“Baby, be a simple kind of man. Oh won't you do this for me son, if you can?”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s much-loved song, “Simple Man,” seems quintessential to houseboater Clay Ghann and his wife, Cathy, owners of the Dixie Cricket.
Part of the reason Skynyrd’s hit resonates so much is due to the fact that while growing up, Clay’s father, Aubrey Ghann, instilled in Clay some simple truths: “always be honest,” and “try to treat others how you want to be treated.” Clay still holds these values in great respect.
As well as passing on this strong set of truths, his parents took a direct hand in guiding Clay to develop a deep love of the lake, which eventually led him to try out the houseboating lifestyle. Throughout his childhood, the Ghanns had always been big on boating, though as Clay put it, “We were not HOUSEboaters.” Whatever manner of maritime vessels they owned, though, Clay was always in the water.
“My parents have old movies of me splashing around in Clarks Hill Lake wearing cloth diapers circa 1959,” he says.
Clay met Cathy his first year at Georgia Southern College and fell in love immediately. The two were married after graduating in 1982, and Clay proceeded to immediately introduce Cathy to “the lake life.” They started a family soon thereafter, but once Cathy became pregnant she was no longer able to handle the bouncing around in the Cricket, their 18-foot Fabuglas tri-hull boat. Determined to continue enjoying the lake—and planning to introduce the watery lifestyle to their newborn—they purchased a Sun Tracker Party Hut pontoon boat, which would make for smoother riding for Cathy and accommodate a playpen for the soon-to-be toddler.
And it did. Ben (son number one) arrived in late 1986, and was spending warm summer afternoons on the water long before he was a year old. In the summer of ’89, Beau (son number two) was born, and the Party Hut continued to be just the ticket for the Ghann family for the next few years—until Clay thought Ben and Beau were big enough to hold a handle.
Clay wanted them to experience the joys of water sports that he had as a kid growing up, so a shiny new 23-foot Sea Ray seemed to be the perfect answer. The Cricket II provided Ben and Beau (and lots of their friends) with countless days of tubing and knee-boarding over the next few years.
Fast forward to July 1999 and Clay and Cathy were ready to take the next step—investing in their own houseboat. A 50-foot Catamaran “Aqua Cruiser,” this lovely vessel has the charm and air reminiscent of an old southern riverboat. Clay and Cathy were able to tweak the design a bit as the boat was being built, extending the front deck by 18 inches, adding another two feet to the back deck, rearranging the interior just a bit, picking out their own fabric choices for the chairs and sofa, and customizing the accent colors on the hull (Clay insisted on red for the stripes down the side).
The Ghanns’ excitement over their new houseboat radiated through their network of friends in their hometown of Augusta, Ga., as they all began pitching in on name ideas for the coming christening. As the CEO of Ghann's Cricket Farm, Inc., one of the largest producers of live feeder crickets in the world, Clay also aimed to incorporate his business in the houseboat’s name. Having continued the unique business that Aubrey had founded in 1952, the name should invoke the sentimental richness of family and tradition as well.
“We knew it needed to include ‘cricket’ and we wanted it to tie in with some old southern heritage,” Clay explains.
Inspiration bloomed one day while he and some buddies were relaxing in a pub mulling over names. One of them said, “How about the Dixie Cricket?!” They knew right away—that was the name Clay and Cathy were fishing for, the perfect blend of southern charm and family livelihood.
The Dixie Cricket boasts an original logo inspired by Ghann’s Cricket Farm, with slight tweaking to fit the southern theme Clay and Cathy had in mind. With the help of some books borrowed from a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) for ideas, Clay’s longtime friend Cindy McNeill, a graphic designer, transformed the Ghann’s cricket logo into a confederate cavalry sergeant. At that time, no print shop in the area had a high-res vinyl printer large enough to print the logo in one piece. Of course you just can’t have a seam down the middle of your new boat’s logo, right? So they sent it off to a big print shop in New Jersey and voila!
Now that their houseboat was settled on the water and had a proper name, good memories didn’t take long in building. The Ghanns spent every minute possible on the water, oftentimes with their two boys each bringing a friend for their weekend jaunts.
“She may not be the plushest boat on the water, but there are none more lake-worthy and none that have brought more smiles to faces and hearts of kids and adults alike than the Dixie Cricket!” Clay grins. “A lot of kids have gone down this water slide on the back,” he happily reports. “A LOT of kids!”
Clay also introduced his friend James “Buzzy” Mims to houseboating with a cruise on the Dixie Cricket after a long day’s Harley ride (see Buzzy’s incredible Sea Ya Later featured in our March/April issue).
Clay and his best friend Tim McNeill (Cindy’s husband) would also log as many “guy trips” on the Dixie Cricket as their wives would allow, exploring all the way to the Richard B. Russell dam at the origin of Clarks Hill Lake.
In 2007, Tim was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer on Cindy’s birthday. He had surgery two days later, on Cathy’s birthday. The doctors predicted six months, but Tim fought bravely for nearly three years, finally losing his earthly battle in the spring of 2010. Unbeknownst to Clay, Tim had pre-arranged for the two friends to have one last excursion on the Dixie Cricket—Cindy told Clay just days before Tim passed away that Tim’s wish was for his best friend to spread a quarter of his ashes where he saw fit on the lake.
“I have to say that is one of the greatest honors that's ever been bestowed upon me in my entire life,” Clay says.
But Clay couldn’t bring himself to fulfill the solemn request that first summer.
“It just didn’t feel right,” he said. “None of us could believe Tim was really gone.” For a mission of such magnitude, Clay had to get his head and his heart perfectly aligned—the time had to be just right.
Three full years passed before it would happen.
In the spring of 2013, Cathy decided to run a half-marathon with some of her workout buddies in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Clay felt that weekend would be the right time. He gathered the little wooden box that housed Tim’s ashes, started up the Dixie Cricket, and headed towards the far end of the lake, respectfully spreading Tim’s ashes at numerous places where the two friends had sat around a campfire engaged in deep discussions about life until uncountable stars dusted the late night sky.
“It was a memorable trip,” reminisces Clay.
The little wooden box still has a special place on a table aboard the Dixie Cricket.
“Cathy and I know that's where he'd want to be,” Clay says. “Dang! I better quit before I tear up!”
Deep satisfaction, family-grown values, the warm summer days spent together on the lake, the timeless pleasures of life and love—that is what Clay and Cathy have captured onboard the Dixie Cricket. It’s as Ronnie Van Zant sings:
“Oh take your time, don't live too fast… Troubles will come, and they will pass,
Go find a woman, and you'll find love… And don't forget son, there is someone up above.
“And be a simple kind of man… Oh be somethin' you love and understand,
Baby be a simple kind of man… Oh won't you do this for me son, if you can?”
Photography by Clay Ghann