On Board Odyssey with Paul & Sue Graham

The Grahams Personal Odyssey

This interview was conducted in April 2003 with Paul and Sue Graham aboard their Great Harbour 37 Odyssey, which was docked at Green Cove Springs Marina in Florida. You might say the Graham’s personal odyssey began years earlier as they gradually came to understand that for them boating would be more than a pastime; it would be a lifestyle. Once they decided on a Great Harbour, the Grahams showed that behind their earnest Midwest demeanors lived passion, energy and a sense of adventure. The next day the Grahams had shoved off once again, northward to do a part of the Great Circle Route. You can email questions for the Grahams to trawler37@aol.com. Be sure to write Great Harbour in the subject field.

Mirage: How did you get into boating?

Sue Graham: The way it started is that we were very heavily involved in motorcycling. I used to race and he used to race and we used to follow the racing circuit. We were going to Milwaukee for the 90th anniversary of Harley-Davidson, and I was in a new position at work, which was very, very stressful. And I was stressed to the max and we had a problem with our reservations, and Paul said, Let’s go down to Lake Cumberland and rent a houseboat.

Paul Graham: I said it was an omen.

Sue: it was just the two of us, with all the stuff on the houseboat on this beautiful lake. And we fell in love. And three weeks later we bought a 19-foot Bayliner

Paul: 21

Sue: 21-foot Bayliner…Paul took the Power Squadron Course and the Coast Guard Course and he insisted that I take them…We joined the Power Squardon then and made a lot of new friends. The bayliner was not quite enough. The big rendezvous they put us next to a 38-foot Bayliner. We were the dingy.

Mirage: There’s a saying among boat people, and I hope this isn’t true with you. They say you have the most fun on the smallest boat you ever owned.

Sue: That’s definitely not true with us.

Paul: No, not in this case.

Sue: Then we bought a Carver 250 Express. And we did a lot more trips. We loved to cruise …We got the Carver and we started doing bigger trips. Our first long trip was the Cumberland River trip up the state of Tennesse. And we got to Green Turtle Bay and they put is in the dinghy slots. We were so proud. In Rock Harbor there was a Carver dealer and he wanted to see our Carver because he’d never seen one that little. Even though we were so proud of our “Big Boat.” We really enjoyed the trip. We went across Lake Ontario, up the St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal, back down the Ottawa River to Ottawa.

Mirage: That’s real cruising. I didn’t realize you had done that at all…

Paul: And this is with a 25-foot single engine…Every bit that we did seemed to open up the avenues further.

Sue: Our three weeks on the Montreal-Ottawa trip sold us. We had a trip that was just phenomenal, and we didn’t want to come home…We had been spending some of our vacations looking for a place to retire. We didn’t want to stay in Ohio. We don’t like the cold weather. So we were looking around but we never found “The Place.” And then it hit us. So we went to Trawlerfest. The first one we went to was down here in Stuart (Florida). And we met really interesting people, people who lived on their boats. And we said this sounds like us, like something we can handle. So Paul read in Soundings magazine about a guy who chartered his boat out, so we called the guy to see if he would take us on as crew. His wife said, “He never does that.” But he liked the sound of Paul’s voice and he took us on.

Mirage: Boy what a risk that was! (Laughing)

Paul: Really for both of us. I could have been a smoker, which none of us were, or I could have been somebody with a lot of bad language.

Sue: He was a minister, a retired minister

Paul: Which we didn’t know at the time…

Sue: I fell in love with it.

Paul: It was a 36-foot Grand Banks. Conventional.

Mirage: Nice little boats.

Paul: Not for a liveaboard.

Sue: Hardly any room.

Paul: Everything is tremendously dated. Even the ones they’re selling now.

Mirage: Yesterday’s technology at tomorrow’s prices…

Sue: We have a good rapport with Mirage.

Paul: They’ve been very good to work with.

Sue: Ken has been great (Ken Fickett, Mirage president). We love Russ. (Russell Sill, Mirage chief rigger).

Paul: Our learning curve was monumental. I’m still not up on everything.

Sue: Judging from the Grand Banks, we would have been part-time liveaboards. We would have kept the house because I couldn’t live in a 36 Grand Banks. I couldn’t live in there, and have that be my total existence.

Mirage: We recognize that about couples, particularly the women. Once they’ve been in a real house, you can’t move them onto a little boat.

Sue: I could do it for a period of time, but I’d need a place to put my things, and Paul has things, too…So we kept on looking and went to more TrawlerFests. Paul went into PassageMaker magazine, and he saw Hull No. 1 (of the Great Harbour 37). I thought, “Gee, there’s a lot of space in that.” That really attracted me: The fact that I could have the comforts of home, so we started talking about it. The base price then was $250,000. We had been thinking about something closer to $100,000. We thought, “Well, if we sold the house, we could afford the 250.” We continued to look. We looked at the Krogen 42. We liked the Krogen, but of course there was no way we could afford a new one. We found a used one, a ’92, and they wanted $220,000 for it. I had a problem with mold on the Grand Banks; I’m allergic to mold and there was some on the Krogen. The Great Harbour was all fiberglass…so we like that. We knew if we got a brand new boat, we could start from the very beginning and make sure we fought any mold and mildew.

Mirage: You’ll go more places with this than a Krogen 42, as nice as a Krogen is. Was it stabilized?

Sue: No.

Mirage: Imagine going to the Bahamas in that in just 3-foot seas. It would be an ordeal in those boats.

Sue: Why do you say in the ads that the Great Harbour is a great coastal cruising boat?

Mirage: Coastal cruising means you can go from Maine to Key West, and through the Bahamas to the Caribbean Islands, because that’s really coastal cruising, too, even if it means going from island to island. It means you’re probably going to stop every day or every other day or so and anchor.

Sue: Motion was another big concern of ours. I have pretty severe motion sickness and have had it all my life. …That was concern of ours: Would I get sick on the boat? You can’t live your live on Dramamine. So we had our heart set on the boat, and we had the opportunity to go out on Neil and Gail’s boat (Neil and Gail O’Donnell, owners of Sybarite, Hull No. 6). They took us out on the ocean, and Neil said it wasn’t real smooth that day, and I never had one moment of nausea…Paul and Neil really hit it off. They were wonderful to us. They really were. Paul and Neil did a lot of talking about the boat, and what should be on it…Our contract came to $389,000. We were kind of depressed. I just put it out of my mind. Reuben (Mirage salesman Reuben Trane) called Gail and said, “Do I send the Graham’s deposit back? I haven’t got their contract back.” Then we spent a week with them (the O'Donnell’s) on their boat…

Paul: In our situation and that of a lot of other people who we met…the guy can be sold on the technical attributes of what’s available but the woman has to be sold on the comforts. She’s got to feel like its home, and she’s got veto power over it.

Sue: When I cooked on Gail’s stove, with a full-size refrigerator right there. I knew I could make this home.

Mirage: Obviously it was a close call as far as being able to afford this boat. How did you manage to do that?

Sue: That was more money then we had thought about, but then we talked to our banker and he said, “I don’t know what you’re concerned about because you’ve got a very nice 401K.” Now this is three years ago. And he said, “If you just work until you’re 59˝, at that point, your 401K’s interest will make the boat payment. Don’t worry about it. We hadn’t wanted any boat payments. Our house was paid for and when we retired, we didn’t want any bills, but we called Reuben and said can we wait to take delivery in July 2002.

Mirage: How much did you end up financing?

Paul: There were two processes for us—the construction loan and then the final loan for the boat. You can’t seem to find a lender who handles both. In our case, we were lucky in that (Mirage President Ken Fickett) suggested CNB Bank in Gainesville. They were exceptionally easy to work with. We didn’t know what we were able to come up with cash-wise later on, and he (the bank’s representative) left it open-ended. He said we’ll give you up to $350,000.

Sue: I don’t know who it was who connected us up with Gulfstream (Marine Finance Inc.).

Mirage: Us. That’s other lender we work with. Those are our two.

Sue: We wanted to be approved for $350,000 for construction, so the money would be there for whatever we wanted to do. That was a lot of money for us. We wrote a letter a to Ken, saying we’re putting our faith and trust and all our money in Mirage. It was really a big deal for us. And I wrote a letter to Ken recently, thanking him for all he’s done for us.

Paul: We ended up financing how much on the construction loan before it was all over?

Sue: $228,000…What we did as we continued to add to our retirement account, our 401Ks, and they continued to go down, we picked up on our working hours. I was very, very fortunate because there’s a tremendous shortage of X-ray techs, and there was a bidding war out there. Whoever bid the most for me, that’s where I went. I literally worked around the clock at my hospitals.

Mirage: How long did you do that?

Sue: Two years ago (Spring 2001), I started picking up the pace. The last six months there were times when I went in 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon and I’d work 3 to 11, 11 to 7 and 7 to 3, those three shifts at Nelsonville. Then I’d go up to Logan and work 3 to 11, come back to Nelsonville, and work 11 to 7. Come home Tuesday morning, get all my stuff changed and head back to Logan 3 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, 3 to 11…I was allowed to sleep when I didn’t have patients. That was good.

Paul: All they wanted was coverage. Same with the docs in the ER…

Sue: It really wasn’t all that difficult. The work was work I really enjoy, and he was right there for me…The rest of the time we just chilled out. We didn’t do anything. We didn’t go anywhere. We sold the Carver.

Mirage: You sold a lot of stuff I take it. Is there anything out there left?

Paul: There’s only a little bit of stuff in storage.

Sue: Collectibles…We ended up having an auction, which was very unsuccessful. We ended up giving away

Paul: We got rid of everything.

Sue: We were both junk collectors.

Mirage: That’s why you have house: To put junk in it.

Sue: We had a three bedroom that was crammed full. Two barns that were crammed full. A two-car garage that was crammed full…

Mirage: Your life is much simpler now…

Sue: Our life is simple. So we were building the boat. I talked with my sister and asked for her help decorating the boat. Our family was very supportive. Everybody asks, “What did you kids say about living on a boat?” They were very supportive. They were excited for us. So we showed up June 30 to take delivery of our boat July 1. And I worked June 29. So who’s standing here bag and baggage is my sister and her husband. They had sold their house in Cape Coral and their new house wasn’t supposed to be done until October, so they decided to move on the boat with us.

Paul: They had an offer that was at or above the asking price. The condition was they had to move in immediately…

Sue: People kept asking, “When are they leaving?” I said, “I don’t know.” It wasn’t fair to kick them off the boat...So we said, “Do you want to go up to the Chesapeake with us.” They said, “Sure.” So for three months we all lived on this boat, but very comfortably. My sister and I shared the kitchen and the cooking and planning the meals and stuff. They were like little beavers keeping the boat clean, and they were fun to be with. They slept upstairs in the pilot house and John (brother-in-law) made that bed up every day. But then we also gave them the little bedroom; they kept all their stuff in there. They didn’t bring a whole lot, just their clothes. But they had their own bathroom. They slept where they had their privacy, and we had ours. During the course of our trip, our daughter brought Paul’s mother and came. There were six of us for three days and we were just fine. John got off the boat the next week and we had two couples from Indianapolis, so we had six again. It was comfortable…Everybody loves the pilothouse. We had slept up there on Neil and Gail’s boat, and we loved the pilothouse.

Mirage: After the Chesapeake where did you go?

Sue: We went as far as Baltimore then came down here to Florida.

Mirage: Intracoastal?

Sue: Intracoastal. Through the Dismal Swamp. We loved that…It was so pretty.

Mirage: See any bears in the trees?

Sue: We didn’t. We would have loved to.

Mirage: You went to the Bahamas, too. I find that to be very bold.

Sue: That’s what we had planned. Once we had moved on the boat we had a couple goals. They were to be south in the winter, north in the summer and we definitely wanted to go to the islands. Paul got every book and magazine he could get his hands on, and when we should have been going through and sorting stuff at home, we were reading magazine and books. I kept hearing so much about Trinidad.

Mirage: There’s no reason why you can’t go to Trinidad, and right on to Venezuela.

Sue: Years ago a friend of mine went to Aruba and was talking about how fabulous Aruba was. And my niece honeymooned there and she thought it was fabulous. Paul and I talked about that: Can we really take the boat there? And we set that as one of our goals. Then when we talked to you in Annapolis, you set it in stone because you said that we could do all the little islands. And we met Margo and Jim, these sailboaters, that had done it, too. You don’t have to be like the Hawaii crossing (recently completed by a Mirage N37 trawler). You can go island to island.

Mirage: You have to be careful, and you can’t be in a hurry. That’s where people make their mistakes. They get it set in their minds that they’ve got to go on a certain day. There’s a stretch on the north coast of the Dominican Republic where you could wait a couple weeks for good enough weather, and you’ve got to play it just right. You’ve got the book, Bruce Van Sant’s Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South.

Sue: Yes.

Mirage: Once you get past that bit and get to Puerto Rico, you’ve seen the worst. The part between the Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico.

Sue: We’ve got the guide to the Turks and Caicos.

Mirage: Can you believe it? The water is even clearer in the Turks and Caicos than it is in the Bahamas.

Sue: No. No. Our last big trip from Great Sail to…

Paul: West End

Sue: It couldn’t be. It was pure glass, and it was like a marine show the whole way in…I don’t think we would have been this happy just going to the Keys. We just set it as a goal, and we talked about the Great Circle forever.

Mirage: I think the Great Circle is fine, but you can do that when your 95 years old. Strike out to the islands now.

Paul: We can’t strike out unless we fly back in to get Social Security and a number of other things set up.

Sue: Other people we’ve talked to said its important to fly back every once in a while to get your “family fix.”

Mirage: Where did you touch down in the Bahamas first?

Sue: West End (on Grand Bahama)…One thing that we knew then and its more reinforced now, especially being here. There’s so many people who are going to do all these things, but they’ve got to do something first. Some of them were here in August and now we’re back and their still here. I don’t want to do that. We have a lot of projects left undone, and it’s just going to have to be that way. We’ll get the necessities done then we’re taking off. We don’t want to be stuck in one place. We’re very healthy right now, and we don’t have anything to stop us from adventuring.

Paul: That’s right.

Mirage: One of my favorite sayings is, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” People who try to make their boats perfect, everything perfect, they miss out on the good, because they don’t go.

Paul: Okay, yup.

Sue: We’re not going to do that. Once we got to the islands…

Mirage: Where did you go after West End?

Paul: Great Sail, Green Turtle

Sue: When we first got to that water on the bank, Paul had never seen that water. We loved the water, saw the flying fish and that was exciting.

Paul: First-timers.

Sue: We were with two other boats, and they were first-timers. The first shark we got into was in the Exuma National Park when we took our dinghy to sign in.

Mirage: Warderick Wells?

Sue: Yeah. There was a shark underneath the dinghy. But I’m comfortable with sharks now.

Mirage: So you left the Abacos and then you went to Eluthera?

Sue: We had planned from the get-go and we had heard so many wonderful things. We said we’re going to go to the Abacos and get our feet wet, feel things out.

Paul: We used the marina as point from which to make overnighters and two or three day runs. We stayed in Marsh Harbour. We went out to Treasure Cay, Nippers.

Sue: Treasure Cay. They say its one of the ten best beaches in the world. It was like heaven. When we first got down there I fixed cheeseburgers and we had cheeseburgers in paradise. We’re not really hamburger eaters, but I can’t tell you how many times we enjoyed cheeseburgers in paradise. We got hooked on Barefoot Man music, and we bought a couple of his CDs.

Paul: So we stayed using Marsh Harbour as a base for a month…After the month, we went off to Little Harbour in the south.

Sue: We didn’t know about the “blue holes” until we got over to Eluthera…and that was nice. And walking through the ruins. A lot of people in the anchorage.

Paul: Spanish Wells.

Mirage: Then you crossed over to the Exumas?

Paul: Yes.

Sue: And the park!

Mirage: Did you have a pot-luck at the ranger’s

Paul: We didn’t have a pot-luck. We had a happy hour.

Sue: We practiced our snorkeling. We had snorkled in the Abacos but the water was cold. When we got down there, we snorkled around the coral heads. We loved it and didn’t want to leave, so we headed on down.

Paul: To Compass Cay, and day trips out of there.

Sue: When we got down to Tucker’s, Compass Cay. The owner comes out and helps you get the mooring ball, and there was a shark swimming around. He said, “We have our pet sharks and you can pet them.” We had a carry-in dinner there and we fed leftovers to the sharks and then pet them.

Paul: They were nurse sharks.

Sue: We went on down to Staniel Cay and that was an experience. The boats! How many boats were there?

Paul: 150.

Sue: 150 all the time. And we kept hearing about Georgetown, but everyone said we weren’t missing much…And we went to the underwater cave where they made Thunderball.

Mirage: So you turned around at Staniel and came back?

Sue: Staniel, yes.

Mirage: That was a really, really good first strike-out. I never got past Warderick Wells the first time I went to the Bahamas.

Sue: So much undone. So much we want to do again.

We hope to hear more from the Grahams; check back soon. The Staff

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