“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.”
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!
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.”
“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.”