Phillip and Virginia Moyers are perhaps the only Houston couple who can measure their romance in nautical miles.
The couple met online in 2003, and it’s been an adventure ever since. Phillip was living on a boat at Blue Dolphin Marina in Seabrook, as he had for the past 15 years. Virginia had put the pieces of her life back together in her Bellaire home after the death in 1998 of Lee, her husband of 42 years, and of her mother in 2003.
Improbable as it seemed at the time, the two are now married, dividing their time between their Bellaire home and their 41-foot trawler named “Harmony.” For the past three years, they have been steadily making their way around America’s Great Loop, a combination of waterways encircling the eastern half of the United States.
The way it all came about is the stuff of a romantic comedy; the two tell the story in tandem, interrupting each other with good-natured jibes and chuckles. After five years of marriage, they’ve sailed some rough waters, but they still light up when they look at each other.
“After my first husband died, I never planned to remarry,” Virginia said. “I didn’t think I could ever love anyone else.”
She focused on the family; her three daughters and their families all live nearby, and they all leaned on each other during the difficult years. Eventually, a friend suggested she try her hand at online dating.
“Yeah, right – I’m going to race right out and do that,” was her sardonic response.
But one rainy Sunday afternoon, everyone was gone and the thought crossed her mind to sit down and check it out. She filled out a profile and later shared it with one of her daughters.
“Mother, this is so dull!” said Lauri.
“Yeah, well, that’s me,” she laughed.
“You have to have a tagline – how about, ‘If you like piña coladas?’”
Ultimately, that was the line that caught Phillip’s attention. “I love piña coladas,” he says.
He clicked for the drink, but he stayed for the view. The photo of Virginia, he says, was “simply gorgeous.”
“I was taking a look at her, and I saw she was wearing sunglasses and it looked like a very romantic background – it had to be Italy. Wow, she can’t be all bad. She must like to travel,” he said.
The two of them began to correspond and one thing led to another.
“She was stunningly beautiful, with beautiful eyes and a great smile. She takes great pictures, and her eyes sparkle.”
Certainly they sparkle as she laughs and gives him an affectionate glance. Truthfully, it’s hard to believe either one of them is 73. Virginia’s golden-blonde hair, brown eyes and wide smile contrasts well with Phillip’s ruddy sailor’s complexion and mischievous, little-boy grin.
Virginia had traveled a lot as well, but she’d never experienced the edge that Phillip seemed to incorporate into his life. She was intrigued. Besides being a boater, Phillip was a long-distance biker, having ridden 9,000 miles to Nova Scotia and back. She’d never even been on a motorcycle, “but I was up for the challenge of trying it.”
After a few weeks, Phillip asked Virginia for a date. They were planning to meet for dinner and drinks when a tropical storm rolled in, and Phillip was called to boat duty. The next day he was scheduled for a boat delivery trip that had him on the water for 21 days; every day, the two talked by phone.
Finally he was home, and it was time for the first date: dinner at a romantic restaurant, to be followed by a movie. Virginia took a chance and gave Phillip her home address. He brought a bottle of wine.
“I was amazed to find someone as interesting as he was,” says Virginia. “We talked for three hours straight before we realized what time it was.” Phil was likewise excited to find Virginia had several interesting international travel experiences and was open to new ways of traveling.
Dinner cinched the deal. “I was just totally blown away,” says Phillip. “When I took her home I said, that’s some lady.”
Less than a year later, they were married. For Phillip, it took some adjusting; Virginia was adventurous, but there was no way she was going to live on a boat. They lived together at the house in Bellaire, and Phillip learned to fall asleep without the rocking of the waves.
He missed the water, however. In 2007, the pair hit on a compromise. They would spend part of the year boating their way through the Great Loop, and the other part in Houston. Virginia, who was worried about leaving her family for so long, would fly back to Houston periodically from wherever they were. Phillip ended up coming along.
They found a house sitter, held a bon voyage blast and set off on Jan. 28. They enjoyed Cajun hospitality from total strangers in Houma, La., spent an entire day unexpectedly in the Mississippi at New Orleans, dined on cheeseburgers near Horn Island, Miss.; waited out squalls in Apalachicola, Fla., played with the dolphins near Clearwater and found their way through the fog on Lake Okeechobee before making their way to the Atlantic.
• Choose a boat that is as small as you can live on comfortably and as big as you can afford.
• Read. Start with Honey, Let’s Get a Boat by Ron and Eva Strob, described on their website, www.greatloop.com, and The Great Circle Route by the late Skipper Bob.
• See www.greatloop.org, designed for boaters planning or currently traveling the Great Loop.
• Make arrangements for the care of your home, pets and bills.
• For more information on the Moyers’ odyssey, see www.bellaireboaters.com.
Virginia sometimes misses the comforts of her spacious Bellaire home, but the tradeoff is the closer community that comes from boaters spending lots of time on their boats, not in them, they say, creating greater neighbor-to-neighbor connections.
The boat has two staterooms (ship-talk for bedrooms); a salon, or living room; two heads, or bathrooms; a galley, or kitchen; a dinette for four; and a large enclosed back deck. The large enclosed flybridge is where they steer and navigate the boat when underway. With four levels, they have plenty of room for private time, they say.
Fernandino Beach, Jekyll Island, Savannah, Georgia, and Beaufort, S.C., captivated them with their southern charm. They sailed right up the Potomac with nary a security check – in contrast, Phillip recalled with amazement all the security requirements to be met when they sailed up Buffalo Bayou to downtown Houston.
By June they were cruising into Chesapeake, Cape May and Atlantic City. They celebrated their anniversary in Portsmouth and their Fourth of July on the Hudson River.
In all, the eight-month itinerary encompassed 5,500 miles by boat and side trips by car to Thousand Islands, the Finger Lakes wine region and Niagara Falls. There were a total of 27 locks (23 on the Erie Canal) that presented special challenges to reach their first-season stopping point at Brewerton, NY. It was September, and they were finally ready to head home for a while, so they put Harmony in a climate-controlled storage facility and flew to Houston.
It wasn’t until the following June that they headed back to Brewerton to pick up where they left off. In 2008 they traveled for three and a half months, making the total miles traveled 7,700 miles. They cruised their way through the Canadian province of Ontario, which included the Trent-Severn Waterway (44 locks), the Georgian Bay, and the North Channel before traveling back to the United States and down to Whitehall, Mich. This also included boating on three of the five Great Lakes.
Now they’re planning their last stretch, which will bring them through downtown Chicago, past the St. Louis arch, the Kentucky lakes, and down the Tenn-Tom river system to Fulton, Miss. It’s been a great ride, but at that point, they’ll be ready to hang up their cleats for a while and try a different type of travel.
What’s next for the Moyers?
Motor scootering on his Suzuki Burgman 650, says Phillip, who still longs for the open road but doesn’t want to negotiate an 850-pound Honda Goldwing anymore.
“Oh, really? We’ll have to talk about that – that’s the first I’ve heard of this,” Virginia said. “I was thinking of Europe again.”
The two of them burst into laughter. Wherever they go, it seems, it will be together – and it will be an adventure.
Editor’s Note: Tracy L. Barnett is a freelance writer based in Houston. She is making a yearlong journey through Latin America. To follow her travels, go to www.tracybarnettonline.com.