It’s his home. It’s his passion. Owner-operator Gregg Ruch aboard his 34-foot sailboat in Federal Way, Wash.
When Gregg Ruch is not living in the sleeper of his Freightliner, his home is not only not on wheels, it’s not even on land.
Ruch is a sailor/trucker whose home is a sailboat moored at the Federal Way marina near Tacoma, Wash. His backyard is one of America’s most spectacular sailing playgrounds, the Puget Sound.
Home is a 34-foot Catalina, a single hulled boat with a traditional sloop rig.
“When I was in junior high school my parents got a subscription to Yachting magazine. I really hadn’t any interest in boats before that,” says Ruch, 45, an owner-operator leased to Crete. “I’d take those magazines and spend hours looking at all the photographs, and I started dreaming about sailing around the world.”
Ruch joined the Air Force after attending Oregon State University and moved to Tacoma from his family home in Salem, Ore., for his first permanent duty assignment. “After I moved there I was looking through the classified ads for no particular reason when I saw two whole columns of used sailboats. And it struck me then that they didn’t all cost millions of dollars. I had always thought they did, and it never occurred to me before that day that I would ever be able to afford one.”
It wasn’t long before he bought one. Ruch’s first boat was a 27-foot Catalina he bought in 1985.
“I nearly sank that boat quite a few times,” he recalls. “That first boat was a watershed. I had a lot of time on my hands, and I started looking at them. The economy was depressed back then, so I made a low ball offer. To my surprise the guy took it. But I’d never even been on a sailboat,” says Ruch. “The deal was we’d go out in it, and if I wanted to withdraw the offer I could. I loved it, of course.
“So I bought it and it came with eight hours of sailing lessons, and then they cut me loose. After the lessons I had to sail it from Seattle to Gig Harbor, a day’s sail. So off I go. That day was the best day you could want to sail, clear and cold with a following sea and wind. But more things went wrong on that first day than I think ever went wrong again.”
All of his sailing friends were busy that day, but Ruch couldn’t wait to take his boat out on the water, so he went alone. “I motored for an hour, but then the wind picked up so I raised the biggest sail I had aboard. The wind was at my back, so I could sail easily and set her up pretty much any way I wanted. I was just surfing along,” he says.
“As I got close to Gig Harbor, all of a sudden, I felt this impact and the whole boat shuddered. I had no idea what I’d hit. I was so scared. I was thinking, ‘That’s it, I’ve holed her, I’m going to sink, and I haven’t even got the boat home yet, I haven’t completed my first sail in her.’ Then out from underneath the boat came the biggest tree stump I’ve ever seen. It had to be more than three feet across and five feet from the roots to the top.”
When Ruch calmed down, he kept sailing. When he finally got to inspect the boat, he found to his astonishment virtually no damage at all. But that first day wasn’t over yet. When he got to Gig Harbor he had to come around into the wind so that the boat would stop moving, the sails would relax and he could take them down.
“I did everything I’d been taught in those few lessons and started to come around. But I had not given the sails any slack, so when she came around, instead of blowing loosely, the sails were set tight. It was as if they were aluminum and fixed in place. Halfway through that turn the wind was coming broadside, and it hit the sails and pushed the boat over so she was leaning over at 45 degrees. When that happened, two other things happened. I was convinced she was going to keep going over and capsize and sink, and I lost all rudder control.
“I knew what I had to do; I had to release the mainsail. But I just sat there; I was too scared to do anything. My heart stopped. I knew it took a lot to sink these boats, but if you capsized one, that would do it. She eventually came back upright, but I just sat at the tiller for 45 minutes not moving. I couldn’t get over being that terrified.”
Ruch got the boat to her slip. But he didn’t take her out again for more than three weeks.
Ruch left the U.S. Air Force after 10 years in a uniform, mostly as a navigator for C130 transports, the last four years in Birmingham, Ala. When he went back to Tacoma he started looking for work that would satisfy the uncertainty he felt being back in civilian life.
Today it’s waterfowl, but when he relaxes on deck, Ruch might just as easily be watching seals or otters play in his Puget Sound backyard.
“I’d been in a fairly independent job in the Air Force, with no one looking over my shoulder all the time. But for my last four years in Birmingham half of my time was paperwork, and I hated that. I was grinding my teeth every minute doing that stuff. I thought driving a truck would be for me, and I decided to give it six months to see if it suited me, and it did.”
He began his OTR career in January of 1992 driving for Schneider. His home was at his mom’s, until he moved onto his current boat in April of 1998.
“People either love living on a boat or hate it. For me, it’s the only place; I love it,” he says.
Eight years ago Ruch decided he would buy his own truck and run as an owner-operator. It took him two years of researching owner-operator life to buy the Freightliner FLD with a Detroit 400. Now he hauls “anything” in a dry box for Crete.
“I figured out I would buy a used truck, look after it and pay it off, and then I could take more time off and do more sailing. I went to Crete Carriers, bought a used truck and paid it off in three years. After I paid it off, I went three weeks out, then two weeks off, and I spend Thanksgiving to April 1 off the road living on board my boat. In summer I need to run hard and earn. I’ve driven through snow and ice and had busted chains and so on. I can do it, but I don’t have to.”
Ruch said a full two years of planning and talking endlessly to owner-operators at truckstops went into his move to owner-operator. “It takes time because one owner-operator will tell you something and up at the next truckstop another one will tell you the exact opposite. I’d buy some of them dinner just so I could sit with them and ask every question I could think of. I put a lot of time into studying it. I wanted to work it all out before I bought. I didn’t want to just buy because it sounded like a good idea.”
Then Ruch made his choice. “In those two years the only two companies I never heard a single driver say a bad thing about was Crete and a company that pulled doubles. So I called Crete. I told them I wanted to be an owner-operator and they said, ‘Do you have a truck?’ When I said no, they said they wouldn’t take me on. They didn’t know me, and they didn’t want an owner-operator that was not familiar to them. I liked that. A lot of companies would have said, ‘Sure, come on over.’ I liked their standards. So I was a company driver for six months, then bought my truck.”
Ruch also had a little luck when he moved into the owner-operator ranks.
The former company driver of the Crete truck Ruch bought had gotten into it brand new and beautifully spec’d. He’d treated it extremely well and was planning to buy it when it came up for sale and become a Crete owner-operator. But before the deal could be done the man had to go into the hospital for major medical work, and Ruch stepped in and “bought it out from under him.”
“I didn’t know until later that I’d gotten a great deal because of his misfortune,” says Ruch.
Ruch, who drives the lower 48, has looked after the tractor as well as a tractor can be looked after. “I rarely idle if I can help it. Lifetime, on this tractor, my idle is under 20 percent. It has over a million miles on it, and the engine has never been rebuilt. I took it to the Detroit people last year to see if it needed any work. They took it apart and then just put it back together. It didn’t need anything.”
Ruch said his sailing style is a lot like his driving style. “I’m cautious. I like to have a good margin for error.”
“I have been out in conditions too severe for me and my boat. I don’t intentionally go out into that kind of sea or weather, but they can surprise you. I remember coming back in once in the 27-footer with so much wind and sea I couldn’t use the sails. I had my little outboard pushing us home, and we tossed and pitched so much the propellers kept coming right out of the water and whizzing away wildly.”
Ruch has a sailing dream. One day he plans to sail out of Puget Sound and down into the South Seas.
“Now that would be a ride.”
Judy Royal, of Noble, La., caught this gaspergoo but quickly decided it was way too ugly to consider for dinner.
Rods & Barrels
‘It’s a Goo!’
When Rayford Royal III comes off the road, he relaxes out on Toledo Bend, the massive (185,000 acres) man-made lake on the Louisiana/Texas border. And when he does, his wife Judy usually goes with him, just as she usually rides with the Hornady Truck Line flatbed trucker as he drives across America. This time Rayford had his camera in the boat with him.
“I caught it,” says Judy, “but I didn’t know what it was. It was so ugly, with a big hump, it looked prehistoric. Rayford thought it might be a white bass, but it was way too ugly. We finally figured it was a goo, a gaspergoo, and around here you aren’t country if you don’t eat goo. But I couldn’t even begin to clean it, so I let it go.”
Gaspergoos are actually a freshwater drum with a tasty reputation for sweet white flesh, but Rayford and Judy, of Noble, La., are pretty new at fishing.
“He’s only been doing it about two years,” says Judy, “and he really loves it. When he comes off the road, it relaxes him. He fishes out behind our lake home, and when he comes back in he’s got a lot better attitude. He gets out there and listens to the peace and quiet. And he doesn’t mind if he doesn’t catch anything. We can always go down to the store and buy some.”
The Royals have a deal. The one who catches the most fish on a day’s outing doesn’t have to do the cleaning. Judy admits Rayford has a slight edge when it comes to totals. Mostly they fish for lake fish (largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, striped bass, white bass, bluegill
and redear sunfish) with bait, but casting a lure is rapidly becoming their favorite sport.
“We ran out of bait one day and Rayford said, ‘Let’s try this bass fishing with a lure.’ We mostly caught catfish to start with, but we’re getting better.”
Rayford Royal III was a trucker for 10 years before leaving the road for life in the oil business, but he’s been back hauling OTR for a year now, and, says Judy, he fishes whenever he’s home. “And he’s usually home on time because we live in a part of the country that’s got a great location; he can always get a load back to this part of America.”
The Florida Keys
The cold is coming back, so maybe it’s time to think about how you might cheat winter. Getting a load to Florida sounds good. And if you can get there, consider a bobtail trip to one of the great winter playgrounds for outdoors sports fans in America, the 120-mile-long chain of islands south of Miami.
There are more than 220 species of game fish in the waters of the Florida Keys, where legendary authors Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey fished, landing everything from giant tarpon to breathtaking sailfish and the ghostly bonefish that haunts the shallower water. Offshore or close to land, Florida Keys fishing is about as good as it gets. Marlin, dolphin (no, not the friendly ones but a fish you may also call Mahi Mahi), tuna, wahoo, snapper, grouper or permit are also just waiting for you. Fly fishing is popular, but light spinning tackle and even spear fishing also deliver thrills in these waters.
America’s only living-coral barrier reef runs the length of the Keys about five miles offshore, protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is teeming with brilliantly colored fish of all shapes and sizes, a spectacular visit for snorklers and deep water divers alike. It can also provide you with some wonderfully impressive wildlife – and shipwreck – pictures if you go armed with an underwater camera.
If you enjoy America’s birds and other natural inhabitants, the Florida Keys will offer you the chance to glimpse some you won’t easily find anywhere else. Green herons and roseate spoonbills inhabit mangrove forests, along with the extremely elusive mangrove cuckoo; loggerhead turtles swim in inshore waters; Key Deer no larger than a Great Dane roam Big Pine Key; and if you see a white-crowned pigeon consider yourself very fortunate because they aren’t found anywhere else in the country. There is also the chance to swim with dolphins, a pastime available at three separate Keys locations.
You can also visit some of America’s history here. In Key West there’s Fort Zachary Taylor, a Union outpost during the Civil War with the largest collection of cannons from that war. Or go to Fort Jefferson, a seaplane or boat ride about 70 miles from Key West, the largest of America’s 19th century coastal forts, built in the 1840s with more than 16 million bricks. It served as a prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who set the broken leg of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. A yellow fever outbreak in 1867 killed the prison doctor, and Mudd took over. President Andrew Johnson pardoned Mudd in 1869.