The day had finally come!
At 8:15 Monday morning, November 14, 2016, Tango Papa’s Tom and Paula and Satisfied Frog’s Berrlin and Debra (with beautiful flowers in hand) climbed onboard Life’s TraVails and we pulled out of Fairhope, the last small town before finishing our Great Loop. Glorious Dei and Jaycie Lynn followed behind.
Several times during the Loop, Paula admits to having a “pity party” about our finish. “Other boaters have friends who come to celebrate their wake crossing with them. All our friends are in Phoenix, over a thousand miles away. Nobody’s going to be with us. We’re going to finish and no one will even know. (Poor me.) ”
But God, in His loving-kindness blessed us more than we could ever imagine! It was a clear day, we had friends with whom to celebrate and we were finishing! 2 dolphins, which Debra had never seen before, even joined alongside as we descended the bay in celebration. (Paula said it would not have been complete without a dolphin escort!)
Enroute, Tom H. asked if there was something traditional that happened at wake-crossings. No one knew of anything. He came up with the idea Loopers should jump in the water upon crossing their wake. We thought it was a stupendous idea!
At 10:42, we arrived at green buoy 147 on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), which we passed on November 15, 2014, the first day of our Great Loop adventure! Jaycie Lynn, with beef, cheese, and crackers pulled up to our port and rafted to us (a first for Scott) and Glorious Dei rafted to our starboard and we floated in the ICW. Everyone came aboard and we toasted the event with sparkling cider, followed by the changing of the AGLCA flag from white to gold. We were now “Gold Loopers!”
We changed into our bathing suits and decided we should jump in from the dinghy deck. So up we went, the cameras came out and on the count of 3, we did tandem back flips into the salty water! Though a little cold, it was fantastic!
Thad and Cindy offered a prayer of thanksgiving for our safe, successful finish and continued safety for everyone’s further travel, and soon, all lines were loosed and the 3 boats free and headed in different directions – Glorious Dei and Jaycie Lynn toward Florida and us back to Eastern Shore Marina. During the return, we had hoagie sandwiches followed by Paula’s favorite, Key Lime Pie.
Pulling back into the marina, Tosca’s Rowland and Alex were waiting with cameras ready and we also met Trawler Life’s Mike and Cathy Rogers, who we had only previously met electronically (by following their blog).
After cleaning up, we rode with the Hanaways to pick up a rental car and then drove to Felix’s Fish Camp (recommended by the Enterprise agent) for our own private celebration dinner. What a great choice! When we sat down, we were asked if we were there for a celebration. (We were!) We had an excellent view of the USS Alabama in Mobile Bay, our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable and the food was some of the best of our whole trip! A perfect quiet evening for two.
Back at the boat, we finished the day by watching Captain Ron, a comedy about a family who inherited an old boat, loaned to us by Glorious Dei. We went to bed with grins still on our faces from a glorious day.
We completed the Loop in exactly 2 years to the very day (although we were really only boating 287 days), traversing 16 states, 1 foreign country, and more than 100 locks.
Here’s a summary of our time on Life’s TraVails so far:
01/27/14 – Bought boat in Gulfport, MS
11/15/14 – 08/03/15 (Gulfport, MS to Stuart, FL): 77 days moving/sightseeing
08/13/15 – 02/05/15 (Stuart): 62 days for new flybridge, anchor pulpit, varnishing
02/06/15 – 11/14/16 (Stuart, FL through Canada to crossing our wake in Mobile, AL): 207 days
This was an amazing adventure and we want to share a few reflections on our trip. But before we do, let us answer the question many have already asked. “What’s next?” Well, we are going around again! Our first section will be the west coast of Florida down to the Keys (which we didn’t have time to do last time), then back up the east coast after that. We’d like to spend some time in the Chesapeake next spring.
Paula’s Loop reflections:
When we bought the boat, our agreement was to do the Great Loop and then sell the boat. Having never lived on a boat, I didn’t know if I would really enjoy the lifestyle. I knew I would miss friends from home, and thought it would be cramped. Before long, I found it very much “home.” It was comfortable, cozy, and outfitted to our liking with the necessary items. But for me, the trip was always about the travel and sightseeing. Boating was fun, but it was just the vehicle to “get there” and carry our motel. Partway through the trip, I remarked to Tom I thought I could be a “professional traveler” as I was enjoying it so much.
At first (because I was still working), we only got 7-10 days on the boat a month. But after retiring, we were on the boat full-time except for occasional trips of 2-4 weeks home in Phoenix for scheduled events. Though I liked being home, I always found myself missing the boating lifestyle and ready to be back. While boating, one can escape from constant news assault. (We rarely had TV reception.) While I didn’t want to be ignorant of what was happening in the world, I found it much more peaceful not keeping up with everything, which also was a draw to return to my new “boat home.”
The learning curve was sharp as we learned to drive and dock the boat, and I remember initially feeling there weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done (planning the route, checking weather and tides, boat maintenance, planning and doing sightseeing, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, etc.) and being totally exhausted each night. I felt like I was just hanging on for bare life to the “ride.”
I also remember 2 specific nights going to bed thinking, “I can’t do this.” Both times, something had scared me that day, and I just felt we didn’t have the skills necessary to stay safe. But each time, we learned from our mistakes, just took one more moment at a time, prayed for protection (my daily prayer was “Lord, protect us from our ignorance” as we didn’t know what we didn’t know) and continued. God did protect us and we only did relatively minor damage to the boat once. (The boating correlation to the aviation one of “Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing,” is “If nobody gets hurt and you don’t have to write a check, it’s a good day.”)
Approximately halfway through the trip, in Canada, I found myself wanting to do the Loop again. I loved the Trent-Severn and felt it deserved more time. The Canadians were so friendly and welcoming. They appreciated our business and loved sharing their beautiful country with us. Wearing my Can-Am fleece jacket proudly displays my love for our Canadian neighbors.
Biggest surprise? The camaraderie of boaters. Over and over again, we found boaters so willing to share their time, knowledge, and lives to help each other. Lorenzo was our role model. He gave us rides to Walmart (which became our mainstay shopping stop) in Ft. Pierce where we met him, helped Tom for hours in the engine room, and spent a couple of hours reviewing the route up the east coast. Then later in NC, he found us a great diesel mechanic, secured a slip next to his boat for us, loaned us his car while we were under repair, and taught me to dock. There was no way we could ever repay him. The only thing we could do was pay it forward. We shared about him often with others, and our ultimate compliment came one day when another boater said we had definitely “paid it forward” and called Tom his “Lorenzo.” In giving to others, we were blessed beyond measure.
Dolphins – always have loved them; still love them! Every time I saw them, I ran to the bow, hoping to see them play in our bow wave or alongside the boat. I never tired of them. We saw dolphins every day were in salt water from the time we left Gulfport until past Ft. Meyers (75 days). Watch them in action here.
Has the trip changed me? I think so. I was often reminded God orchestrates each encounter in our lives and He blessed and enriched my life because of those new friendships. I was reminded over and over again that God is in the details – meeting people because we decided to delay a day or because of the marina we chose, walking by a church at just the right minute to be invited inside to see the stained glass windows and being invited to a concert, and so many others. I had prayed before the trip for Christian fellowship along the way, which He provided. But I was also blessed by those who didn’t profess a belief in Jesus or specifically said they didn’t believe. I discovered I had perhaps become “stale” by mainly associating with people who believe like I do, and I think the trip has made me more open to want to share my life with other people. Only then can I continue to grow as an individual and also bring others who don’t know Jesus to the most wonderful life ever.
Thoughts on specific sights of the trip:
FL – so many towns along the way, beautiful water and sand in the Gulf; expensive
GA – a combination of boring barrier island scenery with some fun coastal towns
SC – fun coastal towns and much nicer scenery otherwise
NC – a little scary with its big open sounds
Chesapeake – had to blast through after engine failure in SC put us behind schedule; can’t wait to explore next time around
NJ – ocean crossing wouldn’t have been too bad if not caught in the fog
NYC Harbor – an amazingly moving experience on the water at the base of the Statue of Liberty and below the skyscrapers; humbled me to be an America
Hudson River Valley– way more beautiful than I ever knew
Erie Canal – a disappointment (though I heard the 2nd half, which we can’t do because our boat is too tall, is some boaters’ favorite); did love the free walls
Trent-Severn – wonderful; cute little towns, each with its own personality
Georgian Bay – nice but so built up by others, I found it less than hyped; I believe the second time around, I’ll like it better, as we explore it on our own terms
Lake Michigan – lots of cute towns; a lake to be respected for its unexpected ferocity
Mississippi River – something to be gotten through; dirty, swift current, big barges
Other rivers – eventually just a way to get back to the Gulf and nice saltwater, but some beautiful scenery and wonderful people along the way
Crossing our wake – so exciting; a fantastic exhilaration from a goal accomplished
To put things in perspective, each year:
However each year, only approximately 100 boats complete the Great Loop. We thank God for the opportunity and ability He provided us to be one of those.
Tom’s Loop reflections:
Being one of only 100 boats to complete the Loop each year puts this in a special category, at least for me. While the boating was fun, it was really a method of transportation…sort of a floating RV. The real adventure was touring the places where we stopped and meeting the people along the way.
On the touring side, the Trent-Severn in Canada had to be in the top 10, may top 5. Most of the 44 locks on the Trent-Severn had a town of some size, either at the lock or nearby. Some were good size, but the best ones were but a few blocks long with a couple of good restaurants, an ice cream shop, and a bakery. And if you were fortunate, they even had a hardware store with the part you needed.
The Northern Channel and Georgian Bay in Canada were also high on the list, not for the towns, but for the beauty and the hiking. In both of these places, we had guests onboard, which made them even more enjoyable.
Stateside, the towns along the Florida coast were enjoyable. There was so much history in the great little towns on both the east and west coasts – places like Stuart, Sarasota, Clearwater, Fort Myers, and St. Augustine. Further north Savannah, Beaufort, Elizabeth City, and Charleston come to mind, all different and each with its own charm.
The river systems were interesting with some beautiful anchorages, but not at the top of my list. For us, the river systems were more about the people. At times, we traveled with other boats for a few days, then split up only to come together again further downriver. We also ran into people we had not seen since North Carolina and New Jersey. The “Looper community” is a loose but tight-knit group of boaters. We all fly the AGLCA Loop flag, so when you see another Looper flag, it is almost expected to stop by, introduce yourself, and exchange “boat cards” (boat business cards). We have a stack of about 200 cards from people we have met along the way.
And when Loopers are together, someone is likely to issue an invitation for hor d’oeuvres or a potluck dinner. This is where size matters. If you have the biggest boat, the party is at your house!
Of course the wildlife was a special treat for me, although I was disappointed in Canada. We saw no moose, elk, bear, deer, or any other large critter in Canada. The biggest land critter we saw was a squirrel, and we saw a few river otters…but that was it. We saw a few deer in the states, but lots of turtles, gators in the south, bald eagles, pelicans, and a host of other birds. My favorite was watching the pelicans soar so close above the water that, at times, the tips of their wings would skim the surface.
Oh yes…and the dolphins, which were really my favorite, not so much because they are really cool animals who will search out the boat just to play in the bow wave, but the joy of watching Paula get excited and run to the bow to watch them play. No matter how cold it was and even in the rain, if there were dolphins, she was on the bow watching them. She even talked to them.
What I didn’t expect was how much work the boat required. I think the to do list was just as long when we finished as it was when we left Gulfport 2 years earlier. Some of the items on the list when we left were still there, but many others came and went along the way. Some were simple little improvements like rearranging the flybridge instrument console, but the not-so-simple included replacing a leaking holding tank (that was a really fun one), a rotten anchor pulpit, and a piston in one of the engines. The projects which were more “fun” were building things like the new bimini frame. And there was the time associated with fixing things or waiting for parts. For example, the engine failure cost us 12 days out of our schedule.
But the most cherished memory of the trip was doing it with my best friend and wife. We had talked about this trip for 20 years. (In fact, before we moved from NC to Phoenix in 1998, we had made 2 trips to the coast to look for a boat.) Within the boating community, the husband is often called the Captain and the wife, the Admiral. While we jokingly used these terms, we truly were co-captains – equal partners. She did most of the trip and sightseeing planning (which was a ton of work). I did most of the route planning and the boat maintenance, but even those functions were shared too; for example, Paula did all the varnishing of the teak on the boat (after I sanded it). So when I look back at the 2 years and 5,000+ miles of the Great Loop, Paula is at the top of the list.
Oh, did I mention the sunsets?
PS: Congratulations to wonderful Loop friends Kit and Pam, who crossed their wake a few weeks before us, and to Thad and Cindy who crossed their wake just days after us.