us before the evening was out, so clearly this is a well-known stopover. Likely much to the annoyance of the KOA on the other side of the freeway. We ended up here because we decided to take the Turnpike from around Jupiter, which cost us $21.50 in tolls but saved us $20 or so in mileage, but more importantly shaved half an hour off our drive. There are no places along the Turnpike to spend the night, at least not without exiting and re-entering and incurring even more tolls, and this was literally the first legal overnight parking spot past the end of the Turnpike on I-75.

Tonight we are at the Wal-Mart in Quincy, Florida (map). This should be our last night in the state, making it just over three months since we arrived and a record for how much consecutive time we have spent in any single state since we hit the road over six years ago. Quincy was a good stopping point for tonight, on our ~5-hour daily driving schedule, and my research showed the Murphy Oil station attached to this store to have some of the cheapest diesel in Florida. We needed about 50 gallons to get us to Mississippi without dropping below the level of our generator dip tube. In addition to the $165 of fuel, we also stocked up on groceries, including a whole roasted chicken for tonight's dinner (delicious).

We had a great time at Trawler Fest. In addition to getting to spend lots of time with friends Martin and Steph, Ben and Karen, Curtis and Gill, and Captains Chris and Alyse, we made lots of progress on our boat research. We also made some new friends, including blog reader and Krogen salesperson Laura, and fellow Escapee and silicon valley alumnus Dan who has not only a fifth-wheel hauled by a heavy-duty truck but also a 60' trawler, although we were sorry to have missed the rest of his seafaring family who were off at Disney World during the show.

We were very keen to see a Diesel Duck 41, custom built in Turkey out of steel, that we had learned would be at the show and offered at a fire-sale price. The Duck is a very seaworthy boat and I am quite fond of the design, and the price was really attractive. However, the boat proved to have way too many issues to really be worthy of consideration, and nothing about it really called to us -- the owners had custom-ordered a layout that few others would find suitable. I feel sorry for them, as the boat is brand new, delivered in 2010, and they are unlikely to get back even half what they have in her.

A 2005 DeFever 49 really caught our eye, attractively priced and ready to cruise, and offered by broker and friend Curtis Stokes. However it had twice as many engines (four) and half as many batteries as we'd like, and its blue-water capabilities are limited to extended coastal cruising. Still, a very nice boat, and we will probably continue to ruminate on this one for a while. While we were aboard, Curtis pointed out that he also had listed a very nice 60' aluminum long-range expedition trawler in Seattle at an attractive price, and even though it is really too much boat for us, we'd love to look at it if it is still on the market when next we get up that way.

Two boats in the show, though, were on our must-see list and are now both very high on our "short list": the Krogen 44, and the Selene 43/45. Both of these boats suffer, as do many of the boats in our size and price range, from engine rooms with compromised headroom -- you need to crawl or duck-walk around the engines -- but at least you enter them through a vertical door and not a hatch in the cabin sole. But the internal layouts are nearly perfect, they have enough waterline length for reasonable speed and seaworthiness, and they have the range to cross the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, yet they are compact enough to do the Great Loop as well as many European canals. All boats are compromises, but these two seem to us to strike the right balance for our cruising plans.

For anyone wondering, no we did not buy a boat. While the two boats I just mentioned are top contenders, our budget dictates a previously owned example of either of these boats (or any other boat, for that matter). But the show has narrowed and tightened our focus and we will be stepping up what is still, and has been for some time, a rather casual search. After all, there is nothing driving the timing of this move and we are at liberty to look for as long as it takes to find the right boat for us. Nothing that happened at this show, including the fire sale on the Duck, warranted accelerating that process.

I did spend the final days of my first half-century at Trawler Fest, with my birthday transpiring on the last day of the show. Louise and Steph had concocted some lame excuse to be off by themselves, and borrowed Chris and Alyse's car to trundle off in secret to Publix for an enormous cake, which was served to an appreciative crowd at the closing cocktail party Saturday night. That prompted a number of folks to buy me drinks, and I was glad the bus was parked within staggering distance. Also, we ended up with some of the leftover cake, although I persuaded the bartender to take most of it back to the kitchen staff.

While we were very busy during the show, between socializing with many seldom-seen friends and trying to learn about boats, we also had to sprinkle some Red Cross work throughout the weekend. That included making arrangements for our travel next week, continuing to work on curriculum development, and dancing around the borrowed solar-energy equipment on the floor that I keep pretending I will have time to evaluate before I show up in Washington. Somewhere in all of this the big cheese in DC casually mentioned that my "reassignment" had crossed his desk, even though I was under the impression that I still had a bunch of forms to fill out for it. So I was a bit shocked when the second-in-command at my chapter (in Elkhart, Indiana) called this afternoon to congratulate me on my promotion to "Chief." Which gives me a great idea for an MP3 ring tone I need to get for my phone.

Now that the show is behind us, and soon Florida as well, we need to fully shift our focus to our Red Cross training activities for the near future. With five hours of driving each day, we have little time left over to work on our respective curriculum activities ahead of next week's training program in Virginia. We now have confirmed flights, departing Killeen mid-day on Sunday, which puts a very firm schedule on our arrival there. I have a full two days of padding in the event of either mechanical issues or rain (remembering that we have no working windshield wipers at the moment), which we will try to spend with our friends in Beaumont/Woodville if all has gone well to that point.

Tomorrow we will try to get an early start. Now that we will be heading due west, we want to try to be off the road early enough in the afternoon that the sun is not a problem. I hope to be in Biloxi, Mississippi tomorrow afternoon, where we have some casino overnight options. From there we will get another brief respite from the monotonous Interstate, as we traverse our customary route of US-90 into Louisiana. Today's drive from Ocala to Tallahassee on US-27/27A/19 was our last long non-Interstate stretch until east Texas.

Photo of Selene 45 courtesy of Selene Ocean Trawlers. Photo of Louise and Steph by Chris and Alyse Caldwell


  1. If you buy a boat, will you stay with the Red Cross?

  2. Congratulations Sean,
    Will the ringtone be "Hail to the Chief" or a more subtle "Ruffles and Flourishes"?
    It's been a couple years now. Time for us to cross paths again.


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