My husband Steve loves a challenge and is known for being an adventurous type. When he first broached the subject of undertaking the Great Loop and living aboard a boat for a year, I confess that I was reluctant. More people climb Mt. Everest each year than complete the Great Loop.
After much research, we purchased a slow-moving powerboat known as a trawler which we named Sanctuary. To gain some insight as to what to expect, we sought out the people at our marina who had travelled the Great Loop. We also joined a few boater organizations and attended conferences aimed at enlightening a potential or in-the-process Looper. This would be the longest vacation we had ever taken. We would no longer need heavy coats, winter hats, gloves, or boots. I could trade those in for shorts, tank tops, sandals, and snorkeling gear. No more snow or ice to contend with; just sun, occasional storms, high tides and salt water.
Packing and provisioning for a trip of this magnitude proved daunting at times. The same day Steve retired, we hopped on a plane to New York and began to drive our boat back to our home port in Michigan. After two winters of restoring and preparing for the voyage, she was ready to set sail.
Our daughter and two marina friends began the journey with us, starting on the Michigan shoreline heading south through amazing downtown Chicago along the waterways. After saying a tearful goodbye to them in Joliet, Illinois, we were on our own. Knowing we had a date set with our immediate family for Christmas kept my eyes focused on the prize.
Along the way, dolphins often frolicked and swam alongside our boat. Numerous pelicans swooped and dove for a fresh catch of the day without fear. The Osprey’s high-pitched whistle call was heard from mangrove trees and channel markers along the route. We were thrilled to see an occasional eagle soar overhead. Palm trees, marsh fields, and Cypress knees dotted the shore lines. A whole new world opened before my wondering eyes as we travelled southward.
Early in December, Steve spotted a 3-foot silver tree and a string of multi-colored lights at a dollar store. This became our Christmas tree which we displayed on the galley (kitchen) countertop. On beach walks, we picked up shells and sea sponges which Steve later made into ornaments for our new Christmas tree.
For our very different Christmas, instead of the customary red and white stockings, we purchased mesh shell collector bags filling them with gifts such as pieces of jewelry, mini Lego® sets, real shells, and topped with a candy cane. Steve hung the “stockings” from our wooden ship’s wheel with care as we anticipated the arrival of our loved ones.
Our son’s family of six drove from Minnesota and our daughter flew from Michigan to celebrate with us in Florida. As soon as they arrived, we scooped them up with hugs and kisses. Gathering in our small living space in the boat to hand out gifts, we shared what we had made or purchased for our loved ones. To commemorate this momentous holiday occasion, I ordered matching red t-shirts with the words:
Proudly wearing our matching t-shirts, the nine of us headed to Honeymoon Island beach to capture a family photo. Along the sandy white beaches, we gathered various shells including prickly cockle, zebra ark, Florida cone and conch shells to fill our stocking seashell collector bags. This truly was a Christmas to remember spent in a warm climate building sandcastles, fishing, and swimming in the ocean.
For the first time, we enjoyed our holiday meal outdoors with all the trimmings on picnic tables alongside our marina waterfront. The menu was not the same as if we had baked or cooked items in a traditional home kitchen, but it tasted fabulous! We enjoyed steaks broiled over a grill, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh salad from the nearby Farmer’s Market, and veggies as appetizers. Desserts included: a multitude of pies including Key Lime, Mango Lime, Pumpkin, and Mixed Berry with ice cream and whipped topping.
There were only a few boaters who stayed behind at the marina, so we shared tables with five others celebrating Christmas too. They had an abundance of assorted grilled vegetables which they shared freely with our family. After the meal, we placed candles on an angel food cake and we all sang Happy Birthday to Jesus.
My family’s presence was the best present of all—all of us together in one place celebrating and enjoying each other’s company. We made new memories to treasure for years to come. Being in tight quarters in an unfamiliar location caused us to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus, the reason for the season. I will not take family and friends for granted when I return to normal life in the land of the dirt dwellers. I am thankful for a once-in-a-lifetime extended summer for twelve months. We saw new landmarks, met amazing people, and enjoyed experiences we would not have, if we had not untied the dock lines and left the shore behind.
 America’s Great Loop is the continuous waterway that encompasses the eastern portion of North America including the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America’s heartland totaling approximately 6,000 miles.
Teresa Lasher (Word Weavers West Michigan) is a wife, mom, nana (grandmother), brain tumor survivor, and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Her passion is encouraging and affirming the stressed to live in and enjoy this present moment. She enjoys His creation while afloat with her husband aboard their boat, Sanctuary.
Besides speaking to various groups, she and her husband Steve blog about their travel and share photographs of their adventures at: www.LasherArts.com and www.TravelsOfSanctuary.com. Teresa has written a book Life is: Good, Fragile, Precious—Loving yourself so you can love others, and co-authored two pictorial travel books. She has also written articles for magazines such as Sailing, The War Cry, Rider, Thunder Roads of Michigan, and Women’s Lifestyle.