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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

SV SkinnyDipper
Powerboaters become Loopers on a Meadowlark 37
April 27, 2018

T
wo humans and an Italian Greyhound sailed from Oriental on May 9th, 2017 and headed north. Their objective: complete the Great Loop. Allotting one year to complete the trip, Kim and David Osborne crossed their wake 333 days later entering Oriental’s harbor. That is where TownDock.net caught up with them.

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David and Salt read the trip stats.
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Kim Osborne.

The Great Loop is a continuous waterway travelled counterclockwise up the east coast of the United States, across the lakes and locks between the US and Canada, down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, and back around the Florida Peninsula.

Kim and David discovered the Loop via a memoir of the trip made by jet ski. Originally power-boaters and avid jet skiers, David became fascinated with the waterway and Kim, always ready to travel, jumped in. They planned to make the trip for David’s 50th birthday. However David would be 52 before they finally set sail.

SV SkinnyDipper
Getting to know the locals – Titan meets Salt.

Everything needed to be in order before leaving. They joined America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association and attended meetings. Kim and David made arrangements with their employers to take furloughs for the year. The house would be rented. A boat still needed to be found. Ipswich, Massachusetts provided. There they discovered a 1976 Meadowlark 37 (built by boat builder and author Allan Vaitses) wrapped in tarps and on the hard for the better part of a decade.

The Meadowlark’s previous owner had begun restoring and updating her, overlaying the interior fiberglass with wood and installing more modern conveniences. He’d fallen ill and was unable to complete the project. His family, unsure of how to piece the boat back together, used the cabin as storage for the orphan parts.

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Salt asleep in the restored berth.

The Osbornes bought the boat from his widow, engine untested, hull full of bits and pieces. Hauling her to Oriental, they would travel between the coast and their home in Greensboro to assemble her on the weekends. They also replaced the engine with a new Beta Marine diesel. Taking note of her shallow draft of 18” and skinny beam just over 8’, they decided to call her SkinnyDipper.

After five years of planning, prepping, and restoration Kim, David and their greyhound Salt sailed away from Oriental to their first overnight port in Belhaven. The next few days’ events had them reconsidering their decision.

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Crewman Salt.

They anchored SkinnyDipper in a marina, and rowed to shore for dinner. When they returned, a 52’ catamaran was anchoring nearby. The couple aboard also rowed ashore for dinner and Kim and David turned their attention to the stern of their boat and the sunset. Some time later, a passing cloud of smoke startled them. The catamaran was on fire.

Quickly pulling up the anchor, Kim and David motored a safe distance away. They watched the boat burn to the water line. That night on the dock, they learned the owners had sold everything and lived on the boat. The family dog left aboard died in the fire.

SkinnyDipper and her unsettled crew left early the next day.

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Bronze bits and satellite guidance.

Four to six foot seas and an undiscovered pinhole in the fuel pickup tube combined to create further problems. After passing under the Alligator River Bridge in rough weather, the leak in the fuel pickup sucked in air, causing the engine to cut out. Waves began pushing them back towards the bridge. Trying to stop the boat from crashing into the bridge while they worked on the engine, David went to the bow to drop anchor. The chain tangled in the anchor locker. He tried a second anchor, also housed and fed from the same locker; it tangled up with the first.

Foul weather and high waves hampered David’s efforts, but he was able to free the chains. When he did, his hand was yanked into the windlass, slicing up his finger. In an effort to staunch the bleeding, he wound electrical tape around his fingers and went back out to deal with the problems. The Osbornes made it to the marina. David needed stitches. They had to call an ambulance to take David to Nag’s Head. In addition to stitches, he’d wound the tape around his fingers so tight he’d lost circulation. He had to see a specialist to make sure he didn’t lose part of his finger.

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Calendar of events. The need for stitches, and a week-long stay, was noted.

David’s injury forced them to stay a week in Alligator Creek. They thought about ending the trip. In the first two days they’d encountered a boat fire, engine problems, rough weather, and an emergency trip to the hospital. Separately, the events were manageable. Stacked on top of each other, they caused the Osbornes to question their capabilities and preparation.

Then they began to meet Loopers – other people sailing the Great Loop. One woman told them it would work out, that they’d had, “the storm before the calm.” The social part of the Loop began to kick in. Kim and David, reassured, decided to continue. They fixed the uptake hose and moved the second anchor. David was released from medical care. They moved on to the next port up the eastern coast.

There were no further problems like those in the first few days.

SV SkinnyDipper
Sailing social etiquette demands a well-stocked cabinet.

They sailed SkinnyDipper for a good part of the trip – all along the Gulf, around Florida and up the east coast. In Catskill, NY they un-stepped the mast and kept it down until they emerged from Mobile, AL months later.

David kept statistics on their journey. 186 days anchored, 121 days at dock, and 26 days at free walls. They never sailed or motored overnight, and some places they stayed longer than others. One full month was spent in Key West.

Packages, supplies, and general help were provided by harbor hosts – people on shore who volunteer to lend a hand to passing boaters. It’s how they met John Winn of Four Winns Boats. The Osbornes ordered tubing for dinghy davits and John picked up the packages and delivered them.

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David placed a pin for every anchorage.

He wasn’t the only friendly person along the way. A younger couple sailing a Grampian 30 on the Loop fell in love with Salt. After a day of playing with him, the female half of the Grampian crew drew a picture of Salt on SkinnyDipper, gifting the picture to the Kim and David.

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A Looper, fond of Salt, drew his picture for Kim and David.

Lacking an AIS, SkinnyDipper travelled the Mississippi with Loopers that had them. They worked as a team calling ahead to the barges on the river and calling back to Kim and David when the fog was heavy and visibility was low.

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A collection of Loopers.

The camaraderie that would develop between Loopers was both surprising and welcoming for David and Kim, but it was the journey itself they really enjoyed. They had no particular destination in mind and made it their mission to appreciate whatever was thrown at them.

Kim will return to work May 1. David is thinking of finding work on the water. Sorry to see the trip end, they are already planning their next sail. Perhaps a few winter weeks chartering in the Bahamas. Maybe another coastal cruise. The SkinnyDipper may go up for sale now that the Loop is crossed off their list. They’re not sure as of yet.

But both say the near-year long trip was worth it. And both are ready to go out again.

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A favorite feature of SkinnyDipper – a screened-in companionway.
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SkinnyDipper and crew.

Posted Friday April 27, 2018 by Allison DeWeese


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