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Couple trades it all in to live their dream

For more than 30 years, Jim Simek and his wife, Jeannine, of Swansea, Mass., have been talking about someday cruising America’s inland rivers, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic and Gulf ICW.

For more than 30 years, Jim Simek and his wife, Jeannine, of Swansea, Mass., have been talking about someday cruising America’s inland rivers, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic and Gulf ICW.

But making that a reality hasn’t been so easy. Since they both had careers — Jim a service technician in the printing industry and Jeannine a communications specialist for a property management organization — the couple had never been able to find the time, or the right boat, to set off on that “perfect” voyage.

That’s all about to change. Not long ago, Jim traded in his sportfisherman for a 50-foot wooden cruising boat and put the couple’s 1,900-square-foot cottage up for sale. As soon as the house is sold, Jim and Jeannine hope to finally get under way and make their dream come true.

“It feels like we’ve been talking about extended cruising forever,” says Jim, who is 65 and recently retired. “One way to see a great deal of this country is to travel its rivers and lakes; all inland-type cruising. Even though we can’t wait to get started, we wanted to take our time and not jump into this. But now we have our act together. We figured if we don’t do this pretty soon, we ain’t gonna do it at all.”

Jim, an avid boater since he was a boy, began getting serious about their extended cruising plans in 2000 when he purchased a 50-foot custom-built wooden motoryacht. He found the boat tucked away inside a shed in Portland, Conn. At first look, Jim fell in love.

“She was beautiful; looked massive confined in that tiny shed,” Jim says. “I like wood and know how to work with it so for me this was a matter of going over the boat to find potential problems an old wooden boat that hasn’t been used in years might have. Luckily, there weren’t any major problems and, it seems, she has an interesting history, too.”

Jim was told that the boat was built in 1965 by Sal D’Agostino, the owner of a furniture company in New Haven, Conn. D’Agostino purchased the design and supposedly built the boat himself at a nearby boatyard.

“I don’t know if the story is completely true,” says Jim, “but it’s pretty neat to think that a man might have built this boat more or less by himself.”

Over the next few years, Jim did a lot of his own work to the boat. He stripped the hull and varnished it one section at a time to give it “a more classic look.” Jim then rewired the boat and installed two 277-hp Ford Seamasters.

Jim and Jeannine named their new boat Twila K, after Jim’s mother, Twila, and their granddaughter, Kaley (or K for short).

There’s plenty of room aboard Twila K for Jim and Jeannine for their extended cruising, and for an occasional visitor or two. There’s an aft stateroom with two double beds and a full head, as well as a forward guest cabin with two bunks. The boat has a beam of 15 feet and draws four feet of water.

“I’m happy with how the boat turned out,” Jim says. “Most important is that she’s roomy and comfortable to live aboard.”

Perhaps the most difficult aspect so far, Jim says, was selling the boat he’d owned for as many years as he and Jeannine have been talking about cruising: Circe, a 40-foot 1957 Richardson. He found her buyer in June at the Newport Spring Boat Show.

“She was a great boat. I loved taking her down the Connecticut River to Fishers Island [in eastern Long Island Sound] and up north to the Damariscotta River in Maine,” Jim explains. “She was like part of the family and selling her was tough. With a sportfish, though, you lose a lot of space near the transom. They’re not comfortable for the type of extended cruising we’re looking to do. It was just time to let her go.”

With their plans now in motion and the couple waiting for their house to sell (by next spring, Jim hopes), the couple has been plotting which course they’ll cruise first. Jim expects they’ll travel up the Hudson River to Lake Champlain, to the Ottowa River, and all the canals in between, winding up back on the Hudson. During their first winter, they plan on making it to Nanjemoy, Md., where they’ll stay with family.

“We have no apprehension whatsoever about selling everything — our house, our belongings — starting a new life cruising on our boat for as long as possible,” Jim says. “It might seem crazy to some, but this is something we want to do. We’re going to try and stay flexible enough to make it work.”

Jeannine, who is 55, says she’s looking forward to visiting new cities and to just being on the boat. “I’m hoping for a simplicity about our lives once we do this and, of course, not having to work,” she says with a laugh. “I think the boat will lend itself to that. I’m looking forward to having the freedom to pull into different ports, explore and meet new people.

“We’re making the transition to being serious boat people,” Jeannine continues. “We’re not millionaires. We’re selling everything we have to do this. I think that’s pretty incredible.”

Jim agrees. “We’re not too concerned about running out of money,” he says. “In life, you do what you have to do to make it work, no matter if you’re on land or on water. I have boat skills, so I can work at a boatyard for extra cash. Heck, I’ll flip hamburgers if I have to. I think this will be an adventure in more ways than we can imagine.”