NAPLES — Chip Harris and Michele Peppe have brought new meaning to the words “waterfront specialists.”
The Naples Realtors are circumnavigating the eastern U.S. in their boat, while continuing to sell waterfront and other high-end homes in Naples on board using cell phones and a laptop computer with an air card.
They’ve got a printer, scanner and fax machine on board, too.
Their journey began from their home in Naples in May 2007. They expect it to end in the first week of January, when they are scheduled to complete their “loop.” They broke their trip into four legs. They are on their last one.
“Obviously as real estate agents we have to be home come January,” said Peppe, 54. “That is our big season.”
Though they’ve been away from the office for about 12 weeks a year since they began their adventure, they’ve led their Coldwell Banker office in Naples as the top-selling agents for the past three years. They’ve been a team in real estate for more than a decade.
They call their journey “Discovering Ithaka.”
Ithaka is the name of their boat. It comes from a poem by the same name by C.P. Cavafy written in 1991. It describes the importance of the journey, not the destiny.
“I grew up in the Great Lakes and I always wanted to take off on a boating adventure,” said Harris, 63, who is captaining the boat. “I always wanted to be on the high seas.”
The couple spent Christmas on the “high seas.”
Their boat -- a 40-foot trawler -- is all decked out for the holidays with lights and a Christmas tree. For Michele, it was her first time away from home on Christmas.
When they finish their trip they will have traveled about 6,500 miles.
“There are probably less than 100 boaters a year that actually complete the Great Circle Loop. So it’s a rare accomplishment,” Peppe said.
Even more rare is the fact that she and her husband are working while they’re doing the trip. Most boaters do the loop all in the same year, starting in their home port and following the seasons, she explained.
Their fourth and final leg began on Dec. 4 in Columbus, Miss., where they had last left their boat. They had about 900 miles to go.
“Today begins the last leg of the journey: Discovering Ithaka,” Peppe wrote in her blog as they prepared to take off again. “We arrived last night and found all things on board to be just as we left them, save a few dust bunnies on the inside and clusters of hyacinth floating around the boat on the outside due to a month of sitting still. We shove off shortly, leaving Columbus Marina, which could not have been more accommodating and friendly ... ”
They were headed to Pickensville, Ala., with temperatures at the time in the 30s.
“Brrrrrrr!” Peppe wrote.
On Dec. 7, there was ice on the Ithaka as they made their way toward Mobile, Ala.
“There might be ‘ice on Ithaka,’ but at least we know we are heading in the right direction ... Take me home Captain ... this Florida baby needs some warm sunshine!,” Peppe wrote in her blog.
They spent Christmas in Apalachicola, waiting for the weather to improve for travel across the Gulf.
The couple has been married for three years. But they’ve been together since 1997.
They’ve used their boat trip to discover sites across the Southeast. They’ve made many stops along the way.
Michele’s mother, Fern, an octogenarian, has joined them on the boat twice, traveling with them from Tom’s River township in New Jersey up to New York City in 2007 and from Huntsville, Ala., to Columbus, Miss., in the fall.
Fern Peppe describes her son-in-law as a careful captain and her daughter as the “best mate.”
“She is right there in with him on the boat. She pulls the boat in and ties it up. I mean they are the best pair I ever saw,” she said.
One of Fern’s most memorable sites on the trip was the Old Aberdeen Cemetery in Aberdeen, Miss., dedicated to confederate soldiers.
“It’s the most beautiful place,” she said.
Also, her daughter found a missionary Catholic church, St. Francis of Assisi, in Mississippi that she enjoyed visiting.
“My daughter is some traveler,” she said. “She finds everything.”
In 2007, the couple arranged their trip so they could attend a wedding for the son of one of Michele’s best friends in New York. His wedding was on 7/7/07.
Denise Sabo, the mother of the groom who has known Michele since 1981, follows the Ithaka blog regularly.
“It’s a chance of a lifetime trip,” she said. “Not everybody gets that opportunity.”
Sabo and Peppe once worked together as waitresses. They both have five kids, including their stepchildren.
Sabo wasn’t surprised when she first learned about her best friend’s journey.
“With Michele you never know,” Sabo said. “She’s up for anything.”
On the boat, there are modern conveniences, including a microwave, an oven and a refrigerator.
“We barbecue on board,” Peppe said. “Our boat is very comfortable.”
They have a TV, stereo and can even watch movies.
“We could go for two weeks and not stop anywhere if we wanted to,” Peppe said. “We don’t always stop in marinas. We like to anchor a lot. It’s fun to anchor in a cove.”
When they are away, they get a hand from the others on their real estate team, including their two daughters -- Krista and Meagan Harris.
“They are our legs and our eyes,” Chip Harris said. “They go to listing appointments on our behalf.
The Harris-Peppe Team has consistently been recognized as one of the top 100 agents in Florida among thousands of agents in the Coldwell Banker network. That’s based on income.
Some customers aren’t even aware that the couple is working from their boat.
Peppe has a few favorite experiences on the loop including traveling up the Georgian Bay in Canada, where she enjoyed the scenery and wildlife.
Lake Michigan, she said, was “unbelievable.”
“You can’t even imagine how amazing this country is,” Peppe said.
Probably her most memorable experience was being in New York Harbor on the Fourth of July and anchoring at the Statue of Liberty.
“There were three different fireworks displays,” she said. “You could see the New York City skyline.”
They’ve had no major mechanical problems or mishaps along the way. They haven’t been lost or gotten off track, thanks to the help of sophisticated navigating instruments.
They carry their bicycles on board. They’ll often ride them to grocery stores, museums or other attractions, or just walk wherever they want to go on land.
They’ve made many new friends along the way, meeting up with others who have the same goal of completing the loop.
On average, they are traveling only about 6 mph in their boat.
“It’s not like going down a freeway,” Peppe said. “We are on the rivers and bays and channels and Intercoastals and coves.”
“You talk about slowing down and really appreciating everything around you this trip has done this for us,” Peppe said.
The trip will have taken them about 38 weeks in all. Peppe gets choked up when she thinks about it coming to an end.
“Obviously there are more adventures on the horizon for us,” she said, fighting tears. “We’ll do something different.”