When you cruise north from Florida on the ICW, traverse Chesapeake Bay, pass the Jersey coast en route to the Hudson River, follow the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, then hit Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River, the Ohio River, the Tennessee/Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile Bay and cross the Gulf of Mexico, “you learn about a boat,” says John Gray.
Gray and his wife, Laurie, fulfilled a lifelong dream in making a 6,000-mile Great Loop voyage in their Ranger Tugs R-29 following that very route. And what the Port Everett, Washington, couple learned about the husky R-29 they bought three years ago is that it makes a great cruising boat that’s well-suited to the Loop. “The Ranger 29 exceeded all of our expectations, with no repairs and easy-to-do maintenance,” says Gray, 62, who is retired from a career in government. “The uniqueness of the tug [makes it] a head-turner and was the start of many conversations at the dock.”
They saw the single-engine coastal cruiser at an owners rendezvous in May 2013 and bought it for $190,000. “The tug was in fabulous shape, with nearly all the options that the factory offered and some upgrades,” says Gray. “We named her Andiamo, which is Italian for ‘let’s go!’ ”
And go they did. They trucked the boat to Florida and started their adventure that same summer. “Rather than buying a boat on the Loop and outfitting it and then selling it when the adventure was over, it was reasonable to have it trucked to Florida and back,” Gray says.
The boat’s trailerability proved handy later in the trip when the Mississippi River was closed. “While other Loopers were stuck near St. Louis, our tug was floated onto a trailer and two hours later was launched again on the Tennessee River,” says Gray.
Andiamo is powered by a 6-cylinder BMW diesel (marinized by Yanmar), and it proved reliable and economical. Cruising at around 8 mph, the engine used about 2 gph. Top speed is 14 mph. “Diesel is the most significant expense, next to mooring fees, for a 6,000-mile, 10-month voyage,” says Gray.
Some consider a 29-foot boat small for the Great Loop, but the R-29 took on the rough stuff well, says Gray. “It’s heavy enough to handle the challenging waters of Lake Michigan in 4- to 6-foot seas,” he says. “We traveled the 500 miles down the eastern shore with 20- to 30-knot winds that created high waves from the 100-mile-long fetch across this lake.”
Hull draft and air draft are important considerations for the Great Loop, and Andiamo’s numbers fit the bill. “The 2-foot, 6-inch draft made the single-digit depths of the ICW and the river system easy to handle,” says Gray. “The vertical clearance of 13 feet allowed the tug to clear the numerous bridges in Florida without needing them to be opened.” Another benefit of a smaller boat: The Grays never had to make a reservation at any of the nearly 80 marinas where they tied up.
The boat’s bow and stern thrusters “made transiting the 88 locks easier and less stressful,” says Gray. “The Erie Canal was the first set of significant locks, with one set of five being very close to each other. But the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario was the highlight, with 41 locks, most small and human-powered. One was like a Travelift on a railroad flatcar that took the tug through a small town and across a narrow peninsula to the other side.”
The ability to communicate well is another must on the Loop. Andiamo is equipped with a Garmin AIS system that allowed Gray to “see” the commercial traffic on tight river bends before meeting it. Captains were able to give instructions for a safe passing, says Gray. “The Great Loop has bridges, locks and commercial towboats that often require radio communication to get an opening,” he says. “[You know] when a lock may open or how to pass a set of barges that will take nearly the whole width of the navigable channel.”
Along the way, Andiamo became a partner in this trip of a lifetime, the couple says. The Great Loop is a challenge — only about 200 boats do it each year — but with the right vessel it’s “easy for the boater who is comfortable with currents, tides and weather,” says Gray.
And it’s more than simply a long cruise. “It’s an experience of different geography; it is about history, culture and people. We met wonderful people, and [made] lifelong friends,” says Gray. “One of the enduring highlights was to embrace the serendipity of the moment, to go with God by following the currents and the weather, to be open to new information, and to embrace the lessons and wisdom of others.”
PowerBoat Guide calls the Ranger R-29 a “compact coastal trawler … offering admirable range, a smooth ride, responsive performance and all the standard features required by the cruising couple.” She rides a beamy semidisplacement hull powered by a single diesel. Cruising speed is 15 to 17 mph, with a top end of around 20 to 22 mph.
The single-level interior layout is complete. There’s a full galley to port in the saloon, with a dinette that converts to a berth across the way to starboard. The stateroom is forward, with an island berth and an adjacent enclosed head that includes a shower. There’s also an amidships cabin with a folding privacy door.
The helm is to starboard, and a pilothouse door provides access to the deck for handling lines. Oversize windows and skylight hatches provide ventilation and visibility in the saloon, where there is plenty of seating and a stereo system. Notable equipment includes a hinged mast, bow and stern thrusters, a swim platform and a cabin-top rack for storing water toys and other gear.
John Livingston is president of Fluid Motion, which builds Ranger Tugs, as well as the Cutwater brand. He grew up in a boating family, cruising the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Alaska and Florida. His father, David Livingston, founded Livingston Yachts in 1958 and is known for his design and production work with Regal, Reinell and Bayliner. In fact, the father and son together designed several models for Regal. Together they purchased Ranger Tugs from Howard Smithson, who was building Ranger sailboats and the R-21 tug. (Fluid Motion launched Cutwater Boats in 2011.) The Ranger Tugs fleet of single-diesel cruisers ranges from 21 feet to 31 feet. The new R-23 is the builder’s first outboard boat (also available with a diesel sterndrive).
LENGTH: 29 feet
BEAM: 10 feet
DRAFT: 2 feet, 4 inches
WEIGHT: 9,250 pounds
HULL TYPE: semidisplacement
PROPULSION: single 260-hp diesel
TANKAGE: 150 gallons fuel (180 optional), 70 gallons water
BUILDER: Ranger Tugs (Fluid Motion), Kent, Washington, (253) 839-5213. rangertugs.com
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue.