Dennis and Susan Hartig are not known for doing things the easy way. Most cruisers who ply the Mississippi River as part of the Great Loop generally go downstream. But in 2011, the Hartigs did their first long-distance cruise from Sarasota, Florida, across the Gulf of Mexico, up the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and then upstream on the Mississippi River to Stillwater, Minnesota. And they did it in a 25-foot C-Dory powercat.
Cruising north is much more difficult, especially in a year with significant flooding. “We were stuck in Kentucky Lake for five days,” Dennis says. “The Coast Guard closed recreational traffic, as the floods created 6 to 7 knots of current and generated a great deal of debris. Our friends in Iowa brought our trailer down. We towed a hundred miles north, around the flooded section, and relaunched to continue the trip.”
Making that journey was part of a lifestyle readjustment for the couple, whose boating friends had to let go of Great Loop dreams because of declining health. The Hartigs reprioritized their lives and decided to do the Loop while they still felt good—and now, they are preparing to do the Great Loop again, with yet more out-of-the-box thinking.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to close seven locks on the Illinois River this July through October, so the Hartigs’ original intent was to have the boat shipped by truck from Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois. But because of trailering requirements, the estimated cost for the 150-mile trip would have been almost $14,000. So, the boat will instead be shipped from Superior, Wisconsin, to Prescott, Wisconsin, where the Mississippi River intersects the St. Croix River. That cost? $3,900.
And they’ll be cruising this time in a different boat. Since they met in 2008, they’ve had about 30 boats, including dayboats, fishing skiffs and flats boats; for this journey, their boat of choice will be a Fountaine Pajot Maryland 37 catamaran called Abaco Lady.
While visiting a marina in Fort Myers, Florida, in early 2019, Dennis saw the used Maryland 37 for sale. The couple had seen the same model at a boat show a year earlier and loved it; this hull was a 1999 that had spent her first four years in charter. Those owners did a Great Loop cruise in 2015 and got as far as lower Chesapeake Bay, where engine trouble began after 13,000 hours on the original twin 275-hp Yanmar diesels. Those owners decided to switch to outboards: a pair of 250-hp Evinrude E-Tecs, installed at Capps Boatworks in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“We removed the engines, fuel tanks and all associated electrical and piping,” says yard owner Nelva Capp. “The transom of each hull was redesigned, strengthened and constructed using three-quarter-inch marine plywood totally encapsulated in new fiberglass.”
New 80-gallon fuel tanks for the outboards were placed in the after end of the prior engine bays. According to Dennis, the boat gets 2.5 mpg at just under 8 knots, allowing for a range of more than 300 nautical miles.
“The boat also does quite well at a fast cruise of 16 to 17 mph and gets 1.5 miles per gallon (or 11 gallon per hour) when you need to make better time,” Dennis says.
The project included Guy Brothers Marine, a local Evinrude dealer, which did the engine installation—lowering the overall weight of the boat by about 3,000 pounds. After modification, the draft was slightly over 2 feet, an 18-inch reduction from the original draft. All thru-hulls below the waterline were removed. The boat is now beachable, and with the reduced drag, she is capable of speeds over 20 knots.
After purchasing the boat, the Hartigs brought her home to their dock in Punta Gorda, Florida. She was well maintained but needed cosmetic attention. Susan has replaced all the upholstery with fitted covers that have tropical-motif fabrics. She also made window coverings from standard marine canvas.
When the couple get underway, they’ll have room to live on board. The width of the salon is close to the boat’s beam, with a galley to port. It houses a propane stove and a refrigerator/freezer. A settee to starboard can seat six guests. Where an interior helm might otherwise be, there’s stowage and space to get to the port and starboard stairs. A new navy-blue carpet adds color and texture.
Each hull has a double berth, closets and a head with an enclosed shower. The prior owner had composting toilets, but the Hartigs are replacing them with conventional marine heads, and connecting them to a new 35-gallon holding tank. Fresh water will be used for flushing, to avoid odors.
The boat, at 21 years old, has had four owners and about 15,000 hours of use. Even still, all exterior fiberglass, metalwork, glass and fittings are detailed to perfection. All electrical wiring, lighting and batteries have been replaced. The boat is equipped with two house batteries and two starting batteries.
The old engine bays are now stowage. A covered anchor locker is forward between the hulls, with an electric windlass and 150 feet of chain rode attached to a Lewmar CQR anchor.
Dennis installed a 9-foot Zodiac Ultra Light tender on a bracket hinged at the stern rail. A 4.5-hp Suzuki outboard is on a separate bracket. A block and tackle are rigged from the radar mast for easy deployment, and there’s a sealed enclosure at the transom containing a 3.5-kW Predator air-cooled generator.
Molded-in, curved stairs lead to the upper deck, where the helm is on centerline. To port is a curved settee. Abaft the helm, another settee seats four. There’s a modern canvas and Strataglass enclosure that creates, essentially, an enclosed space. The large amount of Strataglass allows for 360-degree visibility.
With months of work on the boat and other preparations, Dennis and Susan expect to set off the last week of March. They’ll head from Punta Gorda to Manhattan for the first leg; from there to Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada; and from there to Barker’s Island in Wisconsin. They should reach Mobile, Alabama, by late October, and be back in Florida by Thanksgiving.