To One-Thousand Islands And Back

A couple take their houseboat where few have gone before

Published in the March 2011 Issue Published online: Mar 03, 2011 Ask The Expert Brandon Barrus
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Paddy and Steph Savage enjoy adventure and good times with friends. So after retiring from running an Irish pub and bed and breakfast in Canada, it was only natural that they'd gravitate toward a life on the open road, driving an RV from place to place and meeting new friends along the way.

But for the Savages, this wasn't quite enough. Both Steph and Paddy shared a love for the water, and were very interested in traveling the Great Loop, a series of waterways that circle the eastern United States and Canada.

"We just decided that if we didn't do it now, we might not be healthy enough to do it later," says Paddy. "Part of the bucket list."

Making The Switch

While most people travel the Loop on sailboats or powerboats, the Savages loved the space their RV gave them and were loath to give that up. The answer, it seemed, was a houseboat.

After searching online for the perfect craft, they stumbled across Fantasy South, a houseboat dealership in Florida that specializes in what owner Warren Childers calls his coastal series of houseboat.

Childers began his career in the houseboating industry with Sumerset 18 years ago, and then moved on to work for Fantasy Houseboats. He established a Fantasy dealership in Sarasota, Fla., in 2005. When Fantasy went under, he established an independent relationship with Sunstar Houseboats, who now builds coastal houseboats to Childers' specifications.

The Savages found and fell in love with a 65-foot model that had everything they wanted. Steph wanted a master bedroom that was above the waterline, with plenty of room to move around and lots of general storage space.

"We definitely did not want to feel enclosed and at the mercy of being inside a hull," recalls Paddy. "One of the biggest pet peeves of all the other boaters we've met is that they don't have room to go outside of their bed or get up without crawling over somebody."

Light And Power

Another striking feature of the Fantasy is the large, open windows. There are several large windows throughout the boat, all of which let in a lot of natural light and give this boat a different feel from many.

The Savages also like the twin diesel engine setup as well as the large generator.

"We wanted a boat with a generator big enough to run all our systems," says Paddy. "We can have the washer and dryer on while baking banana bread with no problems."

The Savages purchased the Fantasy in February of 2010, and immediately set their sights on cruising the Great Loop that spring and summer. Childers took the Savages on little trips on their boat, helping them become acclimated to the new systems and challenges of dealing with currents and the wind.

Another aspect of the boat that the Savages appreciated was its low profile, despite its large base.

"With the top arch down, we were less than 20 feet tall, which let us go through most of the bridges where sailboats and larger cruisers have to wait," Paddy says. "We were able to go right straight through, much to the chagrin of others traveling on the same waterways."

And They're Off!

After spending most of March taking test runs in preparation for the big trip, the Savages finally got underway on April 10. The first destination on their journey was Cabbage Key Resort, an island off the coast of Florida known for amazing cheeseburgers. Legend has it that Jimmy Buffet used to play there for free, and the song "Cheeseburger in Paradise" was written there.

The Savages definitely took a leisurely approach to their trip, stopping at several tourist destinations in Florida alone. They crossed Lake Okeechobee on their third day on the water and began traveling through true Intercoastal waters.

One of the highlights of the experience was encountering traveling partners in early May: dolphins! While darting in and out of crab traps in the water, a pair of these friendly sea creatures swam gracefully through the houseboat's wake. Far from being the last time they saw sea life on the trip, this was possibly the most exhilarating, as manatees joined along later. Steph summed up the experience in one word: Wow.

Both Paddy and Steph were emphatic that a highlight of the trip was the time they spent in Charleston, S.C., both on the way north and on the way back.

"We loved the floating docks, and the people were really accommodating," Steph says. "There was so much history and architecture to see. It was amazing."

Based on the pictures they took of their trip, it's apparent the Savages were impressed with the Civil War-era architecture found throughout the city, as well as the history of the bay.


The couple was curious to see how the boat would handle in more open waters, and they got the chance just outside of New Jersey, when they cruised the ocean for several days. The houseboat performed extremely well, notwithstanding some rocking.

Stuck

On day 35 of the northern trip, the Savages hit a major roadblock while passing through the Erie Canal. As Steph later wrote on their blog, "After four locks, sure enough, we hit something that caused the port engine to vibrate severely so we are now running on starboard engine for the rest of the day."


After sending divers down to check out the props, it was ascertained that the problem lay with the rudder, as well as a prop and a transmission leak. Long story short, the houseboat ended up on a lift in Ess-Kay Boatyards (www.ess-kayyards.com) in Brewerton, N.Y., for almost six weeks. Owners Kim and Ethan Vorchheimer were extremely helpful during this ordeal, and the Savages can't thank them enough for their help in this situation.

"They were just `make everything happen' types of people," says Paddy.

Another silver lining in this situation was the help of Childers, who made phone calls at several points to set up assistance for the Savages as they sought to repair their craft and get back on the water. Childers brushed off the compliments with claims that all he did was keep his customers happy.

"I work in a pretty niche market down here," says Childers. "I work hard to see my clients have a good time on their boats, and when they do have troubles, I'm there to make sure they get out of them as soon as possible."

Even though the engine problems were repaired eventually, this setback meant the Savages had to turn around and make the return journey along the path they'd already taken, rather than finish the Loop, which they will continue this year. But in all, they said the experience was very positive.

"If we met other boaters, everyone would end up on our boat on the upper deck," Paddy says. "We'd sit around the wet bar and tell stories."

The Savages are adamant that their voyage on the water gave them new insight into the world as a whole and cultivated long-lasting relationships.

"Going up the coast in the boat you saw life from a completely different view," Paddy says. "That was the key."

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