Life on the Loop
Now You're a Captain
Most people picture someone like Admiral Chester Nimitz in starch whites saving America’s ass at Midway or Captain Edward Smith heroically going down with the Titanic (knowing his career was finished regardless) when they think of a ship’s Captain. Or at least a commercial fisherman or tug driver trying to earn an honest living. There’s a different reality for those of us who spend, rather than earn money on the water. Bought a boat for the Great Loop? Congratulations! You’re now a Captain.
There’s a myriad of responsibilities that go with the title, especially in the view of the Coast Guard, customs and insurance companies. But it’s the more mundane every day decisions that you have to master.
Decisions are ubiquitous on the Loop. They are a Captain’s responsibility but usually involve the Admiral, so Loopers need to work out their Captain/Admiral decision making sooner rather than later. Maybe right after they identify why they want to do the Loop and definitely before they start.
Decision Making Needs to be a Process, not a concept on a boat. Critical decisions may need to be made under stress. Even a solo Captain needs a firm process to lean on.
Your first decision is When and Where to start. From the Loop’s perspective, where really doesn’t matter. Your boat’s location will probably decide.
When is the sooner, the better once you get past those annoying retirement and financial issues. There’s a vague timetable to be off the Great Lakes by the end of September or mid October and not getting to Florida before the end of the hurricane season in early December. Otherwise, ‘follow the 70 degree weather’. If it’s at least supposed to be 70 degrees a few weeks ahead of you, you’re good to go.
There are major Route decisions which should at least be considered before leaving. Across the Okeechobee or down to the Keys. A side trip to the Bahamas. The Lake Champlain/Montreal/St. Lawrence Loop or the Erie Canal. Explore Canada via the Trent Severn, Georgian Bay and the North Channel (very much recommended) or Lakes Erie and Huron.
Secondary route choices may be better decided on board. They are often influenced by circumstance. Around the Florida Bend or across the northeast corner of the Gulf. Side trips up the Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland or St. Johns Rivers. How much time to explore the Chesapeake. ‘Outside’ stretches on the Atlantic, particularly along the New Jersey ICW. A side trip to the Thousand Islands. The east or west side of Lake Michigan.
Daily route decisions on lakes, waterways and rivers are straight forward but become more complicated on the ICW and in Canada. And there are always decisions to be made about anchorages, marinas, fueling, site seeing, restaurants and grocery stores.
These decisions are what make the Great Loop fun and interesting but can become a chore if there is no decision making process in place.
The most common question I was asked by non-Loopers was how many miles I covered in a day. Most Looper Captains don’t think in terms of daily mileage goals, at least once underway. Mileage is the distance to the next destination or two. And that’s used mostly to determine if you need an early start or have time for an extra cup of coffee.
They’re too many hiccups to be hamstrung by mileage goals: the weather kicks up, high water closes something, boat maintenance or repair. The most common hiccup is finding a great anchorage or town and hanging around an extra day or two to enjoy it.
Strict Schedules are generally frowned upon too. Enjoy a slower heartbeat. Give or take, you have 365 days to go 6,000 to 7,000 miles. That’s 20 miles per day. Even the slowest trawlers can get a 100 miles in a day if they have to. Sometimes weather may force the issue, but it’s really all about what you want to see or do next, with the option to change your mind if something more interesting comes along.
Congratulations Captain! There are bigger adventures out there, but the Great Loop will be the trip of a lifetime for most who do it. It’s worth earning the title.