After 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, Jodie Knox is kicking off her retirement in a big way. Having just completed a successful Delmarva circumnavigation aboard her 2005 Mainship 400T trawler, Knox has aspirations to complete the Great Loop next.
She speaks to us from Solomons, MD, where her mechanic is fixing a “minor hole” in the bow thruster.
“I wasn’t prepared for how many things were going to break,” she says. She has received a second education in boat maintenance through YouTube, Google, and every owner’s manual on the boat. “Every time I fix something, I do a touchdown dance.”
Knox knows her strengths lie in boathandling, due to her many years in the Coast Guard. This helped her significantly with her Delmarva circumnavigation, but only to a point.
“I received a foundation from the Coast Guard,” she says. “But the rest of it is just me having the courage to go out and do this.”
Knox may chalk it up to courage, but her life story is full of significant boating memories and experiences. Growing up in an Army family, Knox’s childhood began in Minnesota where she learned to sail and boat on inland lakes, fishing during the summertime and also when the lakes were covered in ice. Later, Robert Knox’s career took the family to Hawaii, where he bought a sailboat and started sailing with his daughter regularly.
“My dad had a 32-foot Columbia. We’d go offshore and have insane things happen. Once a whale hit our keel. Another time, we were dismasted miles off the coast of Pearl Harbor. But these weren’t tragedies for us. They were adventures.”
For the dismasting adventure, the Coast Guard was called. When they reached the Knoxes, a 16-year-old Jodie was in awe.
“I was totally enthralled,” she says. “I saw those guys looking down at me and thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’”
She enlisted at age 19 and became a boatswain’s mate, working in search-and-rescue, law enforcement, and environmental response. During the second half of her career, she became an officer and worked in Command Center coordinating large-scale incident responses, vessel recovery, and much more.
As her time in the Coast Guard drew to an end, she knew she wanted to find a trawler to go long-distance cruising on. A friend in Solomons knew of the perfect boat: a couple had purchased a trawler in 2005 intending to cruise the Great Loop. When life’s circumstances got in the way of the dream, they needed to find someone with a similar dream to take on the boat. They made Knox an offer she couldn’t refuse, on one condition: they asked Knox to catalog her cruising adventures online so that they could live through her ‘vicariously.’ She ended up changing the name of the boat to reflect their faith in her dream: the M/V Vicarious.
Knox’s Great Loop adventure on Vicarious is set to start in June 2024. Traveling with her father, she’ll tackle 6,000 miles of waterways around the eastern United States and Canada. The path will take them through the Chesapeake Bay, the Intracoastal Waterway, the Eastern Seaboard, New York Canals, and into the Great Lakes. A full circumnavigation can take more than a year to complete.
Knox is using this as an opportunity to spend more time with her father, both boating and planning. “That’s one of the best things about this,” she says. “At dinner, we’ll both have our phones out, nerding out with Navionics, all the while smoking cigars and having a Miller Light. No matter what, I’ll never regret spending this time with my dad.”
When they’re underway, Knox and her father share helm time. But when things go wrong and break, she’s the one crawling into tight spaces.
“I’m the small person, so I have to get in there with a screwdriver,” she says. “In the moment, you can be in that hot, angry space where you’re thinking that you never want to be on your own boat. Just enjoy other peoples’ boats. But then you fix it, you crack a cold, tasty beer, and you get going again. You feel like you can do anything.”
The Delmarva circumnavigation was set as a trial run. Knox has owned the boat for less than a year, and getting her on the move allowed Knox and her father to get a feel for how she’d do. “We had a few white-knuckle moments,” she says. “We were up and down, head on in the seas in the Bay. I was thinking to myself, ‘This is my home!’ And I’d look down to see what had fallen where. But she handled it like a champ! And that built my confidence a lot.”
Knox had the opportunity to bring her stepmother, Susan Rogers, along with her for part of the ride. She was a complete cruising newbie, but quickly fell in love with the lifestyle and adventure of exploring the Chesapeake.
“Cape Charles was new to me, and became one of our favorites,” Knox says. “And Cape May, because I was there for bootcamp 20 years ago. A friend was able to give us a tour, and we got to see recruits running around, getting yelled at. It was a full-circle moment for me.”
Jodie’s Solomons repairs are finished, and she’s heading back to her home port in Washington, DC for a full completion of her first circumnavigation. The gear has been stowed, the tools are put away for now. And Knox is feeling great. Her dream is becoming a reality, and she’s excited.