Custom built for the Great Loop

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Plans for voyage of a lifetime short-circuited when cruising couple falls in love with Florida sunshine

Plans for voyage of a lifetime short-circuited when cruising couple falls in love with Florida sunshine

A couple years ago, Regis and Michelle Sanson built the Great Loop boat of their dreams. But the fact that they finished only half of the trip doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

The Sansons, who hail from France, took delivery of their custom 42-foot Down East-style cruiser, Veloma, in Portsmouth, N.H., in the fall of 2004. Their original float plan called for following a clockwise route around the Great Loop. They would follow the Intracoastal Waterway down the East Coast — running outside when favorable or advantageous — then cruise the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River and through the Great Lakes in summer.

The first half of the journey went according to plan in fall 2004. “We went through Lake Okeechobee to Naples and Fort Myers [Fla.], and we loved the area,” says Regis Sanson. “That’s where our troubles started: We decided to stay there.”

Entranced by several months of warm, pleasant weather, the Sansons had no desire to swing northward and into cool weather again. They had made friends in Fort Myers and hadn’t used the boat in a year when they decided to put her up for sale in late 2005. Veloma was built for the long-range cruising they simply would no longer be doing.

The longtime sailors ordered Veloma to “supposedly” retire to, says 67-year-old Regis Sanson. He sold his New York City computer programming business, and he and Michelle, 65, moved out of their Manhattan apartment. “We were trying to downsize and get ready to do the Great Circle,” he says.

The Sansons had years of cruising in both sail- and powerboats under their belts, so they knew what they wanted in their Loop cruiser. It was a long process to get the custom boat just right, but all of the design criteria they insisted on came through in the end. Veloma is beamy and spacious, with an economical and seaworthy semidisplacement hull, redundant systems, and all the comforts of home. The Sansons also thought of some innovative ways to save space and remain self-reliant while maintaining a clean look, such as a hidden but easily accessed washer/dryer, a compact entertainment center concealed in an end table, and a second stateroom that also serves as a head compartment and office.

Michelle, who makes jewelry with semiprecious stones, planned to continue working on the Loop, and Regis would do some programming on the side. So they laid out the forward master stateroom below with a pair of desks, and Michelle installed a safe to keep gems on board. The master stateroom also has a queen-size island berth, a pair of hanging lockers and an en-suite head and shower compartment.

The second stateroom, to starboard, is laid out with a small single berth for their grandson. With its mattress and insert removed, the berth converts to another desk, and there is a sink that slides back to reveal a marine head.

To port is a well-equipped galley-down that’s open to the starboard-side helm station. A chart table that also serves as a bar is abaft the galley coming up into the pilothouse saloon, which is bright and airy thanks to Veloma’s large windows and skylights. “If there is something difficult, like looking for a buoy, there is the chart table, and I’m there with the GPS,” says Michelle Sanson. “It’s something we do together.”

A counter area abaft the chart table conceals the washer/dryer unit and a wine cooler. “Sort of our French touch,” Regis Sanson says of the wine fridge. The couple at one point considered retiring to their native France. In fact, Michelle compares cruising aboard Veloma to cruising the canals of France — both relaxing experiences, she says.

For guests, a portside settee and dinette convert to a queen-size berth. Across from the settee, to starboard, the lid of what appears to be an end table flanked by armchairs flips up to reveal an entertainment center with a flat-screen television. Those space-saving features combine with Veloma’s 15-foot, 2-inch beam to create a spaciousness the Sansons consider imperative for long-term cruising.

“It becomes a home, in fact, and for two people we have enough room inside and outside that it’s easy to live in,” says Michelle Sanson.

While the saloon is roomy, the boat’s side decks still are wide, an important consideration for locking on the Great Loop. “When you’re in the locks or in marinas — but particularly in the locks — you need good access to get to your lines,” says Regis Sanson. Veloma also has side doors to port and starboard, as well as high freeboard, a tall bow rail with lifelines, and a heavy-duty rubrail for brushing against lock walls. Port and starboard transom doors allow for easy access to the dock from either side of the vessel, and bow and stern thrusters aid with maneuvering.

In addition to the main 310-hp Volvo Penta diesel inboard, Veloma has a 55-hp Volvo “get-home” engine with a folding prop. The main prop shaft is housed in the full keel, with the wing engine’s running gear to starboard of the keel.

“If we get stuck in the middle of the Mississippi River, we better find a way of getting to a port,” says Sanson. The boat has a top speed of 16 mph and burns 5 gallons per hour at 12 mph, 2-1/2 gph at 9 mph. It carries 360 gallons of fuel, 220 gallons of water, and has a draft of 4 feet.

For comfortable cruising in hot and cold climes, the boat has air conditioning with reverse-cycle heat and double hatches below that open fore and aft for a breeze regardless of wind direction. “On top of that,” says Sanson, “if you’re anchored out and don’t like to have the generator on, we have what you call a diesel-fired furnace.”

Another of Veloma’s design features for cruising the Great Loop is her lack of a flybridge, which limits her maximum height to 13 feet, about 6 feet under the maximum height for doing the Loop. The lack of a flybridge also would make transporting her by truck easier.

The building process was long and appeared to wear on Regis Sanson. To begin with, it took five months just to deliver the solid fiberglass lobsterboat hull — built by Samson Enterprises of Arichat, Nova Scotia, with specially raised freeboard — for custom finishing at the Big Pond Boat Shop in Big Pond, Nova Scotia. Sanson built paper and plywood interior mockups in his Manhattan office, and then there were daily e-mails with the builder, and five or six trips to Canada as the boat came together. In all, the project took from December 2002 to September 2004.

Perhaps if Veloma had been delivered sooner, the Sansons would have finished the Great Loop before settling in Florida and life on the hard. “I realize it’s not a very good example,” he says, laughing. “I admire people who are deciding at 45 or so, ‘Let’s take two years and do the trip.’ It’s hard when you have a job to take a leave of absence.”

Regis Sanson’s advice to would-be Loopers is to take the chance to cruise while you can and don’t confine yourself to an itinerary. “Don’t put a time schedule on your trip,” he says. “Sometimes it’s the weather, or it can be a mechanical problem. If you push too hard to make it on a schedule, it’s not pleasant.”

The new Fort Myers residents have no regrets about cutting their cruise short or the design decisions they made for Veloma. “If we had to redo it, we wouldn’t change anything,” Sanson says of the boat. “It was exactly what we were looking for.”

Now they are looking for an owner so Veloma can complete the cruise she was built for. The Sansons are asking $295,000 for the boat, which will be available for viewing this summer in Mystic, Conn. Visit www.sanson42.com or call (239) 454-6168 for more information.