- Associated Press - Saturday, May 19, 2018

HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) - For at least five years, David and Kim Osborne had been planning their great waterway escape, a nearly year-long voyage aboard their 37-foot sailboat, the Skinny Dipper.

They had bought the boat, a 1976 used Meadowlark vessel that hadn’t sailed in years, and restored it themselves. They had charted their course - they were planning to sail a popular circumnavigational route known as America’s Great Loop - and they had done their homework to prepare for the journey. They had bought the needed supplies - not just for themselves, but also for their trusty deckhand, Salt, the couple’s Italian greyhound. They had left their jobs and rented out their house on High Rock Lake.

They had done all that, and now it was finally time to relax and enjoy the trip.

So you can imagine what was going through the couple’s minds when, after only two days of sailing up the North Carolina coast, they had already experienced a disastrous fire on a boat anchored right next to theirs, engine problems, rough waters that threatened to toss their boat crashing into a bridge, and an injury to David’s hand that could’ve caused him to lose his left pinky.

“It was gonna take more than that to turn me around,” David says with a chuckle, “but we definitely had a conversation about whether someone was trying to tell us something.”

Smoother waters eventually prevailed, both literally and figuratively, and the Osbornes enjoyed the journey of a lifetime. Their 11-month voyage began at a dock in Beaufort on May 9, 2017, and they returned to that dock on April 7.

For the uninitiated, the Great Loop is a continuous waterway that goes up the East Coast, across a series of canals in New York state and Canada, through the Great Lakes, down a series of inland rivers - including the Mississippi - to the Gulf of Mexico, around the Florida peninsula and back up the eastern seaboard. Most “Loopers” typically complete the approximately 6,000-mile route in about a year’s time, according to the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, which hosts a website dedicated to the Great Loop.

The Osbornes became interested in sailing the Great Loop around 2012, after David read a memoir of a man who had completed the route on a Jet Ski. They were more into powerboats at the time, but they bought their sailboat the next year and began restoring it. They dubbed it the Skinny Dipper because of its ability to navigate “skinny water,” which is another term for shallow water.

“I felt like this was something we could do,” David says. “You know, you hear about people going around the world, and I didn’t feel like we had the experience to do something that major. But this is mostly intracoastal waters, and I felt it was something we could do with our skill level.”

In preparing for the trip, the couple tried for a couple of years to sell their home on High Rock Lake, but with no takers, they rented it out instead. They don’t have children, so their other main priority was what to do about their jobs. David, a 53-year-old veteran furniture upholsterer, left his job at Images of America in Thomasville, and Kim, 51, arranged for a furlough from her job at Silicones in High Point. That allowed her to not have to cash out her pension, and she was able to put David on her insurance plan, she says.

As alluded to earlier, the first few days of the trip knocked the virgin Loopers, well, for a loop. On the second night, at a port in Belhaven, they watched in horror as a 52-foot catamaran anchored beside them burned down to the water line, killing a dog that had been left onboard and injuring the dog’s owner when he tried to rescue the dog.

“We found that really traumatic,” Kim says. “And then the next morning, when we tried to leave, the boat didn’t want to start.”

It turns out there was a previously unnoticed pinhole in the engine’s fuel pickup tube. David was able to jerry-rig a solution to get the Skinny Dipper going again, but when the boat hit rough waves and began rocking side to side, the engine cut off again, and the waves began pulling the vessel dangerously close to the nearby Alligator River Bridge. David ran to drop the anchor, but the chain was tangled and would not release; a second anchor chain got tangled as well, though the anchor did release far enough to keep the boat from crashing into the bridge.

Then, to make matters worse, when David tried to pull up the anchor, he somehow got his pinky finger caught in the windlass, breaking the bone and cutting it badly enough to require stitches. The couple ended up staying at the nearest marina for five days while David healed and the fuel pickup was repaired.

“That was pretty depressing,” Kim recalls. “David’s hurt. The boat’s not doing good. It’s raining. That was a really low, low moment, but we decided we had made all these plans, and we were not gonna turn around and go home.”

That was a smart decision, because the rest of the trip turned out great. The couple came away with wonderful photos - and wonderful memories - of highlights from their voyage: Sailing alongside the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Taking in the historic waterways of Canada. Seeing all of the sights along the mighty Mississippi, including the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Rounding the Florida peninsula and spending three months there - one month at Marco Island and two months at Key West - before heading back up toward Beaufort.

“It got pretty emotional coming back up the coast,” David says.

And not just because their journey was coming to an end, but also because it meant rejoining the workforce, he says. Since their return, Kim has gone back to her job at Silicones, and David has taken a job as a ferry captain, living at the couple’s home in Beaufort. It’s not an ideal setup, but it may not be for long anyway, because the Osbornes are already dreaming about their next adventure.

“A lot of folks doing the Great Loop will spend winter in the Florida Keys like we did, and then go to the Bahamas,” David says. “We didn’t do that, so I think maybe our next adventure will be to go there.”


Information from: High Point Enterprise, http://www.hpenews.com

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