Life on the Loop
Go Boldly Forward
To explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations;
to boldly go where no man has gone before.
I was never a Trekkie, but I enjoyed Star Trek. It was funny, sometimes irreverent, sometimes groundbreaking and made you think the human race could and should do better. The Great Loop is not exactly going boldly where no man has gone before, though the Deep South, New York City and Canada might well feel strange to the uninitiated. But the Loop can feel like a jump into the unknown, similar to another jump into the unknown you may have taken: parenting.
The preliminaries of parenting are a lot more fun and quitting the Loop may be easier, but both will change your life and gift you a slower heartbeat if you survive. I’m sure I’m not the only Gold Looper to look at my pictures and think wistfully about doing it again. I enjoy pictures of the kids too, but that’s permanently checked off the to do list.
The reality is that neither Loopers and Parents never know everything there is to know about either and no matter how much you do know, you will still make mistakes. That doesn’t stop many parents. If you’re thinking about doing the Great Loop, go boldly forward.
Park Bench, Charlevoix, Michigan
There is a plethora of advice for first time Loopers and Parents.
These stories are not advice. I haven't been boating all my life and have only done the Loop once. They’re a lot more experienced Captains you should seek for advice. I will advise, even tell, you to do only two things: take a boat safety course (covered later in this story) and during the early part of your Loop, err on the very wimpy side of caution with potential bad weather or conditions. You will inevitably be surprised by big water. You don’t want it to happen before you know your boat well and how it handles.
My thought is to match up expectations, and maybe concerns, with reality, kind of like diapers do for parents: to give a feeling for the planning, routes, chores, challenges, learning curve, decisions and decision making involved.
A hundred, even fifty years ago, before the Ten-Tom and the magenta line, the trip Scott Mathews and his family took would have been quite the adventure. The Loop may still test your Captain’s skills but is now much more civilized. There’s more fellow travelers, facilities and paperwork than Mathews could have imagined. (I can’t help but wonder how much gas he carried.) Looping doesn’t match the steamboat, canal traffic or coastal trade of bygone eras, but it’s enticing enough that hundreds of towns have spruced up their waterfronts and marinas to welcome Loopers.
Forums and blogs are a great place to start learning about the Loop. They’re usually written in real time about real situations which can make them easier to wrap your head around than textbook learning. America’s Great Loop Crusiers’ Association (AGLCA) has several forums and as well as links to loopers’ blogs and websites. AGLCA also does events around the country to introduce people to the Great Loop. Capt. John’s Super Loopers is something else to look at.
Be aware that Loopers, like everybody, sometime pontificate to the point of intimidation, especially when they get into opinions and details of electronic equipment, engines, fuel consumption, etc. Don’t let them give you a sudden feeling that you’re in over your head. You can safely skip these jargon filled discussions until they may be pertinent. Many postings focus on the best or worst of what people have experienced. The worst may feel like Armageddon on water. Don’t let any single post scare you. Multiple posts on the same issue deserve more attention. Occasionally ego, values or prejudices creep into posts, making the reading less fun and at times uncomfortable. And most would also benefit from a good editor, though I accept that that is an old fashioned concept.
There are also experienced Captains who offer training or advice for a fee. The posts you read from people who hire them generally say they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Those who think otherwise may not post their thoughts. Regardless, I’m sure it’s good stuff so if this is how you prefer to learn and within your budget, by all means consider it.
If you haven’t done a lot of boating, or maybe even if you have, the best way to prepare for any boating is with something near the top of everyone’s advice list: take the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s (USCGA) Boating Skills and Seamanship course. It’s a less humiliating way to find out what you don’t know. Some states actually require it or something similar to register a boat and it may earn you a discount on boat insurance too.
The USCGA Weekend Navigator course is also good. You may never use a divider or parallel rule with intent, but if you’re like me, there’s some comfort in knowing at least something about how those chart plotters think. And as the course points out, you can never be 100% sure that your chart plotter won’t have a heart attack. That’s why many Loopers run two or more navigation apps simultaneously. The thought of figuring out where you are on your own can be chilling if you have no idea where to start.
There’s no one right way to do the Loop, there’s no one right way to prepare for it and there’s no perfect boat for it. Some spend years preparing, others start on a wing and a prayer. Some use big boats, others small ones. Some buy every conceivable electronic aid, some get by on a minimum of antiquated gear. A few stay at marinas every night, a few anchor every night; most do both. Some take months, some years. Some spend a lot of money, others not so much.
Learn what you can; knowledge is always a good thing. But don’t stress over not knowing everything or being able to afford all the toys or biggest boat. Confidence and common sense go a long way on the Loop. Your kids survived you. You’ll survive the Loop. Go Boldly Forward.