Herb Seaton, 76, spent much of 2017 traveling nearly 7,000 miles up the East Coast, through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi and on to Florida, a voyage that the East Tennessee State University ROTC alumnus dreamed of decades ago.
After serving five years in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany from 1965 to 1970, he began working in the automobile industry and traveling in Europe. It was on a trip to Greece that Seaton first found his passion for the ocean and boating.
“While working with Volvo, dealers were rewarded with an all-expenses paid trip to Greece. While there, I made up my mind to someday own a boat and sail the Greek islands. Later, after reading about how treacherous the winds in these islands were, I decided this was never going to happen, but I still had the dream of boat ownership in the future and I never lost that,” Seaton said.
When he returned to the United States, he moved to Florida, where he bought his first boat and began learning more about what it takes to live a life on the sea.
“When I returned to the U.S. 33 years later from Germany in 2000, I decided to reside in Florida for the water and weather. That’s when I began looking for the boat of my dreams. My first purchase was a 30-foot Sea Ray Sundancer. It had twin engines and was a real ‘project boat,’ meaning lots of work required. I reconditioned it, used it, then got rid of it. I decided I needed another challenge — a 27-foot Sea Ray was next. It had a bad engine and required more work that took me five years,” he said.
But Seaton wanted a boat big enough to take him along the eastern seaboard and beyond.
“All this time I wanted a boat big enough to live on. I looked for five more years hunting a 36- to 45-foot boat, but found some that were too big, too little, too rough, too everything except what I wanted. By then, time was running out. I was 73 years old and figured I’d never find what I considered acceptable,” he said. “Finally in 2005, while looking at a 48-foot Jefferson in Key Biscayne Bay by Miami and turning it down flat, the broker said, ‘I just picked up a listing yesterday in Coral Gables for a 53-foot motor vessel. Want to look?’
“Thank goodness I said yes because finally, there she was. I took her home to Tarpon Springs, Florida three weeks later.”
Once Seaton found a suitable boat, he became increasingly curious about traveling the Great Loop, a voyage that goes from the eastern seaboard through the Great Lakes and rivers of the Midwest, depending on which route is taken. As his curiosity blossomed, he started learning more from other boaters from America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association, who taught him boating 101.
“I became interested and it piqued my interest as the perfect replacement for those Greek islands I had dreamed about,” he said. “My research into this ‘loopers’ group said they were formed to assist people who wanted to do the loop.
“After a year of hosting people (boaters from the association) in my home port of Tarpon Springs, I decided that if they could do it, I could too, so I prepared to depart in April of 2016. The gods of the seas were not helping me because about two weeks before my planned departure, a pinhole appeared in one of my 330-gallon diesel tanks. Seventy-five days later and too many hours to calculate, the tanks were replaced and I was ready to go, but by then, it was too late for a 2016 departure. One needs to be off of Lake Michigan and through Chicago by the first of September to be safe, and it would be too close for me.”
But 2017 was a new year for Seaton. He was finally ready to take on the long voyage up the East Coast and through the Great Lakes down the Mississippi River.
“By the time 2017 rolled around, I was really ready to depart — so ready that I actually left a little early on March 27,” he said. “The weather the first two months was terrible, except for the part leaving Florida. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia was cold, wet and miserable, but yeah, I was on my way and doing the loop!”
When Seaton returned home last week, he was already thinking about getting back out on the water. In 2018, he hopes to take the long voyage once again. Though he still has obligations that tie him to Johnson City — he owns commercial property on the north side — his true passion is boating and traveling, which he said he plans to spend much of the rest of his life doing on his Phantom.
“My plans at this stage are to do normal maintenance on the boat, add a few upgrades and leave around April 1 for the Bahamas to spend about two weeks there,” he said. “Then I’ll head up the East Coast on my second loop. Next year will include Cuba if the conditions do not change.”