Trailerblazing

One couple takes a small boat on big adventures — by land and by sea.

We don’t know if there has ever been a boat the size of Kismet trailered through Zion National Park before. Going through the park provided us a shortcut of approximately 43 miles in reaching Lake Powell. We didn’t even know if we would be allowed to transit through the tunnel with our height, but we got the go-ahead from the park ranger. We were quite the attraction. Tourists photographed the scenery and Kismet. We stopped partway through Utah’s Zion National Park to take in this panoramic shot off of Mount Carmel Highway. It is one of our favorite trailering photos because it shows some of the challenging and varied terrain one has to negotiate when trailering away from one’s home waters.


Their homeport might be Traverse City, Mich., but Jim and Lisa Favors have achieved honorary Pacific Northwest status for their love of the waters in and around the Salish Sea and for their dedication to PNW boat builder Ranger Tugs. By the time this story makes it to print, the Favors will be taking delivery of their second Ranger, this one an R-29 named Kismet. Their previous Ranger was an R-27 (also named Kismet), and it saw more of the United States than most boats — or people, for that matter — ranging from the PNW to Lake Tahoe to Lake Powell to the Florida Keys.

They made a five-year adventure out of the Great Loop aboard a larger boat, but when it was time to reevaluate things, a trailerable cruising boat emerged as their choice, and they haven’t regretted their decision in the least. They chronicle their adventures extensively at TrailerTrawlerLife.com, and they took the time to talk to Sea about their choice to downsize and the rewards they’ve reaped as a result.

The Benjamin Islands are one of the premier gunkholing destinations within Ontario’s North Channel. This particular spot off South Benjamin Island is especially appropriate for our shallow-draft Ranger Tug R-27. We were protected on all sides and tied off to boulders from our bow and stern. The Benjamin Islands are popular because they offer not only scenic surroundings but plenty of places to land a dinghy.

Sea: What made you decide that a trailerable cruising boat was the way to go?

Lisa: Ron and Eva Stob started the Great Loop Cruisers Association in 1995. They wrote a book about it, “Honey, Let’s Get a Boat…” After they did the Loop, they downsized to a small trailerable trawler. I kept that in the back of my mind and thought, Wow, think of all the places they can go because they can drive the boat there. Ever since I saw them doing that it was always in the back of my mind.

Jim: Prior to getting a trailerable boat, we lived on a boat for basically five years. We left to do the Great Loop in a 42-foot boat, for a one-year trip — and one year turned into five years and another 40-foot boat. We both came to the same conclusion that after five years maybe it was time to get a house again back in Traverse City. So we bought the house and we downsized to a trailerable boat, because there were places we wanted to return to that we really liked on the Great Loop, but we didn’t want to do the Loop a third time. There were also a lot of places we wanted to explore that we couldn’t get to in a bigger boat. Living in the Great Lakes area, we couldn’t go out to the West Coast with a big boat. Sure, we could go out there and rent a boat or at great expense have a boat shipped there, but it seemed simpler to have a trailerable boat to go wherever we wanted, when we wanted, under our conditions. That’s how we got to the trailerable part of it. It’s more affordable. Less insurance. Less dockage fees. Less maintenance.

It’s very rewarding when an afternoon hike ends up with a view like the one shown here. Covered Portage Cove is three miles west of Killarney in the North Channel (Ontario, Canada), which many boaters consider to be one of North America’s best summer cruising grounds. The cove is surrounded by tall, white quartz cliffs that offer great protection from the elements.

Obviously, with a trailerable boat you sacrifice a little bit on room, but in our case it’s just the two of us, and we find that the advantages of the trailerable part of it — being able to go where you want when you want — far outweigh concerns about downsizing from a bigger boat.

L: We probably wouldn’t live on the trailerable boat full time without a house anymore, but for three or four months at a time, we’re fine with it. We’re outside most of the time anyway. It’s not like we’re on the boat all of the time. We worried about it at first, but it turned out to be a non-issue. We are still out there boating, and we can boat just about like we did before. The boat is easier to handle and quicker to clean. So really it’s a non-issue for us.

We are anchored for the day in Jewfish Basin on Florida Bay en route to Marathon, Fla. This colorful and tranquil setting less than 10 miles north of Key West provides shelter on three sides and offers an unobstructed view out into the Gulf of Mexico. A dinghy ride around the mangroves during our stay delivered countless stingrays — a unique thrill to be able to see them in their natural habitat.

You said you had to give up some things. Can you expand on those?

J: Guests. You can do it, but to have guests on the boat overnight, or for any length of time, is kind of impractical. One of the reasons we’re getting a new Ranger Tugs R-29 is because it has more room and will be good for having our grandchildren on board for extended periods to learn about boating.

L: We had a washer and a dryer on our Fathom 40, but we really don’t miss that. Probably didn’t need it on that boat. It only washed really small loads, and almost every marina has laundry facilities. Really the only thing for me was a couch, something comfortable to sit on. We ended up using our V-berth, putting a bunch of pillows up in the bow to make a comfortable seating area during the day where we could stretch out. Other than that it’s just the dinette with the angular seats, so the pillows solved that problem for us.

J: You have less storage, less ability for comfort, but again, the plusses outweigh all that in the long run, as far as we’re concerned. With a trailerable boat, you can do anything you can on a 40- or 50-foot boat, except for accommodating guests in a spacious manner. You can go to a marina, you can anchor out. Maybe during some of the transits, you have to be a little more diligent about when you go.

Launching and retrieving a boat becomes easier with practice, and we have made it more foolproof by creating a checklist of items to do every time we launch. We research ahead of time to find facilities that provide well-maintained docks and long ramps, like the one shown here on the Willamette River in Portland, Ore.

Tell us a little about life on the road.

L: Jim’s always wanted an RV at some point in our lives, and I’ve always just wanted a boat. So having the trailerable Ranger Tug has satisfied those desires for Jim and me in different ways. When we go out to the PNW, we always stop in Portland, Ore., to see our son and his family, and a couple of times when we were out there — we spent most of the year out there last year cruising — we actually parked the truck, trailer and boat in front of their house in a neighborhood in Portland. We slept on the boat and nobody complained. It makes it really easy for us since they don’t have room in their house for us. When we pull into an RV park, we’re almost always the only boat anyone has seen in the RV park, so we immediately meet people. There’s always curiosity. It’s like a light bulb turns on: “Wow, I can be trailering a boat, uses it as an RV and put it in the water.” I think it has made a lot of RV people think about something they’ve never thought about before.

J: The “boaterhoming” aspect takes less time and less money. Like Lisa said, we get to meet people because they’re curious. So curious that oftentimes if you’re around the boat on the outside, not much time goes by before someone stops by and wants to chat. It gives you an opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t meet otherwise from all kinds of diverse backgrounds. The thing that I enjoy about boating — whether a trailerable or a non-trailerable boat — is when you’re on the water or in an RV park with the boat, it doesn’t matter what your social background is, doesn’t matter where you work, doesn’t matter how much money you have, doesn’t matter where you live, you’re just a boater. It’s kind of an even playing field in my mind.

The Green River is a waterman’s paradise that flows 730 miles from its headwaters in Wyoming to Utah and Colorado. In northeast Utah the Flaming Gorge Dam was built in 1964 and created the Flaming Gorge Reservoir on a 91-mile stretch of the Green River. We launched Kismet 26 miles northwest of the dam to cruise into the cavernous waterway leading to the dam. Here, we navigate around Horseshoe Canyon with 400 feet of tall canyon walls to either side and up to 160 feet of water under our keel.

Did you have the vehicle for it, or did you have to choose a vehicle based on the boat you chose?

J: When we did the research on the boats, we were doing research on trucks — Ford, Chevy, GMC, Dodge — and we decided on a GMC three-quarter-ton, made in the U.S. We had the truck built and went to the factory to see the assembly process, which was an exciting experience for us.

How many builders did you look at when you were choosing your boat?

J: We looked at North Pacific, C Dory, Nordic Tug (their 26, which they’re bringing back out). We looked at an Aspen, a Nomad. There are big differences between all those boats. For us, Ranger Tugs had more creature comforts and were trimmed out to what we were used to. Some of the boats are very utilitarian — not the Aspen, not the Nordic Tug, but we ruled those two out because at the time we didn’t want a 10-foot-wide beam. We didn’t want to deal with the over-the-road restrictions at that particular point in time.

L: They all had features that were good, but they lacked some of the must-haves that were on our list.

J: Ranger Tugs builds in America, and that was a big thing for us.

Are you seeing more boaters going the trailerable route?

J: We think trailerable boating is the wave of the future. As people get to our age, they want flexibility and affordability. I think there will be a lot more trailerable boats sold, whether they’re Ranger Tugs or one of the other brands. It’s going to be a continually growing business. People are going to enjoy] the affordability and the ability to drive across country and stay in a trailer park to sleep in their own bed and prepare meals in their own galley. It costs less than it would to stay in a motel, most of the time. The insurance is less, the fuel is less, the storage is less. When we have the boat at home, we just park it in our driveway. Obviously, when we are planning a trip or in the middle of one, we may have to store the boat, trailer and sometimes the truck someplace — we call it staging. When we were out west last year, we had to store the boat, truck and trailer while we returned home a couple of times, which is no big deal, but you have to plan for that.

As we positioned ourselves to drive through Zion National Park, in southern Utah, we felt lucky to locate an RV campground just outside the park’s entrance. We were surrounded by the Virgin River and a majestic mountain range that took on a powerful golden glow as the sun set. “Boaterhoming,” as we like to call it, gives us the pleasures of both land and water exploration.

How do you address any concerns about having a smaller trailerable cruising boat?

J: Some people we know are doing the Great Loop right now. They were in the panhandle of Florida and had to cross the Gulf of Mexico because there was no more intracoastal waterway. They had to cross from Carabelle to Tarpon Springs, and the weather was bad, and it wasn’t going to change soon. They decided, “Let’s just get the truck and trailer, put the boat on the trailer, haul it down to Tarpon Springs and re-launch it there.” If they hadn’t done that, they would have stayed in Apalachicola for another two or three weeks, because the weather was tremendously bad at the time. So the flexibility of being able to move out of inclement weather is an important benefit with a trailerable boat.

L: Staging is another big thing we’ve learned to do and is very important information for all who consider this type of boating. We’ve tried to plan our trips ahead, so we can find a place to store the boat for a future trip. A question we ask ourselves ahead of time is, “Should we bring it back home or store it somewhere to pick up later when we take off next time?” When we came back from the West Coast last year in October, we knew we wanted to store the boat somewhere in a warmer climate, in preparation for our winter trip to Florida. Boating season was over in Michigan. So from out west, we drove it to Ohio and stored it in a farmer’s out-building and drove the truck home for the holidays. After the holidays we drove back to Ohio to pick up the boat on our way to Florida. That way we avoided driving south from Michigan through snow and ice conditions in January.

We found this perfect small cove to beach anchor in Padre Bay Canyon, located within Lake Powell in Utah. The lake was created when the waters of the Colorado River began to back up upon the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. “If you build it they will come” comes to mind as it relates to the boating and recreation paradise that was generated by the damming of the Colorado River.

What are a few of the highlights of your adventures with this boat that maybe you wouldn’t have experienced in a bigger boat?

J: The Pacific Northwest from the San Juans to the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast, Desolation Sound and the Broughton Islands; we wouldn’t have done that had we not had a trailerable boat. And we liked it so much that we’ve cruised some of those waters four times now, and we’re going back in August for our fifth experience. Lake Powell in Arizona. The Flaming Gorge in Utah. The Columbia River in Portland and Lake Tahoe. Those are all places we wouldn’t have gone had we not had a trailerable boat. We’ve been a lot of other places in our Ranger Tug: the inland river systems, the Keys and the North Channel in Ontario, Canada. On our upcoming bucket list for our new Kismet, a Ranger Tugs R-29, is a return visit to the Abaco Islands next winter when we spend the winter in Florida, and revisiting the Trent Severn Waterway in Ontario. Next year we want to explore some areas new to us, such as Cuba and the Rideau Canal in Ontario. The Rideau Canal goes from Ottawa up to Montreal. It’s a bit east of the actual Great Loop route, not really part of the loop, but a number of Loopers do it.

Is a lot of what we’ve discussed applicable to any trailerable cruising boat?

J: Yes. We do like Ranger Tugs; we think very highly of the company and the boat. It really doesn’t matter what brand as long as it fits your needs to explore, dayboat or fish. Some boats are more expensive than Ranger Tugs and some are less expensive. It’s important to pick a vessel that fits your pocketbook and lifestyle. The most important thing is to get out on the water and boat.

2 thoughts on “Trailerblazing

  1. I am looking at the ranger tug 29 CB and I’m curious as to why you did not choose that larger boat with an additional upper deck piloting capability Also what was the total tonnage that the GMC could tow that made you choose that

  2. Great article. This is something my wife and I have been considering once we retire in a few years. Did you have any problems going from lake to lake out west with invasive species laws? Was it easy to camp in the boat(get in and out) on the trailer? Thanks

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