Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Summary And Closing Thoughts On The Great Loop Cruise

It’s been 6 months since we completed our Great Loop Cruise and other boat adventures, returning to our land home at Lucy’s Branch Marina on the Tennessee River. Five and a half years, 2 different boats, and 8000 miles! It’s still a little bit overwhelming to think of all we did. It really was an awesome experience. After we finished, we charted our travels on the map using red pins for marinas on our basic Loop route, white for marinas on side trips and other trips, green for anchorages, and yellow for other stops like docked to barges/locks, friends' docks, etc..  I tried doing this totally from memory and only missed 3 stops.  That is pretty good evidence that each of our stops was indeed a memorable and unique experience!

This summary is a bit long (but definitely shorter than a book or hundreds of blog pages) and if you have followed our blog, you've seen and read most of it before.  But I thought it would be nice to generally cover the trip again, highlight some of the important stuff, maybe provide some pleasant reminders for others who have made the trip, and note some things that might be helpful for those in progress or planning.  I don't think it will scare anyone away from their plans and hopefully you'll also chuckle a bit - so much fun.

A thought here at first, and you will hear this a lot, both while traveling and afterwards - “You are so lucky to be able to do that.” I'm sure most people don't give this comment much thought as folks are simply saying that they are happy for you, congratulatory, hope to make the trip some day themselves, etc., and that's how we take it.  However, consider this - everyone's story is different, and in our case I like to believe that it’s not so much about “luck” but that it may have a lot to do with coming from wonderful families, working hard all of our lives and staying out of trouble, saving and trying to plan for retirement, staying committed to each other and our goals, and our Christian faith which is fundamental to all that we believe and do.  So, rather than “lucky,” maybe fortunate and blessed are better descriptors.  One thing for sure - we are indeed thankful for the opportunity and encourage others to take whatever their circumstances and possibilities are and make the trip!

Some sell everything, just go for it, and probably take some serious risks to make it happen.  Lots of folks travel a while then return home, work to catch up, and go again.  Others set up their businesses to work from the boat full-time.  But most that we ran into seemed to be retired or free to travel full-time for whatever reason, but probably not just "luck."

There are small boats and large boats, old and new, fast and slow, basic and "loaded," all kinds of cruising backgrounds and different levels of experience, and you will not be best friends with everyone you meet. But I'll tell you this - they are all wonderful folks and there is an immediate camaraderie that exists among boaters and Loopers. That’s one of the reasons why you hear so many Loopers say that “the people” are one of the greatest joys of the trip. Take advantage of that and just enjoy everyone's company, backgrounds, and experiences.  And, before the trip is over, you will come to know some of those folks as best friends for a long time to come.  Below, as an example, an assortment of Looper boats at Delaware City Marina ready to cross Delaware Bay for Cape May, NJ. We had no idea at the time, but boats #1 (us) and #4 would become great friends, travel extensively together, and still communicate regularly to this day.

OK, enough of the deep thinking stuff.  Back to our travels.  We started this particular journey in 2008 with an offer to run a new marina on the Arkansas River in Muskogee, OK.  We had been retired about 3 years, had lost both of my parents during that time and had given some thought to trying to spend more time closer to our older son’s family in Ft. Worth, TX and the 3 grand-kids.  We had been boating all of our married life and I had always wanted to own or manage a marina, and relocating to OK fit both objectives.  It would be a big task, but convincing Rhonda on the boat trip and marina deal was the difficult part.  My sales pitch was “Let’s try it and give it 6 months, we can always turn around and come back.”  Well, it worked and off we went in our 41’ Roughwater.  Here's "Help Me Rhonda" III docked at a corn barge in Caruthersville, MO on the Mississippi River leg of the trip.

It was an awesome trip, a little off of the beaten path than the “normal” Great Loop route, but we found ourselves in Muskogee, OK 1119 miles and 34 days later, at Three Forks Harbor, mm 393, Arkansas River.

We lived on the boat at the marina, 6 months turned into 2 ½ years, and to this day we have some of our greatest friends ever as “Okies from Muskogee.”  Two of them, Mike and Shirley Wise, joined us for a couple of days at one of our Loop stops at Ludington on Lake Michigan.

Adam’s family later decided to move from Ft. Worth to Austin, TX for work, and by then we were getting a little "worn" from running the marina.  It was just the two of us doing it all 24/7/365 - cleaning toilets, selling boats, renting slips, pumping gas, running the travel lift, etc., so we decided to retire again and relocate to Galveston, TX.  This would also allow us to get some more boat travel in, be close to Adam's family again, and for me to get some expert heart care at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston for a very unusual and intermittent slow heart rate problem. Hey, these three below were incentive enough to get moving again. Meet our grand-kids - Bryce, Alexis, and Connor, on board for a visit.

Traveling the Arkansas, Mississippi, and Atchafalaya Rivers to the Gulf Coast ICW, then westbound to TX, 1134 miles and 18 days later, we made Harborwalk Marina our home for the next 2 years and continued to live on the boat full time.  Two of our slip renters at Muskogee joined us on the trip aboard their 46' Silverton, "Opus One."  Clint and Linda Bulkley (right) are now dear friends forever also.  This shot is at the city docks in Morgan City, LA

Oh yeah, sometimes on the Mississippi River you have to get a little creative.  Don't ask.  Alright, go ahead. Fuel is a bit difficult to find on the lower Mississippi River but we had a shot at it in Natchez, MS/Vidalia, LA.  We literally secured three lines across the water from the barge we were docked to, then across the water to the fuel truck on land - one for the nozzle to come across on, one to pull it across, and one to pull it back.  And it worked!  You will find that Loopers are definitely pretty creative.  

Here's a general recommendation for traveling the lower Mississippi that worked well for us.  Google slackwater harbors in the area and even look at some commercial barge facilities.  Many of those operations are set up in slackwater inlets and sometimes a phone call will provide an opportunity to get off of the main river to a more secure and safe spot.

Not long after arrival in Galveston, our daughter-in-law was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma and began intense treatment that would require much dedication, love, and support from all of the family while Jen did the really hard part for the next year and a half.  So, we really believe God led us there to be able to help out as we made many trips to Austin to assist with whatever we could and spending lots of time with the grand-kids.  Adam’s family would travel to Galveston to join us on the boat periodically to give them some time away from Austin and the rigors of cancer treatment as well.   I was still able to proceed with the Texas Heart Institute plan and worked with 5 different doctors as they pursued my issues.  I left the hospital in September of 2012 with some unusual meds they had not prescribed but once in 25 years, a second stent, and a pacemaker!  In October of 2012, Jen got a good report, “no evidence of disease” which is as good a report as you can get with Stage III melanoma.  I’m still doing fine and a few months after her treatment ended, Jen competed in her first triathlon since the cancer diagnosis.  Those, my friends, are a couple of blessings from God and we are accordingly humbled and thankful.  Here's Adam's family one year after finishing the treatments.

With both of those health concerns as good as they could be for the moment, we decided to earnestly pursue completing the Great Loop cruise. We had sold our Roughwater while in Galveston to a couple from San Antonio (it wasn't for sale but they wanted it so, why not?)  We found “Help Me Rhonda IV” only 175 miles west of there at Corpus Christi, TX.

With our friends aboard "Opus One" joining us again, we headed eastbound rejoining our Loop route at Morgan CityLA.  We had a great time in New Orleans and then stopped in Gulfport, MS briefly to see sailboat friends from Galveston aboard their S/V "La Strada."   We  later  intercepted the more normal Loop route in Mobile, AL.  (We had also previously run the TENN-TOM route on our 32’ Grand Banks, "Help Me Rhonda" II.)  From there our Great Loop cruise would follow the normal route options.

Our friends on "Opus One" had to stop in Orange Beach, AL to tend to family and business matters back home.  So after that point, we were on our own again.  Well, not really – we have had 35,000+ hits on our blog and we are so glad that so many folks joined us for the trip!  We have tried to make it interesting and informative with some occasional humor thrown in when the occasion permitted (actually that happens a lot on the Loop).  Thanks for joining us!

Speaking of joining us, others that joined us on the trip were our dear friends from our home in AL, Bob and Barbara Hopson. Even though they are sailboaters, we have managed to work out those differences over the years (LOL and just kidding of course) and have made many trips together, on water and land. They joined us for the St. Johns River side trip and this shot is at Blue Springs between Hontoon Island and Sanford.

We stopped in Southport, FL to see boating friends, Rich and Mary Gano, that we had coincidentally run into on the Tennessee River years prior at Hales Bar Marina.  We were both on fall cruises at the time and ended up traveling together for several days. Here are Rich and Mary aboard "Calypso," our 2 Grand Banks docked at Ditto Landing in Huntsville, and 8 years later at their home in Southport. 

We were also really glad our schedule worked out to see our younger son and his girlfriend, Scott and Rachel, in Fort Lauderdale for a few days!  We went air-boating in the Everglades and took a day cruise that highlighted some of the opulence and "famous people" homes in that area.  That's the "Beastmaster" in the middle, a really cool and funny tour guide.

The Beastmaster was not afraid of handling the gators either.  We all got real close and personal with them.

We reunited with friends from former churches in two cities we lived in during our career years - Boca Raton, FL and Richmond Hill, GA.  Meet Mickey and Sandy Panella and Gil and Donna Covey.

We checked out our old home in Ft. Myers, FL only to find out it was gone – purchased and bulldozed by the neighbor, now his back yard.  And we thought it was a really nice home! We also visited with a long lost cousin of Rhonda’s in Port Orange, FL and spent two winter months in Jacksonville, FL with her parents and brother/sister’s families.  Our schedules worked out such that we also toured New Orleans with Rhonda's brother, Keith (and Deanna).

My sister and several of her family joined us in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Well, actually I guess they are my family also, but you know what I mean - closer on the family tree to her than me (her daughter-in-law and grand-kids). Check out my favorite T-shirt of the trip.  "Got Boat?" from Port Tarpon Marina in Tarpon Springs, FL.  I remember once at a marina where I had found a T-shirt I liked but didn't have any money on me at the moment.  When I got back to the boat, I asked Rhonda to go in and buy the shirt for me.  She soon returned without the shirt and looking a little angry.  She said, "I'm not buying you a T-shirt with scantily clad women on the back with emphasis on their rear ends that reads "We do great bottom jobs."  I've learned since then to always look at the back of the shirt too!  Anyhow, here's some of my family - Spencer, Linda, Ann, Sydney, and Seth.

So, I hope you are getting a very important idea by now - surround yourself with friends and family (and always read the back of T-shirts).  Take those opportunities to visit friends from the past.  Pretty cool to see high school friends from 42 years ago in Northport, FL and John's Island, SC!  These are dear friends from way back when - Ira Funderburk and Jim Beckham. Our tummies are bigger (just a little, right?), we have less hair, and what is left of our hair is gray!  But you know what? After all of those years, nothing else had changed and we sure had fun recalling the memories.

We were thankful not to have any illnesses or family emergencies that called us home.  But unfortunately, three of my aunts/uncles passed away and we were unable to attend two of those funerals because of timing, location, and distance.  However, we were close enough in Morehead City, NC to be able to attend my 92-year-old uncle’s funeral in my hometown of Lancaster, SC and I was honored to be asked to be a pallbearer. 

We had some sad moments on the boat as well.  We started the trip with 3 cats on board – Skippy, Jag, and Leia.  They all died of old age; Skippy in Muskogee, Jag in Galveston, and Leia in Morehead City.  This is the first time in our marriage that we have been “petless” and we still miss those members of the family. Leia was the avid boater in the group and the last to go.  I think that is proof positive that boaters live longer than others!

Did I mention courtesy and loaner cars yet?  Enjoy those - ours ranged from a very nice new Town and Country van at Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, IL to a well-used Mercedes with 250k miles in Solomons, MD to some really-used clunkers at numerous locations.  In one we could see the road passing by underneath the floorboard!  But we appreciated them all and our favorite was in Grand Rivers, KY.  Jonathan and Brooke aboard "Salty," a 22 C-Dory, had gotten it somewhere in Paducah, KY and showed up in it to take us all to dinner.  It had lots of animal hair throughout and a wire cage barrier between the front and back seats!  

We first met Jonathan and Brooke in Fenelon Falls, Ontario and saw them lots on the the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  Here we are docked at Kaskaskia Lock just off of the Mississippi with Galen and Becky aboard "Mooring Dove" also.

It became clear early on that we prefer the smaller towns.  We compiled a list of the top “I Could Live Here” cities.  Here are our top eight. Note that they are all in the south as we cannot stand cold weather! (Well, I can't.) The beauty of the Loop schedule however is traveling with the seasonal temperatures for each area and your general temps are 60 to 80 degrees, with occasional exceptions of course.

1.  Southport, NC
2. Palm Coast, FL
3. Port St. Joe, FL
4. Fort Pierce, FL
5. Anna Maria Island (Bradenton Beach), FL
6. Panama City, FL
7. Ft. Walton Beach, FL
8. Morgan City, LA

As you can see, we really liked the FL towns. Our favorite stop of all in FL was Cayo Costa and Cabbage Key but there's no town there.  That was another memory lane stop for us - used to run up there from Ft. Myers in our first "Help Me Rhonda" in the early 90s, a 22' SeaRay Sundancer.

So, what makes a "favorite" stop?  Let's use Cayo Costa as an example.  Anchored in Pelican Bay.

Awesome beach and great shelling.  I love this picture of Rhonda - looking good on the beach!

Docked at Cabbage Key.

Great stories like why are there 50,000 one-dollar bills on the walls and ceiling of this restaurant?.  

Exploring by dinghy.  You get the idea.

Even after living in FL for 3 years, we had never crossed the state via the Okeechobee Waterway, so we chose that route and are glad we did.  Franklin Lock RV Park and Marina was probably our favorite stop (below) but Morehaven and Indiantown were nice also.  We spent Christmas Eve at Indiantown and got to meet lots of Canadians, most of whom were on their way to the Bahamas for the winter.

One of my other absolute favorites was Galveston, TX, but that's a little off of the regular Loop route.  Some folks don't like cruising the TX coast.  There's an endless parade of barges in both directions and you have to plan your distances and stops with fewer choices available than lots of other cruising areas, but we enjoyed it.

 We would like to return to the Gulf Coast stretch from Morgan City, LA to Mobile, AL in the future and spend more time at some of those towns like Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula.  Mississippi Sound is a big body of water and we only had a small weather window to get through there to Mobile or get stranded for awhile.

OK, I've chased a few Loop rabbits in the preceding paragraphs but those general topics are important.  I'll pick up the route again now.  After Florida, we found that some decide to rush through Georgia, even to the point of running it offshore, to avoid the constantly changing tides and some shallow water.  We had lived in GA in the 80s (Augusta, Savannah, and Richmond Hill) and had run lots of those waters previously, so we knew it was worth taking the time and planning to see it again. Some of our favorites on this trip were St. Marys, Jekyll Island, Darien (below), and Kilkenney.

You might want to carry a little Swamp Gator through GA for the sand gnats.

The Carolinas are beautiful and are our home states (South-me, North-Rhonda).  Our favorites were Daufuskie Island, Myrtle Beach OF COURSE, Belhaven, the stretch around Camp LeJeune, and Elizabeth City.

We really enjoyed the trip from NC to VA by way of The Dismal Swamp.

The Chesapeake Bay is a whole separate trip in itself of course.  There is no way to even scratch the surface there but we enjoyed many stops - St. Mary's, The Corinthian Yacht Club, Deltaville, Solomons, Oxford, Annapolis, Chesapeake City. Visiting the Naval Academy was very special.

For us, New Jersey was probably the least favorite of the states but still fun.  We met Roger and Anne aboard "Third Reef"  in Cape May and ran offshore with them for 2 days to Staten Island and ducked in to anchor out at Barneget Bay in between.

New York and Chicago were the ‘big cities” of the trip. There is something really cool and special about pulling up to these large cities in your own boat. 

We saw some serious history along the way – it’s everywhere on the waterways.  Ground Zero was humbling and heart-wrenching to see.  We will never forget that experience.  It was just about too much to try and grasp, but the sense now of peace, solitude, and rebuilding there restores your hope.

We spent a week in The Big Apple, operating first from Staten Island by ferry and then by train from Half Moon Bay Marina at Croton on Hudson.  We saw so much, from the Empire State Building to Grand Central Station to Central Park to Times Square to The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, just to name a few.  Even ran into an old friend there also.  Well, not really an old friend, but pretty cool for a Fox News junkie.  Thanks to Geraldo for being a friendly guy!  

The Hudson River is quite simply, beautiful and easy cruising.

 We survived the Erie Canal mess which was in major flood conditions and lived in a lock for two weeks - not many folks can lay claim to that one!!!!!  Our story was front page in 3 different local newspapers.

The damage was extensive.

We were so fortunate to be “Castaways” with some wonderful folks and buddy-boated with 4 of them as far as Gore Bay, Ontario.  Here's the whole Castaway crew at Amsterdam, NY.  L to R - Ken and Trudy aboard "Satisfaction," me and Rhonda, and Galen and Becky aboard "Mooring Dove."

Galen and Becky traveled all the way home with us, crossed our wake with us, and we expect to cross many more wakes with them in the future.  Galen and Becky, we love you guys!  Here they are dancing at an outdoor concert one evening in Campbelford, Ontario.  By the way, they were the #4 boat noted in the Delaware City picture previously.

Oh yeah, we also added another member and "Castaway" friend to our family in Lock #11 – WILSON!!!  (Think "Castaway," Tom Hanks movie).  He is still on the boat today and requires much less attention than the cats!

We finally got out of Lock #11 but had another lengthy delay at Ilion, NY.  What a mess.  

But another 6 days later and we were off and running again, destination Canada.  We crossed  Lake Ontario from Oswego, NY and took the Trent Severn route.  Canada was awesome, all new for us. Cannot begin to cover all of the fun and excitement there.  If I had to pick favorites on the Trent Severn, probably Peterborough (the town, entertainment, BBQ, and the lift lock), Lovesick Lock, and Big Chute.  By the way, if you are inclined to stand on top of your boat at Big Chute to check out the view, they don't like that and may ask you to please be seated!

Some of the Trent Severn scenery is stunning.

Favorites in Georgian Bay were Echo Bay, Parry Sound, and The Bustards.  Transitioning from Georgian Bay to the North Channel, Killarney would probably have been on our "I Could Live Here City" list. However it does get cold there, but what a cool town and such a beautiful setting.  Herberts is pickerel to die for.

Favorite stops in the North Channel would be Baie Fine anchorage and the cities of Gore Bay and Meldrum Bay.

We were boarded by Customs in Gore Bay just before leaving Canada.  We had a lot of fun with that on the blog if you want to check that out at
Here's a preview.

After that terrifying experience we were glad to be back on US soil again  and we were so surprised to experience the beauty and sandy beaches of the eastern Lake Michigan shoreline - had no idea.  

Nice Sea Doo and beach chairs!

We made stops at Mackinac, Petoskey, Leland, Frankfort, Pentwater, Ludington, Muskegon, South Haven, and Michigan City. Leland was definitely our favorite stop for the general "feel" and beauty of the harbor. Ludington was very special since our Okie friends joined us there.

We made the jump across Lake Michigan from Michigan City to Chicago.  We really enjoyed Chicago, especially a date night for us - dinner and a little jazz at Andy's Jazz Club.

The Illinois and Mississippi Rivers are right there close to last place with NJ but there are some neat stops like Ottawa, Grafton, Alton, and of course the infamous carp attacks. 

 This guy has the obvious defense mechanisms figured out though - pitch fork, helmet, knee pads.  Probably a Looper at some point in the past to be that creative.

And then there's the arch at St. Louis.

Followed pretty soon thereafter by Hoppies.  Meet Fern in the pink shirt.  Whether you need it or not, or even disagree with her method, SHE WILL TELL YOU EXPLICITLY HOW TO DOCK YOUR BOAT AND WHERE/HOW TO PLACE YOUR LINES AND FENDERS!  What a character.  (If I can make a suggestion, just do what she says).  She told Rhonda that sometimes men don't like women telling them what to do.  Rhonda told her that Galen and I were used to it and love it!

Not much on the Ohio River but two locks.  However, this was a special part of the trip for us - crossing our wake at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  We are on autopilot here, standing on the bow pulpit with Becky taking the picture aboard "Mooring Dove."  They were on their second time around the Loop and we had borrowed their gold burgee for the picture.  We had ordered ours in advance and it was waiting for us at Green Turtle Bay.

If you are fortunate on the Ohio, the river level may be high enough that they just drop the "wickets" in the dam and you can go right over the top of it!  Paducah is nice if you can catch the free city dock available. The Tennessee River for us was home cruising territory but always beautiful and easy cruising.  We encourage you to at least go as far as Chattanooga.  Can't do a summary of the Loop without mentioning locks.  The tallest for us was Wilson Lock on the TN River - 93 feet.

Speaking of locks, we heard a story about one Looper that fell off his boat, inside the lock while locking through, so be careful.  Hey ______, I know you are smiling reading that!

Some closing thoughts.

I think a lot more now about this great country and how fortunate and blessed we are in that regard.  This country is also more about the hard work and principles we were founded upon than luck that I mentioned at the beginning.  As you travel the Loop, you see all of the evidence of the history that has preceded us.  WOW!  We visited lots of old cemeteries and historical stops, and our emotions welled up inside as we saw so much evidence of those that prepared the way for us today.  Many of those did not get to make a Great Loop Cruise and so many sacrificed their lives for the freedom we have to cruise the waterways today.  Let’s not ever take that for granted.  I hope those that follow us will be able to look back and appreciate some of our generation's contributions, you know like great music and really cool cars!

A few general short comments and suggestions

1.  Active Captain is a wonderful thing, right up there with autopilot.
2.  I never thought I would do this, but we no longer carry back-up paper charts, and the ones we have are pretty dated now.  It never posed a problem for us.
3.  Taking bicycles was a great idea.  We saw so much more than we could have walking or using courtesy cars, and it's much cheaper than rentals.  Good exercise too!

4.  Anchoring out is great (and easy) but we chose to use mostly marinas and tour each city – there is so much to see and each town has something unique and interesting to investigate and experience.  If you plan well, there are a few free docks out there and usually a deal here and there on dock fees.
5.  The wind and weather will decide most of your schedule and in many cases, your stops.  You can’t see them all anyway.  You will get stuck in a few places and there’s nothing you can do about it, so just enjoy it.  That’s what the trip is about.
6.  We chose not to detail our expenses, except fuel and dock fees.  Our 41’ Roughwater and the 44’ Gulfstar are both relatively fuel efficient at 2.5 MPG with a single 8.2 Detroit diesel on the Roughwater and twin 130 HP Perkins (naturals) on the Gulfstar.  We averaged 8 MPH for the entire trip.  You cannot get in a hurry on a trawler but that was never a problem for us.
7.  Mechanically, we had to replace a port heat exchanger and transmission cooler after purchasing the Gulfstar.  We only had a few minor issues the rest of our travels - a bad fuel shutoff solenoid, a slow-leaking O-ring on the port transmission, and we shredded an impeller at Big Chute when the starboard water pump failed to self-prime after getting back in the water.  All of these I was able to repair myself.  You should be able to do your own preventive maintenance and you better know your boat inside and out.
8. We never ran aground, got tangled in crab pots, or any really scary situations.  We are pretty conservative boaters, plan a lot, and pay attention to the weather.  We had only one bad docking, Georgetown, SC, - misread the speed of the beam tide and got pinned up against some concrete pilings.  There was minor damage to the starboard rubrail that I was able to repair myself that evening.
9.  I read this somewhere but can’t remember who to give the credit to.  "The Loop is not just a boat trip, it’s a marathon."  That is so true.  Be prepared to be exhausted some days.  It’s a killer sometimes but I would do it again in a heartbeat.  And remember, the weather will give you some chances to rest sooner or later.
10.  We've had two single engine boats, a 32' Grand Banks and a 41' Roughwater.  Neither had a bow or stern thruster.  Never had any problems but definitely like the twin screws now.  So much more maneuverable.  I don't care about the double maintenance issues and we've never had bad fuel problems - changed my racors once on the Loop and they were not dirty then (the solid fiberglass tanks on the Gulfstar help prevent that problem). The easier cruising and redundant systems are worth it to me.
11.  We also have redundant generators - the standalone 7.5 KW and a 5 KW generator belted off of the port engine which is a great asset.  Need some 110 power during the day?  Throw the clutch switch on the panel and you are in business without having to run your stand-alone with that extra fuel burn.  There is one caveat - since the voltage output is dependent upon RPM's, we have to be in a stretch where we can maintain 1450 RPMs for efficiency which is our sweet spot anyway.
12. You can dress pretty sloppy if you want to and do cool things like grow a beard and take selfies. And it doesn't matter how bad it looks getting there - nobody that sees you knows you (or cares)!  (Lake Michigan in the background on a calm day.)

13.  You get some really neat pictures.  Stuff like live animals, fog, and sunrises/sunsets are just a few.  You could do an entire book just on beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

14. And very important, always read the backs of T-shirts before you buy them!

Lastly and certainly one of the most important - you must have a great traveling partner with stamina and a sense of humor as mandatory qualities. In my case, my wife is smart and good-looking also!  Everywhere we went and met new people, "Help Me Rhonda" automatically prompts people to say, "You must be Rhonda." (Loopers are pretty smart too!)  So I do want to give credit and tribute to my spouse of 37 years.  We have had some great years together and lots of wonderful memories.  Add The Great Loop trip as definitely another one to cherish.  Oh to be 27 again (below).  Nah, then I'd have to work and couldn't go Looping!

I know Rhonda did this extensive traveling by boat just for me but she does now confess that she had a blast as well.  However, she would probably like to forget one portion of the trip that I have not mentioned yet - our Gulf crossing from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs, 176 miles and 23 hours.  We crossed with "Bucket List" and "Bluegrass" and it was very rough and just plain awful for about 10 hours of those 23. Think Gilligan's Island - change 3 hours in the theme song to 23 hours but thankfully our tiny ship was never actually lost. Rhonda has never been seasick in our 37 years of boating together but it was so rough that she puked in a 5-gallon bucket for several hours that night.  (Look, you can't just hear the good stuff always).  To really appreciate just how bad it was, the display on our IPAD (which we use as a secondary chartplotter) was occasionally switching back and forth from vertical to horizontal displays from the beam seas we were taking.  She was smiling again the next day though and didn’t even seriously consider getting a plane ticket home, though it may have crossed her mind. (It was funny though - our cat, Leia, did try to get off the boat at Tarpon Springs - a first for her.)  By the second day, all members of the 3 crews were back to smiling and enjoying life again.

So, yes Rhonda is wonderful and I do appreciate and love her a lot.  Heck, I’ve even named our last four boats after her – “Help Me Rhonda” I, II, III, and IV!  That should prove it, right?

Well, I hope you enjoyed the "short" summary.  Seriously, for every picture there are hundreds more.  For every story, there are dozens more.  And this really sums it up - I'll never forget a comment one husband made at a Looper rendezvous many years ago at Wheeler back when we were very early in our "hoping" stage, not even close to the planning stages. Having completed the Loop and with his wife standing there by his side for Gold Loopers to offer comments, trip tales, and encouraging words to everyone, he was a man of few words.  But when he spoke it was so profound, clearly demonstrating the depth of his thinking and an awesome analysis of their Looper experience.  Are you sure you can handle this?  OK, his summary:  "I'll just say this - it was the most fun we have ever had with our clothes on."  

"Now that there is funny" and you know it!  And I must give credit to the great comedian and renowned author, Larry The Cable Guy, for that original phrase, which brings me to one final thought about the Loop. While the Loop is definitely an activity-driven event of planning and executing a lengthy boat trip (a bit of an understatement, huh), there are also plenty of opportunities to just chill and enjoy relaxing with a good book or whatever else relaxes you. I am an activity-driven person by nature and do not like to read, so the Loop offered plenty to keep me busy.  Rhonda, quite the opposite, always has a book in her hand if she stops for a couple of seconds and was swapping books at every marina we visited.  (In my defense, I did manage to read one book on the trip, authored by Larry and loaned to me by Galen - great minds think alike).  Anyhow, whatever lights your fire, there is plenty for everyone and you should make the trip.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Safe, pleasant, and blessed cruising to all.

Wayne and Rhonda McManus
"Help Me Rhonda"
44' Gulfstar
Lucy's Branch Marina
mm 287, TN River

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