In Conversation with Ruthie Seese & Ellie Titus

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Ruthie Seese and Ellie Titus are birds of a feather in more ways than one.

They’re both top real estate agents, and as lifelong boat people, they’re both acquainted with the trials and triumphs of life on the water.  While their tastes in transportation may differ — Ruthie sails competitively, while Ellie prefers a leisurely jaunt in a powerboat — they had plenty to share with Savannah magazine during a recent dockside chat.

Ruthie Seese and High Visibility crewmates Gebel Seese, Dave Brown, Darrell Tutchton, Michael Doyle and Debra Seese at the 2019 Hook Race.

Ruthie Seese: I grew up in Rhode Island and started sailing when I was six. My dad got me a boat when I was about eight. Whenever my parents used my boat — it was a 12-and-half foot wooden Beetle Cat — I was so embarrassed because they wouldn’t have the sails trimmed right, and I was worried people might think it was me. 

 Ellie Titus: I had to learn to row before I got a motor. Then I got a bateau, a nine-and-a-half horsepower, and I just had to be home by dark.

 RS: When I turned 18, I was the first woman to obtain a Coast Guard License to drive the water taxis at local yacht clubs in Newport, and later I worked on yachts and sailed quite extensively. I wound up based in Newport Beach, California. We took a yacht to Norway for the summer via Iceland, and on the way back we got in an accident, because — well, that’s a long story. We came to Savannah to have the dent taken out of the boat because it was built by Palmer Johnson in Wisconsin, and they had just opened up a refit and repair yard in Thunderbolt. So we came from England to get the dent fixed and ended up staying here for about six months or so getting all kinds of stuff done. Then I met my now-husband. So I sailed the boat back to Newport Beach, California, said adieu and hopped in my Volkswagen and drove to Savannah.

Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

ET: I was just telling Ruthie it’s kismet we’re doing this interview because I had a perfect experience on a boat today. I was driving into town to meet a guy in from Atlanta, who wanted to see all kinds of waterfront properties in Savannah, and I thought, hell, why am I gonna drive him around in a car? So I said, change of plans, meet me here, and we hopped on the Whaler, and I showed him the whole area by boat. And I haven’t been home since. Anyone can take their client around in a car. 

RS: My mother was in real estate in Rhode Island, and she always wanted me to get into it. But this was before cell phones and lockboxes, and all these things, and she never sat down and had dinner with us. She was always on the phone, and she was always working. So I said, no way in heck I’m gonna do that. After the shipyard I worked at was sold, I ran into the agent who helped me buy our house a few years earlier, and she asked what I was up to. I told her I’d lost my job and she said, that’s fantastic — you’re gonna go get your real estate license, and I’m gonna retire and give you all my business. And that’s what she did. And now I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s a lifestyle. 

 ET: We work seven days a week. No doubt about it. We work 12, 14 hours a day sometimes, but we may have two or three hours off during the middle of the day, and if I wanna come down here and goof off on the boat on a Tuesday morning, and I don’t have anything going on, I will.

RS: Everything’s work — every party, every event — but it’s fun. I’m all about the deal. 

ET: I had some clients in town, and they wanted to live on the water. It was the Fourth of July, and I took them over to Hilton Head. We were anchored and waiting for the fireworks display to go off, and I was talking to a friend of mine, the assistant harbormaster, on my cell phone. The Coast Guard came over the radio and said, “Captain, you’re anchored too close to the barge,” and the voice on my cell phone said, “Stand by, captain, I’ll have the barge moved.” And my clients on the boat said, “Who are you?” and they ended up buying a house from me that wasn’t even on the market in Savannah. That’s what boating does. You’ve got to show ’em how to live, and show ’em how to play. 

RS: Where I grew up, everything was built up. Except for a couple of islands in Narragansett Bay, everything was developed. And here it’s just so wild. Two weeks ago we were out for a regatta, and the skates were jumping out of the water. I’ve never seen so many skates. 

RS: We have High Visibility, a J/105 — a 35-foot racing sailboat. And even when we’re not racing, every time you go out sailing you’re really racing against everybody else out sailing. That’s the boat we can put the big crew on, and the big spinnaker. In the summertime, when it’s hot, my husband and I get the little boat out — the FOOster, a little red Harbor 20. We go out, just the two of us, to the ocean and back, and we have a blast with that. I used to sail across the ocean and stuff, so this is far more relaxing than that. 

Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

ET: I’ve had Cattywampus, my 26-foot sports trawler, for 17 years, and we’ve gone to the Keys a couple of times and the Bahamas a couple of times. Now she’s retired, and so have I on long-haul adventures  — so we’re just staying local. The beauty of the Georgia coast is that it’s only 100 miles, and we only have three islands that have been developed — the rest are protected, either by the state or the federal government. We like to go behind one of those islands and anchor out for the weekend and drop the dinghy and go to a beach and explore. 

RS: Years ago, Ellie and I would go anchor in Romerly Creek, and we’d have all these people who would raft up with us. You could just float in that water all day long and drink your cocktails and socialize and have a great time. It’s just right around the corner, and nobody ever goes there.

ET: You can get to absolutely nowhere very quickly from here, which is nice. 

RS: The younger generation, they hop in their center console boats and race out to the beach — Wassaw, Williamson, wherever — and they’re with everybody else there and they race back in. I’m kinda old school. I wanna be with my friends, but I don’t wanna hear anybody else’s country music playing 

ET: We’ll go up a creek before we go to a beach. People are our business. We don’t necessarily want to see them on the water. But in general, boat people look out for each other. You don’t necessarily pull off the road if you see a car disabled because you’re rushing to get somewhere, but if we see somebody who needs help out in a boat, we go help them. 

RS: I do a lot of relocation work, people coming in to work for Gulfstream or one of the other big companies, and I always ask, what do you like to do? There are so many options in Savannah and never a dull moment. 

ET: Those of us in real estate who made it through the last recession know who we are and respect each other and enjoy working together. It is so pleasant to sell the Savannah lifestyle, especially to someone coming down from a big city, and especially from a big city in New England. I tell them, you can boat 12 months a year here. It gets a little chilly, and it gets kinda hot, but you can boat all year long.

RS: My husband’s the one who fixes all the boats. He loves it. He’s a longshoreman. Boat maintenance is endless, and he teases and calls me the secretary of the navy. But he’s the one who takes care of them all. When we’re out with High Vis, we’ve got a great crew. It’s the best time.

ET: My partner and I used to be much more social, but over the years we’ve pared down. It’s just us and our families — we’re four generations. We don’t have time. And probably our idea of antisocial is still very social for a lot of people. Heck, it used to be when you got on an airplane to leave Savannah, you knew everybody on the airplane, and that doesn’t happen anymore. And the water is constantly changing too.

Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

RS: On Saturday we did the blessing of the fleet and went down Bull River and out into the sound. A beach that was totally gone last year is back, but the creek that goes up behind it, that’s gone now, and I guess there’s this new washout where all the cool people go. We’re not cool. 

ET: The title of this article should be: we’re not cool. No, but you have to pay attention all the time. It doesn’t remain the same. And I like that.

RS: Any day that we don’t get a thunderstorm is a good day. I don’t like it when the thunder boomers come in especially when we’re in the little boat, because she doesn’t have an engine. If you get caught in a squall, it gets …

ET: Sporty.

RS: It gets very sporty. It’ll go from ten knots to thirty knots, and you’re holding on, making sure you don’t get pushed sideways into a sandbar. When I used to sail across the ocean you could see them up ahead, so you knew.

ET: My favorite day is waking up on the water, on the boat, spending the whole day there, seeing the stars at night, then going to bed on the water too. And I’ve sold a lot of real estate boating. 

RS: Last Monday I was out in the ocean, out past R2W, which is the sea buoy at Wassaw Sound, and I realized an agent hadn’t responded to a counteroffer I sent the night before, so I called her up on the phone. I was able to work while I was out there. I’m always “on” a little bit. 

 ET: Me too.

RS: I live in Thunderbolt overlooking the Wilmington River with Bonaventure  in the distance, and Ellie’s on Turner’s Rock overlooking Bradley Creek and the Wilmington River. Would we ever live somewhere that wasn’t on the water? Nope, I don’t see that happening. 

 ET: Not if I can help it.