The Great Loopers Chapter 13. Mister Scaredy Cat.

“People go on adventures to find things they never knew were out there.”

From the log book on August 21 2017. Written by the XO:

7:40 AM Up anchor. Weather partly cloudy w/ small waves and south or southwest wind 10 knots or less.
11:30 AM Forest City Yacht Club, Cleveland, OH.
Miles travelled: 925 to 955 = 30

We had decided that we definitely did not want to visit Cleveland. Absolutely not. Uh-uh. Nope. No friggin’ way. Not interested. Screw that.
Yet there we were at the Forest City Yacht Club in Cleveland Ohio. The thing is, there were not a lot of options within our cruising range. We were lucky to find a spot in this private club. As it turned out, Cleveland was awesome. Who Knew?

The calmest marina anywhere. Just outside it’s breakwater were awful lake conditions.

Living is easy at the Forest City Yacht Club. It’s members are very happy boaters. They have a pool! Air conditioned showers! The XO found yoga nearby, and we both enjoyed the bike and walking paths that Cleveland has everywhere. We stayed three days and caretaker Jerry only charged us for two.

From the log book on August 24 2017. Written by the XO:

Left sometime in the morning (8:45?)
The course was west, the wind was north, so we stayed in Cleveland on the west side (Edgewater Marina).
9:43AM At the fuel dock.

Apparently, Cleveland was not ready to let us go. Here’s what happened:
At about a quarter to nine in the morning, we left the Forest City Yacht Club for the port of Loraine which is about 30 miles away, but we never made it further than the length of the massive breakwater that guards Cleveland’s waterfront.
After a half hour of waves pounding us broadside, we were going nuts. Twenty miles of this? I don’t think so! I made a somewhat frantic call to the Edgewater Marina on the westernmost end of the aforementioned breakwater. They had one slip left. Yay! We ducked in, fueled up, pumped out, and restocked the beer locker. Distance travelled: 5 miles, our shortest trip. We nestled in snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug for the next three days while Lake Erie pumped out nine foot waves.

The Last Slip in Cleveland. Note the massive breakwater in the background.
Bike paths are everywhere in Cleveland. We followed one to this huge downtown marketplace.
On a dinghy adventure.
We followed this waterway. Small boats only.
Clearing skies in Cleveland Ohio.

Why didn’t I want to stop in Cleveland? Fear of the unknown? Perhaps. I can be a bit unwilling to try new things. Anytime I’m boating to an unfamiliar destination, I go over scenarios in my head. Mostly about stuff that can go wrong. But this was our first loop. Everywhere was unknown. That’s a lot of scenarios echoing off my skull, like every single day. Funny thing is, in pretty much every circumstance my fears were totally unfounded. Yet I still had it, this inexplicable trepidation. I dunno. Maybe it’s my minds way of keeping us safe by being ready for anything. Or maybe I’m just not that comfortable with the unknown. Is anybody?
This whole Great Loop thing was a real stretch for me, Mister Scaredy Cat, but I was somehow driven to do it. It taught me something about myself and about this world we share with others. It made me want to be a better man every day. If you’re looping, you know what I’m talking about.
Life is uncharted territory. All I can think about is how much richer mine has become.

The Great Loopers Chapter 12. Loopy Land

Sometimes we have to be reminded NOT to think.

From the log book on Sunday August 13th 2017. Written by me:
10:05AM Leave Tonowanda for the Erie Basin Marina Buffalo, NY.
1:55PM Arrive in Buffalo. No more ditch.

A new waterway. We have to learn the ways of the Great Lakes one lake at a time. First up is Erie. I’m an old dog. I don’t particularly want to learn a new trick. Have you ever felt that way?
Well, you can forget about that nonsense. Here in Loopy Land, it’s what boaters do. It’s all they do. The Great Loop is a series of connected inland waterways. Each with their own personalities.
Right brain: “Don’t get lazy, Rick. Travel is an education, this is the learning part.”
Left brain: “Gosh darn it, it’s not always about learning, sometimes it’s about feeling.”
Right brain: “As usual Rick, you’re absolutely right. I feel that it’s time to learn all about the ways of Lake Erie.”
Left brain: “You used to be so charming. What happened to you?”
The good news is: we wont see another lock until we get past Chicago, five states away.

There’s a big poker run happening. Hot rod boats are everywhere. We snagged the very last available slip in this huge marina.
As seen in Buffalo, NY.

From the log book on Monday August 14th 2017. Written by the XO:

11:30ish Away from Buffalo, home of the hot rod boats.
4:25 At the municipal dock of Dunkirk, NY.

So much open water. Weird. Since we left our mooring in Wareham, Massachusetts, 800 miles ago, we’ve always been in sight of land, culminating in 18 days on the Erie Canal, a waterway barely wide enough for two boats to pass. Now we have this open expanse of Lake Erie. It’s like: ahhh, room to breathe.

Leaving Buffalo. Entering Lake Erie.

We had a devil of a time trying to figure out if transient boats were allowed to tie up to the municipal wharf in Dunkirk. The poorly written review on Active Captain only hinted at it, and left us wondering. At just a bit over a month into this trip, we had not yet turned into the devil-may-care mariners we are now. If only we knew then what we know now.
Just do it. You’re good until somebody says you’re not.
We called city hall. Nobody seemed to know. Not even the cops. Just in case, I called one of the marinas and inquired about a slip.
Plan “A” was to go directly to the Dunkirk municipal wharf. If they kick us out we’ll go with plan “B” and move to the marina.
When we arrived, there were a couple of other boats tied up, so we docked as well. The police drove by and tossed us a friendly wave. Mystery solved, but then it got strange.

Free wharf in Dunkirk, NY.

A guy from the marina tried to hustle us into paying for a slip! We called it The Dunkirk hustle.

Dunkirk morning.

From the log book on Tuesday, August 15th. Written by the XO.

8:35 AM From Dunkirk, NY to Presque Isle, OH.
South winds 5-10, Sunny, waves 1 foot or less.
3:15PM Anchored in Misery Bay, Presque Isle, Erie, Penna

Huh? Is it Ohio or Pennsylvania? A little of both? The northwest corner of Pennsylvania touches Lake Erie. So yes, Sometimes we’re in PA, and sometimes OH, depending on where we float. Either way, we’re finally out of New York state!
We anchored in a sweet little cove called Misery Bay. It’s adjacent to a park with walking and biking trails, which we took full advantage of. It was absolutely beautiful. The maritime museum in nearby Erie has a dinghy dock! The weather was so nice we stayed two days.

Beautiful Misery Bay. Salty in the foreground. Floating in the background: Ginger Lee on the right, fellow loop boat Insandity on the left.
1000 ft laker docked in Erie, PA.
A Great Lakes beach in PA. It’s sometimes hard to image you’re not on the ocean.
Water cops from PA. They “pulled us over” because we only had one registration sticker displayed. They were shocked to discover we cruised here from Massachusetts, where only one registration sticker is required.

From the log book on August 8th 2017. Written by the XO.

7:15AM Pulled the anchor from the salad at Misery Bay, Erie PA.
3:15PM At the dock Geneva State Park Marina, Ohio.

Mile 849 to 906=57

Fifty-seven miles in eight hours is a wicked long trip for us, way out of our comfort zone, but the choices were few.
The State Park Marina in Geneva, Ohio, was dug out. It’s a man-made harbor with tons of dock space, fuel, and most importantly for us, a laundry.
We have a big net bag that would devour dirty clothes and grow to enormous walrus-like proportions. When we arrived, the Laundry Monster was so well fed that we needed a dock cart to support its girth. I couldn’t believe we had that much stuff on our boat. Armed with a shovelful of quarters, gallons of detergent, and a hard cover book, my brave wife muscled the behemoth down the dock, leaving me alone to change the fuel filters and the injector pump oil.
This job entails taking almost everything out of the salon and peeling back the carpet. After opening the starboard side engine hatch, I drop myself down between the engines with a bucket, rags, and wrenches. It’s impossible not to make a smelly mess, but it’s got to be done. To complete the job, both engines have to be bled until they run smoothly.
It’s my understanding that many boaters pay to have this done. I respect that, but I get a great deal of satisfaction out of doing it myself. I got into the habit of checking the engines once a week, sometimes more if they talk to me, as they often do.

Excerpt from our August calendar. We put a lot of information in there, like weather conditions and the daily price of our stay. A-$0 means anchorage, D means dock, W means wall, S means slip. It’s also a good way to keep track of engine maintenance and dinghy-flipping storms.

Small craft warnings kept us in Geneva 4 productive days. Laundry, groceries, and engine maintenance all got done. We also fueled up, pumped out, and filled our fresh water tanks. Now that’s a good stay.

From the log book on August 20th 2017. Written by the XO.
Fueled & pumped out & watered up.
8:40AM Left the fuel dock @ GS Park
11:20AM Anchored in Fairport Harbor.

Miles 906 to 925=19

The XO risks a swim in Fairport Harbor.

Something always happens in every port of call. It could be huge, or it could be the smallest thing that tickles the memory. Fairport, Ohio, is memorable because of the many boaters who came flying through the harbor at full speed. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. A small, scenic harbor full of anchored boats, paddleboarders, kayakers, and swimmers, all enjoying the day. Meanwhile, large powerboats are blasting right through the middle of it, ignoring them all. But here’s the weird part: it was like it was normal to everyone. The paddleboarders would simple scramble back atop. Kayakers would right their crafts, bail them out, and go on their way. Just another day in the harbor. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the Harbormaster? The wake from a 40 footer sent us airborne in our dinghy. A runabout on plane came within 3 feet of our stern, and its captain gave us a friendly wave! We were in Twilight Zone. Reality is merely a suggestion.

A dinghy ride in Industrial Fairport, OH.

On our trip, the August weather was so nice. It was filled with warm sunny days, mild evenings relaxing on the aft-deck, and cool nights sleeping with the windows open. How long can it last? I began to think about the fact that it’s late August and we still had the whole northern section ahead of us, all the way to Mackinaw, Michigan.
We joined the party late. Most of the other loopers, or the herd as they call them, have already headed south, many past Chicago.
The weather, the waves, the boat, the distance, the timing, the lions, tigers, and bears, oh my.
Ya know what? Screw it. If you start overthinking this voyage you need a good slap. That’s right. A good hard slap right in the kisser. The Great Loop is a series of short trips. The shorter the better. The only thing that matters is where you will go tomorrow. Believe me, it’s a good way to live, so enjoy it while you can. You may never visit Loopy Land again.

The Great Loopers Chapter 11. The Other Side

I want something real. I want to experience life and come out the other side. I want to put my heart out into the world and see what happens, come what may. I won’t let fear keep me from being happy. Tell me I’m wrong about this and I will tell you you’re wrong.

From the log book on August 5th 2017 Written by the XO:
7:40 AM Left Lockview Marina in Lake Cayuga (Kewga)
10:20 Worlds fastest pumpout in Clyde, NY.
12:00 Tied up at the free wall in LYONS (free electric / water / Wifi!) at the sound of the noon whistle.

The free wall at Lyons. Later, we pulled up under the bridge to get out of the blazing hot sun.

From the log book on August 6th. Written by the XO.
Sometime before 9:00 left Lyons wall (getting sloppy with the log).
12:48 Pulled in (awkwardly because of bad directions from the marina) to the Mid-Lakes Marina Macedon, NY.

The state of New York was our host for a whopping 32 days. 18 days on the Erie Canal. There’s a song in there somewhere. If I could only find a word that rhymes with canal.

Erie Canal party boat.
This is Mike. We met him on the wall at Baldwinsville. The next day he brought us a box full of interesting foods. I still talk to him. He’s looking for a boat to do the loop.
The wall at Ilion.
The wall in Rome, NY. We had pizza delivered!
A lift bridge. The bridge attendant stops traffic and raises the bridge; after we pass under it, he lowers it, then drives to the next one to meet us and repeats the process. The same person can operate 3 lift bridges!
The wall at Spencerport.
Mead tasting in Medina.
The wall at Tonowanda.
Loud “go- fast” boats terrorizing the neighborhood in Tonowanda NY.

From the log book on August 7th 2017 written by the XO.
Around 10:30 to the fuel dock.
Around 10:50 Away from Macedon.
11:20 Fuel off to port engine. Cruising to Fairport, NY on starboard engine. (Oops)
12:20 Docked at the DPW pumpout to bleed and restart Pollux.
12:35 Rick apologizes to Pollux and all is well.
1:00 First lift bridge in Fairport.
5:10 PM On the wall in Spencerport.

How I managed to shut off the fuel tanks is beyond me. Thirty minutes after fueling up, the port engine –who we named Pollux–petered out. I knew what it was right away and a quick check under the aft-deck hatch confirmed it.
Ginger Lee still has its original port and starboard 66 gallon cylindrical tanks. They are not connected to each other like the modern new fangled ones, so to balance the load, we must periodically switch from one to the other. This is accomplished by opening the aft-deck hatch, reaching in, and manually shutting off the petcock of the tank we don’t want to empty. It sounds like a pain in the ass, but it’s not so bad, and it doesn’t need to done that often. The trick is to make sure at least one tank is on. If not, the engine closest to the tank will starve itself first. In this case, the port engine. When that happens, as any diesel owner knows, you gotta purge all the air from the lines by a process known as bleeding.
On our Lehman 120’s, there are bleeding screws that you open and hand operate a lever on the fuel lift pump which is specifically designed for this purpose. Open the screw, pump the lever until all the air bubbles out, and fresh diesel spurts out making a smelly mess. Rinse and repeat. If you have diesels, you should learn how to do this yourself.
It happened once before many years ago when we first bought the boat. We were taking it home to Wareham from Wickford, Rhode Island. The port engine died, I tried several times to restart before checking the petcocks. Yup, they were both off. Oh duh. After turning on the fuel, the dead engine miraculously restarted and stayed running. I am told that never happens without bleeding. It’s a good thing too, because at the time I had no idea how to bleed them. That’s when we decided to name our engines Castor and Pollux, after the mythical twins who have the ability to temporarily transfer a portion of life from one to another, in order to save themselves.

Bocce in Illion. She won.

I fell in love with the Erie Canal. Much of its charm is in its age. It’s palpable. I could feel it all around. We cruised a waterway over a hundred years old. It’s still doing the thing it was dug out for, and doing it very well. Life is slow and easy. There’s no tricky currents or tides to contend with. No speeding wake-boats to jostle the nerves. No slips to wriggle in and out of, just nice, welcoming walls to sidle up to. They even make the locking process easy. Friendly Lockmasters will call ahead to the next lock and tell them you’re coming, so when you arrive, it’s all open doors and green lights.
But Ol’ Erie is not for everybody, there’s a fixed railroad bridge with a vertical clearance listed at 15 feet, 7 inches. No problem for Ginger Lee. She is 15 and a half with her hat on.
We entered the Big Ditch in Waterford as apprehensive and anxious novices. We left it in Tonowanda as happy, knowledgeable mariners, no longer in fear the big bad locks. Not after 40 of them. For me, it was the perfect introduction to The Great Loop. It’s all downhill from there. Literally. From then on, all the locks will begin to lower you back down to sea level.

Entering Lock 17 where we will be lifted up over 40 feet.

I felt like I did something very special, and learned things about myself, as a boater and as a person. The Erie Canal: a metaphor of life. You encounter walls. Some are free, some are quite costly, but they all have something to show you, and teach you. You’ll learn something from them. I guarantee it.
Look at the water: it has direction, an ebb and a flow. Sometimes it lifts you up, and sometimes lets you down. It’s a waltz that directs you if you let it.
Sometimes life gets stressful, we fall out of synch, like there’s a disturbance in the force. Do you have the depth to cruise through real life struggles, and come out the other side?

Buffalo and Lake Erie, our next challenge.

The Great Loopers Chapter 10. The Chemistry of Cruising

“Before you begin this adventure there is an emotional state of mind you must have. Having a sense of adventure means accepting the fact that resilience and fortitude will play a huge part here. You must have complete faith and trust in your partner. It’s not always going to be docktail parties.”
-Jan Rychel-

Basically, you move into a boat with your partner for a whole year. Think about that for a minute. It’s so easy to say that you are comfortable with your partner, but try living in a fraction of the space you’re used to. The Great Loop is not for everyone.
Before we started our trip, the XO and I were experienced seasonal cruisers. In Massachusetts the boating season is four, or maybe five months a year, if we’re lucky. Our house is near our boat so we spend most weekends on it. Even if we don’t take it anywhere, we still enjoy staying overnight on it. We both work day jobs, so Summer vacations, usually two weeks, are always spent exploring new ports and revisiting our favorites. We are very fortunate to be able to do that, but it is still part-time. There’s no way we could’ve been prepared for full time cruising.

From the log book on August 2nd 2017. Written by the XO.
8: 46 AM Away from the Brewerton dock.
12: 45 PM At the $5/night Baldwinsville, NY dock next to the graveyard!
Nice and quiet, but buggy.

7:55AM. Off the dock.
1:15PM At the dock, Lockview Marina, Lake Cayuga.

On August 4th we left the Erie Canal and locked through to Lake Cayuga (pronounced CUE-GA by the locals) and docked at the Lockview Marina. We met up with our friend Lisa who lives a mere 45 minutes away. She graciously offered to deliver some packages to us.
When I walked down the dock to grab a quick shower it was an awesome day on the lake. Everyone was outside enjoying themselves. Swimming, kayaking, sailing, barbequing, and what-have-you. I finished my shower, dressed, and was surprised that I couldn’t open the door to the outside. I mean, it was unlocked, and it moved an inch or two, but it was like someone was pushing back from the other side. I knew that wasn’t the case because I could see through the window and there was nobody there. I put my shoulder into it and gave it everything I got. Suddenly, the door whipped open and slammed hard into the wall with a loud bang. I scrambled outside to what can only be described as a disaster scene.
All hell had broken loose! The sky was a roiling, angry, dark gray, and was spitting huge nickel-sized pellets of rain. The wind whistled and screeched and knocked over a tree that crashed through the roof of a building on the marina property. The once tranquil lake was whipped up into a frothing, ugly monster with large whitecapped waves. I could barely walk against the gale so I broke into a run. Aboard Ginger Lee, The XO and Lisa had everything buttoned up by the time I got there, but poor Salty, tied to the hip, was aft into the wind and waves. I tried to turn his bow into the maelstrom but all I could do was watch helplessly as a sudden gust picked him up like a leaf and flipped him completely over, dumping his contents everywhere. Meanwhile, the XO witnessed a pack of kayaking cub scouts get overrun with sheets of spray and waves. Helplessness quickly turned into concern when one of the kayaks floated by empty.
“Call 911! We got a missing kid.” she said to Lisa, who was holding her phone, trying to capture the moment for posterity.
Then, just a suddenly as it began, the storm subsided, and it was once again a nice summer day. We pulled our upside-down dinghy to the face-dock, righted it, and bailed it out. The missing scout turned up after swimming to the nearest shore, and a friendly couple on their boat retrieved the oars, PFD’s, gas tanks, and all the stuff that was dumped from Salty.
The situation was looking much better, but the small Mercury outboard motor attached to the dinghy had gone underwater. Not good. Outboards aren’t made to be submerged, but since it was not running when it went under, I knew there’s a good chance it could be brought back to life. I immediately rowed to the launch ramp and pulled Salty out of the water by deploying its retractable wheels. I placed a bucket under the motor and opened the crankcase drain. There was a surprising amount of water mixed with the oil, but it’s a fresh water lake, which is good. Salt water is much more corrosive. Then I removed the spark plugs and sprayed fogging oil into the cylinders. After installing new plugs, and filling the crankcase with oil, I connected a tank of fresh gasoline, and hit the electric starter. Nothin’. Not even a sputter. “Crap!” I muttered.
I removed the carb, took it apart, cleaned it, reinstalled it, then hit the starter again. Still nothin’. “Double crap!”
After removing the spark plugs once again, I noticed they were pretty wet with water, not gas, so I blew out the cylinders by engaging the starter without the plugs installed. Without compression the motor spun fast enough to clear out any moisture. When everything was put back together, I sprayed starter fluid into the intake.
“C’mon baby,” I said as I pushed the starter button. It reluctantly sputtered to life like a nearly drowned man, coughing and spitting up lake water. I twisted the throttle to keep it running until it returned to its normal, burbling idle. When I zoomed that dinghy past Ginger Lee, I heard the XO let out a loud triumphant cheer. Salty’s back!

Here we are furiously bailing out our dinghy.
Friendly boaters rescued Salty’s gear that was floating away. The also grabbed the scouts kayak

Nobody makes it though the Loop unscathed. There is always something. Ask any Looper. It’s not just how you deal with it, it’s all about how you deal with it together, as a couple. It’s the resilience and fortitude part Jan Rychel mentioned in the opening paragraph.
On the waterways of The Great Loop, there are no days off. You are floating in your home, with your possessions and your loved ones. You have to be constantly aware. Your lives depend on it.
There’s a state of mind you enter for the duration. But once that’s achieved, everything becomes easier. We got into a daily rhythm. We knew where each other would be and what we had to do. We trusted and relied on each others abilities, so much so that our intercom headsets became extraneous jewelry that we put on only to chat with each other while we docked, locked, or dropped anchor. Me, inside at the helm, and her, outside on the foredeck, handling the lines.
“There’s no one on the dock, looks like we’re on our own.”
“Oh wait a sec. Here comes someone.”
“Do you have any tip money?”
“Should we tip the Dockmaster?”
“Ooh, there’s a manatee in the lock with us!”
“I see him! Hey, check out those egrets. They’re waiting for the lock to empty so they can grab the fish stranded on the ledge.”
“There’s Shangri-La.”
“And Miss Norma too.”
“They’re always together.”
“Connected at the hip. Literally!”
“Isn’t that Breeze in the slip across the fairway?”
“Yup, haven’t seen ol’ Lee since Tarpon Springs.”

Choose your battles wisely, don’t sweat the small stuff, be kind, and respect each others alone time.
“But gee wilikers! Why would anybody not want to be with me 100% of the time?”
“Jeepers creepers Rick! There are loads of reasons. Your insufferable vanity comes to mind. You drink beer and belch, and you smoke those stinky cigars. Shall I go on?”
“No need to. They’re my only faults!”
I made it a priority to take a long walk or bike ride whenever possible, usually daily, just leave the XO alone for an hour or two. If we were anchored, I’d dinghy ashore.
She would often take off on her kayak, or go to the beach alone. In almost every port she found a yoga class to attend. Sometimes she would just hop in the dinghy and putt putt around.

The XO recently told me that she was afraid most of the time. That surprised me. I didn’t see that. Well, not so often. I had fears too, but I guess I was good at hiding mine as well.
After nearly nine months on land, the sense of adventure is still very strong within my soul. I miss that more than anything else.
Many people ask me the same two questions. The first one: “How was your trip?” I struggle with. How does one answer that? There’s just so much. So many things happened.
“Perhaps you could narrow it down for me. Do you mean physically? Mentally? Psychologically?” It’s difficult to answer quickly while passing a co-worker in the hall at the water cooler. “Great!” I will say, but that just doesn’t quite cover it ‘cuz it wasn’t all great. “Amazing!” Another standard answer that also falls short. Sometimes it was damn boring. “Super! Wonderful! Spectacular!” I feel like I’m giving them what they want to hear so they can scurry off to file those papers. Is there a short answer? I doubt it very much. The second question I can answer right away.
“Yes. In a heartbeat.”

The Great Loopers Chapter 9. Locked In

From the logbook on July 26 2017 written by the XO:

8:49 AM We leave the Starbuck Island Boat Club. Heading off to our first lock of the trip at Troy.
9:30 AM First Lock– Nobody died, So far, so good.

All my fears just melted away after that first lock. It’s like riding a bike, it comes back pretty quick, and it’s not really all that difficult. You call the Lockmaster on channel 13 and ask what side he wants you on. There are red and green traffic lights so if the big doors are open and the light is green, you slowly enter the lock, maneuver the boat towards the side, and grab the ropes hanging down. The XO would be outside the cabin near the midship cleat and would “talk me in” on our intercom headsets. She’d grab a rope and put it around the cleat in such a way that it would slip through as we rise. When she had control I would leave the helm and catch another rope from the aft deck to keep the stern from swinging out. At that time, our plan for Salty was to tie it across the swim platform, but somewhere between locks one and two, Salty filled with water from being towed sideways, even at headway speed, so the new plan was to tie him on the hip before we enter the lock, that’s how we did it for the next 140.

The XO in her “lock seat.”

We got really good at going through locks. Man, we had it down. We would go into lock-mode and use a system that worked every time without fail. No boat follies. We just did it so many times it became second nature, like we were reading each others mind. But the first few days on the Erie Canal, every lock was like a new experience with all the anxious moments that come with it. A stressful learning curve where the stakes seemed higher, the danger more prominent. Cold, steel walls wait to take fingers and limbs from the unwary mariner. By the time we reached Canajoharie, NY, our second port-of-call, we had gone through 15 locks. More than we have in the past 20 years. After docking, I remember feeling so spent, and so overloaded, like my mind turned to mush.
“You okay?” the XO asked.
“It’s just so much,” I answered. “I think I need to wind down a bit.”
She handed me a cold beer and my guitar

Scotia Landing. A wonderful place. It was our first stop along the Erie Canal
It’s my birthday!
Water skiing show in Scotia, NY.
Docked at Canajoharie, NY.

There are no tides or currents to worry about, but the water seems somewhat dirty. You wouldn’t want to swim in it. There are no marinas with slips because the Erie Canal isn’t wide enough. Instead, they have walls that you tie up to. Many are free, and the ones that aren’t, don’t cost much at all.

A Guard Gate. It can be closed to seal off the canal.
The wall at Ilion.

From the logbook on July 31 2017. Written by the XO
9:30 AM. Left Illion. Weather is clear and fall-like. Headed to Rome. All fueled up and watered.
11:50 AM. Rick is scolded by a bargeman for speeding! He waked the canal work barge.
2:09 PM. Docked at Bellamy Harbor Park, Rome, NY. GOT PIZZA DELIVERED!
We measured 15’5″ from the top of the bimini to the water fully fueled and watered.

The wall in Rome, NY.

Yes, I got scolded for waking a working barge. In my defense, dear reader, I was only going about 7 MPH, but the Erie is still and narrow enough that the wake reverberates off the sides. Since then, I slow way down when passing guys on boats while they are working. And it paid off! I got friendly waves instead of one finger salutes.

The Great Loopers Chapter 8. Reflections on the Water

“Look inside yourself. See what you’ve done. See where you are. See where you are going. Is it what you want? Is it what you need? Is it what you expected? Answer truthfully and there is much hope for your future, whatever that may be.”

I have so much time to reflect on my life. Buckets full of time. I’m shocked at how easy this is to get used to. When we leave port, I point Ginger Lee in the right direction and turn the helm over to the XO for the next several hours. The woman can hold a course like autopilot. No, better than autopilot.
After I wash the breakfast dishes and make the bed, there’s not a heck of a lot to do, so I sit in the passenger seat and watch the world go by. Oh sure, we talk, but not constantly– there’s no fear of silence in our relationship– there’s a lot of time for inner rumination.

The engines hum and breathe beneath us. Like riding a horse, you can feel their heat, power, and rhythm. It becomes meditation. The XO mentioned this phenomena, so I know she feels it too. Not only is this something that I didn’t expect, it’s something nobody else talks about. Perhaps they don’t find it as pleasing as I do. Somebody once wrote that he thought parts of The Great Loop were boring. I don’t think I could feel that way if I made this trip a thousand times.
It’s not the circumstances that creates the joy. It’s you.

From the log book on July 21, 2017. Written by the XO.
6:32 AM Weighed anchor. Headed for Kingston, Forecast is NW winds 7, sunny and hot later, but this morning is cool and dry.
12:12 Arrived at Rondout Yacht Basin. No follies. Very helpful dock boys (Nash and Keith). (Kingston NY.)
First time paying for a pumpout. ($5)

Boats can be somewhat unpredictable in the way they move in the water. Other more experienced captains might disagree with that statement, but it seems to me that the wind always comes up when you are docking. Stray currents, wakes from passing vessels, misbehaving engines, anything can and will happen right when you don’t want it to, causing inelegant and sometimes embarrassing moments. On Ginger Lee, we call this Boat Follies.
Boat follies are to be avoided at all cost. Still, they happen. Unless the conditions are very still, you may have only one shot at tossing a line to a guy on the dock, and if he misses it, which they often do, it could get ugly. What if a guy tosses you a line and you miss it? What if your anchor doesn’t set? So many things can go wrong. All boaters know this. It’s the reason why complete strangers will help you. It’s the reason I will walk to the other end of a marina to help someone dock if there’s no one else around. I just can’t sit back and do nothing. What if it was me? Boat karma is real.

We were able to pump-out and fuel up right from this slip. That’s like a double bonus.
Nash Jackson. The best dock boy in the business.

Kingston, New York was a city of firsts. It was the first time we paid for a pump-out. It was our first trip (on the loop) to Walmart. When the taxi didn’t show up at Walmart to take us back to the marina, we took our first Uber ever, and on the loop, it was our first visit to a museum, and the first time we had to use our air conditioner.

First of many Walmart adventures. Loopers love the place. It has everything.
Restocking our provisions. The 5 foot PVC pipe is to make a fender-board.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, NY
Who doesn’t like old motors? They’re like art.

From the logbook on July 23 2017. Written by the XO.
10:37AM. VERY smooth exit from the Rondout Yacht Basin slip D2 with the entire breakfast crowd watching. Back to frugality. Destination Catskill. Weather is clear. 79 degrees WNW wind 3 mph.
1:33PM. After narrowly escaping the wake wings of Dr. No, we anchored opposite Catskill in 12 feet of water at Rogers Island north of Greendale.

In the busy restaurant over looking our slip, all eyes were upon us as I backed out, stopped, and spun 180 degrees on axis in an area not much bigger than the boat itself, then slowly threaded my way through the crowded marina. Sorry guys, no boat follies today. I knocked on wood, and waved goodbye to the Rondout Yacht Basin, a very friendly place. Three hours later we were anchored in the lee of Rogers Island.

The Rip Van Wrinkle Bridge as seen from anchor near Rogers Island, NY.

In the log book, my wife’s Dr. No entry refers to a certain style of boat. Large, low profile, dark and sinister, rude, massive wake, and doesn’t care. We later changed this name to Doctor Doom. Here are some other Gingerisms:
(1) Weenie Wangers: Men’s shorts (not underwear) that are made out of very light material. Extremely comfortable but definitely not to be worn in public.
(2) Sneaker Boat: Any boat with “modern” swoopy lines where the bow curves downward towards the water, like you could slide off it. Looks like a fancy high-tech sneaker.
(3) Sea Wake: It’s just funnier than saying Sea Ray. Another name for number 2.
(4) Lobstah Yacht: The opposite of numbers 2 and 3. Boatbuilders have copied the design and lines of traditional northeast style fishing and lobstering boats, and equipped them with fancy interiors for the lucrative pleasure craft industry.
(5) Pink Drink: Black Seal dark rum, orange juice, grenadine, and seltza water. The XO likes them.
(6) Cute Ice: The small and tubular ice from our ice maker. So named by a fellow looper during docktails.
Rick: “What’ll ya have Hon?”
XO: “A pink drink with cute ice.”
(7) Bum Boat: Any vessel at anchor that obviously hasn’t moved in a long time, and has people living on it. Usually found in warmer climates. Like a sailboat with no sails, heavy green slime on the waterline, and a dinghy hanging off it.
(7) Monkey Bird: Not sure what kind of bird this is. They live in the South and sound like monkeys.
(8) Clown line: Towel clips are wicked handy on a boat. We have a bunch of them that look like clown fish. I bolted a couple to the bow of the dinghy to hold the lines attached to the port and starboard rear cleats. When we need to put Salty on the hip, like when we go through a lock, we can grab the tow line and pull Salty along either side of the boat to the midship cleat. That controls the front, but to keep the rear from swinging out, we pick up the Clown Line with a boat hook and secure it.
(9) The Net of the Fisher: Marine band radio is a great source of entertainment, we always have it on 16 as all boaters should while underway. One day we heard a call to the Coast Guard from a guy with a heavy French accent. The Coasties asked him how many souls were on board, if anyone was injured, and what was the nature of his distress. He answered: four adults, everyone is just fine, and his sailboat had stopped moving because it was caught in the net of the fisher. Then he asked when they will come to free him. The Coasties replied that they will not come to untangle his sailboat and hailed Towboat US for him. So now every time we see that familiar pole with a flag on it, signifying there’s a net underneath, we break out our finest French accent.
(10) Ball of the Crabber: Well, you get it. Crab traps are marked with a white ball.

Clownfish towel clips.

We were living in the moment. That’s what it’s like on Ginger Lee. One waterway at a time, one day at a time. I knew where we were going and it frightened me a little bit. It’s the locks. There’s like 40 of them. I’ve been through the Griddly Locks in Boston a bunch of times, but that’s it. Fear of the unknown.
We’d just got used to the ways of Old Man Hudson, but after only two more ports–Castleton on Hudson, and Troy–we enter The Erie Canal, where we gotta forget about the familiar and learn the ways of this new-to-us westward waterway. I had no idea what it would be like. All I knew is that it’s long, non tidal, full of locks, and ends at Lake Erie.

A big ship on the Hudson.
Bannermans Castle on Pollepel Island.
On the Hudson, one of our plants fell off the boat and miraculously managed to save itself by grabbing on to the dinghy tow line!
Joe Berlino, owner of the Starbuck Island Boat Club in Troy, NY. He took us on a driving tour of Troy, and let us use his car.

Truthfully, cruising the Great Loop with my wife is what I wanted. She inspired me to take this leap and I jumped at the chance to share it with her. Do I need this? Absolutely not, but the older I get, the more I realize how special it is to find something that you love to do, and be able to do it. Some things take more effort, well, just looping took a tremendous amount of effort, both in money and time. That was unexpected. I guess I didn’t think that part would take so long. For years we scrimped and saved and tortured our souls, blah, blah, blah… Ya know what? After all is said and done, we did the one thing that really mattered: we made the decision to go. Once that was done, our hearts did the rest. Maybe there is hope for our future, whatever that may be.

Hudson River scene.

The Great Loopers Chapter 7. The Good Stuff

Almost all Loopers want to see New York City, and who can blame them. Pictures of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty will be prominently displayed in their scrapbooks and on Facebook. It’s a big deal, a highlight of the whole trip, but most Loopers don’t live in the northeast. The XO and I, however, do. We don’t want to see New York City yet again. Not if we don’t have to. Been there a million times. The XO lived there for almost twenty years. So after transiting the Hell Gate, we decided to take a pass on the NYC experience, and headed north up the Harlem River. We met the Hudson River three nautical miles north of all the hubbub. For those of similar thinking, the Harlem River is a very cool alternative. Scenic in a different and unique way. The transit is free of charge, but beware, there are many bridges crossing this waterway, all of them are potentially capable of opening, but they are old and some may have mechanical issues. So if you need more than 24 feet of air draft, the New York City Department of Transportation will not guarantee that they can open any of the bridges for you.

Some Harlem River bridges.
Yankee Stadium and graffiti.
Harlem River scene.

The Hudson River is tidal, and it’s flowing against us. We’re wasting fuel and slowing down a little too much, so we stop in Yonkers at their free municipal dock to wait two hours for the fair current. While there we discovered two things:
(1) we need to build a fender board. This will help us protect our boat from smashing against any dock with rough edges like this one.
(2) The Yonkers Municipal Dock is padlocked! Yup, you can’t leave the dock to spend money at all the nearby bistros and stores unless you can squirm on your back under a one foot tear in the chain link gate. I’m just thankful that I still have the agility to do so. We used a towel so we wouldn’t get our clothes dirty.
In the cruising guide, I read a review from a couple who called everybody they could to get the dock unlocked. The police, the DPW, the Mayors office, and nobody could come up with a key. Jeez! They just wanted to eat at the restaurant which is right there on the other side of the locked gate!

A tug joined us at the Yonkers Municipal Dock. The locked gate is on the end of that gangway, right below the restaurants veranda.

From the Logbook on July 7th 2017 written by the XO.
10:56 AM Stopped at the Yonkers Municipal Dock to wait for the tide.
1:02 PM Took off from the dock just ahead of the flood (tide).
1:20 PM First hail on AIS by Buchannon 12, an 89 foot tug.
“Hey Ginger Lee, is that you on my bow?”
“Nope” I see a little Sea Ray looking thing scooting by the tow about a mile behind us.

AIS is a wonderful thing. It allows any boat, which is so equipped, to “see” each other. Yup, from up to 24 miles away, boats can identify each other by name, type, length, beam, draft, hailing port, and sometimes destination. It also tells us their speed and if they are coming towards us or going away from us. Up until this point nobody has ever hailed us before, so we had no idea if our AIS unit was transmitting correctly. A tug boat called us on the radio by name to ask if we were cutting across his bow, a dangerous thing to do. It’s pretty cool to know we are “seen.” We were able to call the tug captain–by name as well–and say it was not us.

A Tug pushing barge. Why is it called a TOW?

On this day, at about one o’clock in the afternoon, the Hudson River became a kindly old man. His fair current cradled us and gently guided us along all the way to Nyack, New York.
“Come with Grampaw. I’ll show you the way. Not too fast though. You wouldn’t want to miss anything.
Old Man Hudson is a wide waterway, wide enough for all vessels large and small to coexist peacefully. At least it seemed that way. Has the world suddenly changed? I don’t think so. It’s me. I am changing. Every day, every minute, every second, I am becoming the person I need to be to survive in this environment. This is the challenge: to be willing to let things change me without betraying my self identity, or any of my traits that I am pleased with. Don’t wanna mess with the good stuff. But sometimes we look for one thing, and end up finding another, and our feelings change, and the story of our lives change as well. It’s all part of life. We all have to write our own story. Might as well make it a good one.

They’re building a new bridge next to the aging Tappan Zee bridge. This picture was taken from our mooring at the Nyack Boat Club.
Picked up this cart in downtown Nyack. It proved to be indispensable.
Nyack was so nice we stayed three days. Note indispenable cart filled with laundry.

From the log book on July 18th 2017. Written by the XO.

12:30 PM To Stoney Point
2:37 PM At Stoney Point. I miscalculated the tide/current. It was a little slow. I will do better next time.

At anchor. Stoney Point, New York. It was a wicked hot day.

On a hot and humid summer day we tucked Ginger Lee behind Stoney Point and dropped anchor. I could stay here forever.

The Stony point wreck.
Some type of abandoned structure.

From the log book on July 19th 2017. Written by the XO.

10:37 AM After a quick (hasty?) decision to move up to Iona Island, we pulled the anchor, only to have the winch stop pulling. We headed downstream a bit to the Panco fuel dock. filled, then came back to stoney point.
11:50 AM Dropped the little Danforth to let Rick fix the winch.

After a nice night anchored in Stony Point, we thought we’d move a few miles north to Iona Island, a scenic bird sanctuary just below the Bear Mountain bridge, While raising the anchor, our windlass broke just after the anchor pulled free of the bottom, so the XO pulled Mr. Mantus the rest of the way up by hand. Then we decided two things:
(1) As long as we’re floating free we might as well visit the nearby fuel dock.
(2) After we fill our tanks we should return to the Stony Point anchorage, drop our spare anchor rig, and diagnose the windlass problem.

I’ve taken that old windlass apart more than a few times, the design is fairly simple. The biggest problem was the heat. Working on that thing midday in the summer sun was brutal. I was broiling out there. I had to do it in ten minute shifts. I eventually found the broken part, called The Good Automatic Windlass Company in New Jersey, and ordered a new one. As luck would have it, a good friend lives very near here, and with his permission, I had the new part Fedexed to his house.
The next day we toured a historic Revolutionary War fort on Stony Point, then the XO rode her bike to pick up the new windlass part.

This is the new windlass part. Many thanks to our good friend Blair Buscareno.

From the log book on July 20th 2017. Written by the XO.
3:40 PM The winch is fixed. Leaving Stony Point anchorage.
About 5:00 PM Anchored. Very narrow band of just-right-water. It went from 100′ to 3′ in a blink. Now in about 15′-17′ northside of Iona Island, south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. Blair Buscareno visited.

It’s not often we hit bottom. It’s my fault. I was at the helm circling very slowly around the north side of Iona Island looking for a place to drop Mr. Mantus. The sweet spot is anywhere from seven to twenty feet deep. Okay. So I have one eye on the depth sounder which is reading an incredible 165 feet. I proceeded slowly: 134 feet, 105 feet, then suddenly 3 feet. “What!” I quickly pulled both engines into neutral. Then the depth sounder did this: – – – which is what it looks like when there is either over 200 feet of water under the transducer, or none. Ginger Lee stopped moving. Crap! I put it in reverse and goosed it. Much mud swirled and roiled and we were soon floating once again. As the log book stated, we found the sweet spot 15 to 17 feet deep and dropped anchor. We were out of danger, but I was feeling a bit dumb and inadequate, and as usual, I pushed those feelings back hard as I could, deep into the recesses of my brain, like I was afraid of my own thoughts. Why? So I can be hard on the outside, and gooey on the inside? I really need to work on that. I need to believe in what I feel, and own it. It’s harder than it sounds. There is nothing safe about putting your heart on the line. It’s the scariest thing you can do.

Our freind Blair Buscareno.

The Great Loopers Chapter six. Smooth

From the log book on Tuesday July 11. Written by the XO.
2:19 PM Anchored behind Cockenoe Island in 12.5′ of water.
8:45 PM Wind shifted to the north then died, and then we were in 3′ of water. Hmm. Not good. Moved out to 11′-12′. Slack tide and wind. Save us Mr. Mantus

Cockenoe Island is a small, uninhabited island just south of Norwalk, Connecticut. It’s a beautiful and quiet anchorage that gets good reviews from all of the cruising guides. The expression goes “every rose has its thorns”, and this tiny island has a big one: The deadly Cockenoe Reef. Longer than the Island itself, it juts out from the easternmost point. Not only is it completely underwater at high tide, it is completely and utterly unmarked. This makes no sense to me. Somebody please put a pole or something on the end of it. Nothing fancy. Just a plain stick would do fine. How ’bout an old float or somethin’? Jeez, the tide was up and we had no idea exactly where it was, and we were looking for it! Really hard! I can’t think of any other major hazard to navigation that is not marked. Sure, it’s right there on the charts. You can get GPS coordinates to it, which I did, but even the best GPS receivers can be off as much as two or three meters.

Long story short: we dropped Mr. Mantus (our anchor), spent the afternoon exploring the Island, swimming, barbequing, and what have you, and at quarter to nine at night, we suddenly realized we were less than five feet from the aforementioned deadly reef. As the XO states in the log: Hmm. Not good. There’s an understatement for ya. The tide emptied quickly and roared loudly over the rocky reef. Our depth sounder read 3′, and it was getting dark. We barely made it out of there in time and re-anchored safely a hundred yards away in 12 feet of water.
The danger was there all along. I should have been more alert, but sometimes I manage to fool myself into thinking everything is all right. This is one of my flaws, I know, but none of us can easily run away from who we are, least of all me. The best I can do is be aware, and stay ready for the consequences of my actions.

Cockenoe Island is one of those rare places that makes me smile inside, like I am one with the universe. I could feel its aura all around. We stayed there two wonderful days and the only other boat that came anywhere near us was an unoccupied catamaran that zoomed past and hit the reef pretty hard. It was a runaway from a nearby marina. I looked up the name written across the sail, called them, and they said they would send someone to collect it.

This unmanned Hobie Cat sailed by us and hit the reef.
We found this makeshift shrine on Cockenoe Island.
It was just her and I where the world can’t find us. We were so alone, we could shower on the transome in the buff.

From the log book on Thursday July 13 2017
8:07 AM Pulled up anchor.
Forecast is SW 5-10 becoming NW late.
Seas I ft or less. Slight chance of afternoon storms.
8:10 The eye splice on the anchor line was weirdly twisted. We put a second line on and pulled it on deck and pushed it into place.*
8:18 Underway to Greenwich.
* May need tighter whipping.
11:11 On guest mooring # 5 at Indian Point Yacht Club Greenwich, Connecticut.

This yacht club is so fancy that the launch drivers wear suits and ties. It’s so fancy that the ice is free and was delivered to our boat with a big red bow tied on the bag. So fancy that all the ladies on the dock wore white dresses and big hats. Needless to say, I was wicked intimidated. I felt like I had to shower and shave just to go in and use their shower. I know. I was probably being ridiculous, those yacht club members are most likely very nice people, but I would look so out-of-place in my cut-offs and flip flops. I actually never left the boat. But the XO did. She took the dinghy to pick up my little sister Elaine, which is why we’re here.

My sister Elaine and her dog Ziggy coming for a visit in Greenwhich, CT.

It was one of those terribly hot and humid afternoons. Even with all the windows open and all the fans going it was impossible to cool off. That soon changed. The next day we woke to the sound of rain drumming on our hatches. It was cold, raw, and the most uncomfortable swell kept hitting Ginger Lee the wrong way like a bad roller coaster. It was nearly impossible to do anything except leave. So leave we did.

From the log book on Friday July 14 2017. Written by the XO.
9:30 AM Dropped mooring. Spattered rain and overcast. Unfavorable but manageable swell.
12:22 PM On a mooring at the Bayside Marina in Queens, New York

We’re not even on the official Great Loop route yet. It doesn’t go through New England. We have spent 10 days just getting there and now we are two hours away from the actual route.
The Bayside Marina in Queens is where Loopers go to stage their trip through the notorious HELL GATE! (Insert oohs, aahs, hisses, and boos, here.) Yeah, it’s as terrible as it sounds, or potentially so. “Why Rick?” you ask. It’s because this is where the East River and the Harlem river meet and constrict. The 7 to 10 knot current would easily overpower a slow boat like Ginger Lee, and just to make things interesting, there’s a huge rock in the middle of it. The trick is to go through Hell Gate at slack tide. We figure (and when I say we, I mean my much smarter wife) that will occur at 9:00 in the morning, and we should leave this marina by 7:30 AM.

This is my review of the Bayside Marina:
It is rustic and bare boned, yet has the only 24/7 launch service I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of moorings available, and the staff is friendly. They have food! Burgers, dogs, chips, sandwiches, ice cream, and darn good french fries. Not exactly gourmet dining, but when you’re hungry, this stuff is impossible to resist.
They have one shower stall with no door, no shelves, no bench and it is right next to the emergency exit that staff members come and go through. I was surprised the XO showered there. She reported in her usual understated tone: “It was clean, the water hot.”

On the way to Queens, we saw our first boat with a Looper Burgee.
Staging for Hell Gate.

From the Log book on Saturday July 15 2017. Written by the XO.
6:35 AM To the Bayside Marina dock for water.
7:31 Off the dock
8:58 Hit the Hell Gate. Smooth.

“Smooth?” That’s it? Just “smooth.” Not even an exclamation point! I was sweatin’ bullets over this thing. Everyone does. It’s all they talk about up here. I be like: “Oh you bad huh? Big bad Hell Gate. Well who’s your daddy now sucka?!”
I was worried, sure, but the XO’s timing was perfect. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. Tides are predictable, but not the wind, current, and other organic factors. She successfully predicted within two minutes that if we left the Bayside Marina at 7:30 AM, and travelled at our usual speed, we would hit the Hell Gate at dead slack tide which was 9:00AM. Damn! That’s good.

Well that’s it. We’re officially on The Great Loop route. 6,000 miles to go until we’re back here at Hell Gate next Summer. They call it “crossing your wake” or “closing the loop.” At this point–the beginning– I remember it just seemed like too much to think of as a whole thing, as one big entity. It’s so much to encompass, to absorb. We’re talking well over 300 ports. Each one with their own memories, good and bad. Each with different foods, people, accents, dangers and unpredictable moments. Toss in the fact that we are married and susceptible to all the stuff that couples face in their personal lives together, and you’ve got quite a trip goin on many different levels. The journey is not just outside, it is inside us as well. Everyone has fears, and like the good Baby Boomer that I am, I try so hard to keep mine contained.

We haven’t slipped into any kind of normal routine yet. It’s like we’re still in vacation mode, still using the same provisions we originally put on the boat and they’re getting low. We need to go food shopping soon, another problem we haven’t been challenged with yet. We’ll figure it all out as we go because we have to.
I know where we are going today, but not so much beyond that. Each day, I am living in the moment. Believe me, it’s a good way to be. Once this trip has ended, will I ever be that way again? You never know, and I am ever the optimist.

The Great Loopers Chapter 5. The Fortunate Side

From the logbook on July 10 2017 written by the XO:
8:13 AM calm, still.
Dropped the mooring in North Cove. Off to New Haven on the fair current. Forecast is SW 5-10, Seas 1′ or less

1:38 PM Hooked a guest mooring at the Pequonock Yacht Club New Haven (after about 45 minutes at the fuel dock).
Mileage to date: 154
Average speed: 7.1 MPH
Moving time: 21 hours 41 minutes
Filled up 78.8 gallons @ $2.9

Monday morning in Essex, Connecticut. We’re close enough to Interstate 95 to hear the din of the traffic. Thousands of people are going to work. Not us. That’s easy to get used to. Ridiculously so. Especially for a man who’s been working since he was 15. Full time cruising has its perks. No work is one of them.
Only 154 miles into a 6,000 mile trip, our new life has just started, and already there were disruptive events. Sure, life is good while floating calmly in a sweet little cove on a nice warm day, but foul your prop, sink your dinghy, run into a submerged tree, and you realize the potential for disaster is quite high. Higher than your typical work day commute.
“Shake it off Rick. If you spend too much time thinking about the future, the present will slip through your fingers.

Leaving the Connecticut River.

We had reserved a mooring at the Pequonock Yacht Club situated in New Haven, Connecticut. Our trip there was blissfully uneventful, with just enough of our fellow boaters around to give us something to look at and talk about. Another beautiful day on the water. Very ho-hum. I like that.
The XO and I are not strangers to cruising, we do it as often as we can afford to, usually weekends and vacations from work. Since The Great Loop is nothing but a series of short day trips, we settle into our usual cruising routine. First, we decide how far we wish to travel that day, usually 30 or forty miles is plenty. Then we look at our charts and see what’s around in that range. Next, we consult our cruising guides and get several possible choices. I write them down in order of best to worst, and start dialing. Generally, in a list of, say, several phone numbers, I would expect a few to not answer, or ask me to leave a message. One or two will pick up the phone, and usually, only one will call me back. Every once in a while we’ll get lucky and our first choice will answer the phone, book us in, and we’ll be done with it. Sometimes, nobody responds and we have to modify our plans. Maybe we have to travel a bit further to find accommodations. You’ve got to be flexible.
It’s all about the cruising guides, they tell you everything, all the marinas and their phone numbers, coordinates, reviews, if they have fuel, laundry, bar, if there is a market nearby, or an anchorage. There are many free places to dock as well, and we want to take advantage of those as often as possible. Our go-to cruising guide is called Active Captain. It’s free, and it’s online. We also use published paper ones that cover specific regions. Once we pull into port, or drop anchor for the night, the first thing we do is plan our next move, make a reservation, and plot our course.

Once in New Haven, we went directly to the Pequonock Yacht Club fuel dock and tied up. Nobody was around so I walked inside the building. Again, no one home. I went up a flight of stairs and found a guy behind the bar.
“What’ll it be?” he said.
“Got any diesel?” I answered.
“Fuel dock’s closed on Mondays.”
“Bummer,” I said. “Now we’ll have to dock again tomorrow.”
“Oh. You’re at the fuel dock.”
“Yup. I reserved a mooring for the night, thought I’d stop and fuel up first.”
“I can sell you fuel. Let me get the key and I’ll meet you at the dock,” he said with a big smile. “First let me show you the mooring.”
I followed him over to the window. He pointed to a big orange float.
“You can use that one or the one next to it,” he said.
I love this guy. Sometimes all you need is a little cooperation.
After getting settled on the mooring, we took the dinghy back and had dinner and drinks at the bar.

From the logbook on Tuesday, July 11 2017. Written by the XO:
8:07 AM Dropped the mooring at Pequonnock Y.C.
Forecast is SW 5-10, seas 1 ft. Possible storms or showers. Overcast after heavy rains all night. Brightening.
8:31 @R15 (nav. aid) Castor overheats to 250* after the alarm sounded. Returned to mooring.
*Buried the needle.
9:43 V-belt on Castor replaced. Rick is hot and greasy. Castor temp looks much better. Getting set again.
9:50 Under way (part 2).

The log book pretty much says it all. A little after eight in the morning when we were leaving New Haven, our starboard engine, which we named Castor, overheated. We were able to return to the mooring where I discovered a broken V-belt and changed it.
Was it my fault? I worried about that. You be the judge. That belt had been on that engine since we bought the boat ten years ago, and who knows how long before that, but I always visually inspect everything every time I visit the engine room, which is fairly often. I like poking around in there, checking fluid levels, hoses, batteries, changing filters, and, most importantly, belt tension. In a former life, I used to be a professional car mechanic. I kinda know what I’m doing, well, enough to have several spares on hand. Hey, I’m not stupid, I’m lucky. Wicked lucky. Not winning-Mega-Millions-lucky, but I always seem to find the fortunate side of any situation and come out alright, sometimes even better than before. I don’t know why this is so. Karma? God? That deal I made with Satan? I dunno. Maybe I’m just good at figuring stuff out, or managing my expectations. Whatever it is, it’s something that has followed me my entire life. I’ve come to rely on it, believe in it, trust in it, this unnamed thing that has literally and figuratively saved my life many times. From the bad comes the good. It’s a double edged sword, one that I would prefer to leave in its scabbard. In fact, it used to frighten me, until I learned to temper my fears with the wonderful things that I love to surround myself with.

The Great Loopers Chapter Four. New Frontiers

From the log book on July 9th 2017. Written by the XO.
“Anchor up at 6:15.
Arrived North Cove, Essex, CT at 1:30.
On a “non-member’s” mooring.*
Over 47 miles in 7 1/2 hours.
Hit a log in the crowded Connecticut River, which then bounced off Salty.
*It’s a harbor of refuge.”

It’s wicked early, but we weren’t the first to leave the comfortable anchorage behind Gardner’s Island in the Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island. As the sun approached the horizon, and spread an orange glow across the underside of wispy clouds, I watched three sailboats weigh anchor and follow each other around the island and out towards the sea. They all had the same hailing port written across their transoms, meaning they’re travelling together. I wondered where they’re headed, and what adventures they’ll have. We followed the trio to the Harbor of Refuge. They went left, we went right.  Our destination: North Cove, Essex, Connecticut.

We vowed to never travel on a weekend, when everybody that owns a boat is out on it, but we stayed such a long time in Rhode Island that we made an exception. Were we subconsciously prolonging our departure into parts unknown? Every port from now on will be the furthest west we’ve ever cruised. New frontiers await.

We soon discovered that the entrance to the Connecticut River was very popular with our fellow boaters. Everyone was pretty much ignoring the 5 MPH NO WAKE buoys. Except us. Par for the course. I get it, no one wants to go slow.
We were hugging the reds, minding our own business, just letting all the boats zoom around us, criss-cross in front of us, and generally behave badly, when we see this huge, fifty-plus-footer barreling up the channel behind us. The dude was throwing up a four-foot wake! Tossing everybody aside like matchsticks. It was unbelievable. The protocol for taking such a wake from behind is to run away from it, but we were already on the edge of the wide channel. We’re just gonna hafta hang on and hope we don’t get swamped. I could see this schmuck standing on his flybridge, looking straight ahead, nose in the air, oblivious to the mayhem. His wake slammed into us on the port side rear quarter. We slid perilously sideways, but Ginger Lee managed to right herself quickly enough to avoid disaster. Then we hit a tree! I could hear it scraping along the keel, then the sickening sound of it ripping into unprotected, spinning props. Salty, our dinghy in tow, took it head on with a loud BONK. There is that horrible feeling a boater gets, when, for a few minutes, you don’t know if you’ve been holed, or if the running gear has been damaged. My eyes kept going to the bilge warning lights. Praying they wont flash on. Jeez! I hate that feeling.
The radio came alive with pissed off boaters telling Mr. Schmuck to shove it and other more colorful obscenities. But he either had his radio off, or he was ignoring it. He just kept flying down the channel. Finally, somebody said: “What do you expect. It’s the f***ing weekend.”

Well, the bilge lights never came on, there was no vibration from bent shafts, and Salty towed steadily behind us. Yay! I’m so glad we survived. Let’s just say it was very exciting, and leave it at that. When we took a left into the little channel that led us into North Cove, it was like night and day. Calm waters and bucolic scenery soothed my frayed nerves like Valium. We were the only boat under way in this quiet little cove. The cruising guide said to grab any unused mooring float with a yellow ribbon attached to it. Of course, there were no yellow ribbons, but plenty of empty moorings. We grabbed one, and just to be sure, I called the yacht club that controls this cove and they said we were fine. Time for a drink. A strong drink. And time to renew our vow to never travel on weekends.

North Cove.

We spent the afternoon cycling around Essex and Old Saybrook, CT. I have to say, I don’t feel like a 65-year-old guy. I have no problem peddling my butt around, or walking for hours, or contorting my body into our crowded engine room. I was ten years younger when we decided to do The Great Loop. I laugh when I look at my driver’s license. Last month, the RMV renewed it using the 15-year-old picture they had on file. I barely recognize myself. I was clean-shaven and had lots of thick, dark brown hair, like the robust young man I am in my dreams at night. Don’t misunderstand, dear reader, I feel older in a good way, a successful transition into maturity. I survived the maelstrom that is life in some pretty turbulent decades. I did all the stuff that should have killed me, but it didn’t. My thinning hair is grey, my bones creak a little, I need glasses, and I’m afraid that someday my age will keep me from doing the things that I enjoy. Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet. But I’m a cautious man, I knock on wood, and even occasionally thank the Lord for my very life, such as it is, ya know, just in case there is a God.

Old Saybrook Town Beach

You don’t see or hear of too many young people doing this Great Loop. I have a theory about that, and it has a lot to do with money. It’s not cheap to do it. Financially, by the time a person is in a position to even consider such a thing, they’re usually older. People will sell their homes and buy a new boat to this. It happens all the time. Not us though. We saved for nearly a decade, and when I say we, I mean my wife. Saving is one of her superpowers. I’m the dreamer in the relationship, but everyone deserves a chance at their dreams, and if you listen to them, really listen, you can hear them come true.