Wednesday, May 8, 2013

End of The Loop Blog

Days since our Loop was completed:  57

Days since we left the boat in Florida: 38

Days since we arrived home in Seattle:  32

Days since the sale of “Next To Me” closed:  19

A month ago we said we’d write a “Reflections on the Loop” post within a week, and we obviously failed to meet that deadline. But it’s been crazy busy. It’s amazing how much work it is to settle back into land-based life after being away on a boat for most of 15 months. And we flew to Texas for 4 days to attend Cathryn’s niece’s wedding April 20. And we had lots of questions to answer and paperwork to process to close on the sale of our Loop boat “Next To Me” to Jack and Sara on April 18, assisted by our boat broker Curtis Stokes. Jack and Sara have now been trained by Captains Chris and Alyse Caldwell for 3 days (as we were) and successfully, and happily too, we’re told, completed their first solo overnight journey. “Next To Me” is soon to be re-christened “Ithaka” and will begin her second Loop in January 2014.


After a month at home, we launched our boat “Always Ahead” this past Sunday, a beautiful 84-degree, sunny day in Seattle. She’d been sitting on her trailer for 18 months. Monday we spent the afternoon on the water re-discovering what it’s like to be on a 27-foot single engine boat, practicing docking (harder on a single screw with no thrusters) and enjoying the spectacular cruising grounds of Puget Sound.


So with a month to reflect on the Loop, how do we see it now that it’s in our rearview mirror? Observations include:

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1.  The journey was more fun, interesting and challenging than anticipated, so exceeded our expectations on almost all levels. We knew we’d have steep learning curves in terms of boating, as we were somewhat novices when we began. We didn’t know how very much we’d learn about ourselves as individuals and a couple, and about U.S. and Canadian  history, and the degree to which various regions of  North America are culturally SO different from one another.


In some ways, various parts of our country now strike us as being as different from one another as if the U.S. were five countries in one, all speaking more or less, but not quite, the same language given the accents and colloquialisms that vary so tremendously. The differences between our Pacific Northwest culture and the South are in many ways larger than between the PNW and Ontario, for example.

2. It was harder to meet our “Co-Captain Objective” than we expected. When we began, Bob was way ahead of Cathryn on the overall knowledge and comfort curve. It took 3 months for Cathryn to get as comfortable driving and docking the boat as Bob, for example. Over time we learned we had some different strengths than we thought we had, different skills from each other, and different ideas about how some situations should be handled. Sometimes sorting out these differences was easy, and other times it was very, very hard. Bob turned out to have much better problem-solving and mechanical aptitude for what to do when things broke, which maybe he expected, but for some reason Cathryn thought she could learn to contribute to as an equal. That didn’t happen. And Cathryn turned out to be far more adept and comfortable driving and docking the boat than either of us expected.

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We imagine boats that have one person functioning as Captain at all times may have it easier in some ways, but we’re still glad we had two of us who grew to be competent at most aspects of managing our boat and Loop experience, especially at times like our overnight Gulf of Mexico crossing. Had either of us had any life-threatening emergencies (medical, man overboard, or otherwise) it might have saved a life.

In some areas we had challenges sorting out how to handle certain activities. Eventually we took 1 of 3 approaches: we discussed it and agreed on a mutually acceptable approach; we agreed to disagree, but let each of us handle it our own way; or the toughest of all, one of us just “walked away” (there isn’t that far to walk on a 42’ boat) and let the other one do it the way they wanted.

3. We’ll never look at any waterway the same again. Now as we travel our world, any lake, river, ocean, gulf, inlet, bay or creek raises questions in our minds about depth, currents, navigability, point of origin and end, amenities available along its length, and much more. We understand each one is much more diverse and complex than we understood from boating in the Pacific Northwest.

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Above is the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cut-Off, the first place we touched bottom, clogged a strainer with sand, and overheated an engine so it was out of commission for the rest of that day.  Later that afternoon, our windlass failed, locking our primary anchor to the deck, so we spent a sleepless night on our spare anchor and its’ then unknown length of rode in a reversing tide of 9 feet. Let’s just call that a learning experience.

Waterways are beyond scenic now, and are instead paths of travel and exploration, like highways, roads, and  trails that pose their own travel challenges and adventures, and we want to know and explore them.

We see the occasional freighter or gravel barge go by our home here on Colvos Passage near Seattle and see the results of international trade at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma.


Above: The tow Chippewaw. We went through locks secured to this tug two mornings in a row. The Captain and crew couldn’t have been more helpful in speeding our passage.

But we now understand in ways we did not before, the  degree to which our economy benefits from the marine highway that our nation’s rivers represent.  Every time we see a news story about flooding or drought on the Illinois or Mississippi Rivers, we think about the huge volume of barge traffic affected and the work the Corps of Engineers must do to maintain this system.

4. Our everyday life at home mostly brings us into contact with a lot of people with whom we have a whole lot in common in terms of culture, socio-economic status, educational level, and to a large extent political and religious leanings. On this journey we found ourselves surrounded more often by people not “just like us” on those measures, but people who are at the further ends of several of these spectrums.


Political and religious beliefs are the most obvious example: our closest friends at the end of the Loop were folks who were either Canadians (socially very liberal, and not at all religious) or Southerners or Midwesterners who are politically conservative and religious, including people who consider themselves evangelicals. We had great conversations with folks at both ends of the continuum and deepened our understanding that most of us come to our beliefs as a result of our life experiences and where those naturally lead us.  We could write lots more on this topic, but won’t. Suffice it to say, we came home with a heightened understanding, we think, of why our country is so divided on so many issues, and how honest, smart, well-intentioned people come to hold such divergent views.

5. Living on a boat is much more fun and harder than we expected. We never had the problem of feeling the spaces were “too small” and we needed to get away from each other. Our surroundings were more beautiful, the lifestyle more freeing, and the peace and beauty of it more rewarding than we understood it would be.


We also eventually learned that having to think about battery and fuel management, waste tank pump-outs, garbage and water management (6 gallon hot water tank, 200 gallon fresh water tank), and how to get groceries, boat parts and prescriptions filled with no regular access to a car would not be a desirable way of life for us on a full-time, long-term basis. But Oh! Those stars at anchor at night, and those sunsets! We still have cruising in our future, and are already talking about what type of boat might work for us on the Inside Passage to Alaska in a couple of years.

6. We laughed often about the “norm” of American travel standards compared to the Loop travel standards. By that we mean that North Americans are accustomed to traveling 60 or 70 miles an hour and perhaps 200-600 miles per day when on a road trip, or 1,000 – 4,000 miles per day when flying. Traveling on the Loop at 8-10 miles per hour, the most fuel efficient speed, normally meant traveling 25-75 miles per day, only rarely more or less.  The goals and pace are more modest, and the scenery better absorbed at that speed than going faster. A blog excerpt below:


We also found that the “feel” of it can be equally tiring compared to long road trips, depending on weather and other conditions, and whether anything breaks or any misfortunes are encountered along the way. 

7. Things break a whole lot more often on a boat than they do in a house, a car or an airplane. Part of this is because of the high number of mechanical and electrical components required to make a boat go. But a lot of it is because of the difficult conditions under which a boat survives: it lives in water, and often it’s in highly corrosive salt water; in bad weather or big waves it gets battered around violently, much like a house does in an earthquake, high wind, tornado or hurricane.


And many Loopers are relative novice boaters who start their journeys without knowing their boats well, but gain skills and knowledge as they go along. So they (we included) make mistakes and cause problems for themselves.

8. Traveling the Loop strengthened our relationship. While we certainly had times we were grumpy or annoyed with each other, more often we found ourselves having a huge amount of fun together and with the friends we made along the way.


We also saw each other grow in skills and confidence, and found there was a great deal of new stuff to admire about each other. We each chose to stretch our limits, and we each pushed each other at times to grow and learn. This was good.

9. Finally, this was truly an adventure of a lifetime, and we wouldn’t trade the experience for anything! We feel very, very fortunate to have been able to do this trip, are glad we decided to do it before we got too old or unhealthy, and are pleased we’ll have our blog to re-read when we’re sitting in our rocking chairs on our deck in our really old age and can’t remember the details without some reference material. We’re already beginning to experience this phenomenon, as the Loop gets further in our rear view mirror.


For those of you anticipating doing the Loop someday, we say: Go For It!  To those of you who traveled it with us and became our friends, we say: We love you, value the time we spent with you, and hope to see you again.  To those family and friends back home who supported our journey or took care of lots of things at home for us, we say: Thank you, we love you, and we’re glad to be back home with you!


Darrell Grob said...

Lovely summation of the loop experience. Your comments about being able to do this before you are physically and perhaps unable to do this make me think about a vision I have had in my head. It is day Lisa and I are unable to continue this and we must return to our lives on land. Lisa is 49, I'm only 58 so we would probably return to our work lives. Months would go by and we would settle back into our work and living a land life. I can imagine that we would lose a sharpness, a crispness of thought and action. Our life on board would somehow start fading. (Like you said, our blog too is more of a record for us than a travelogue for others.) One day we would look at each other and see we each have a yearning. One of us, probably me, would say something like, "We need to be back on the boat." And just like when we first left for Florida to buy a boat, we would be gone. We would pack up and get back to our boat and back on the water.
I have been told I am quite the romantic about this. Of course I am. How can you not be.

Ocean Breeze said...

Excellent end of the Loop review! Could you feel all of us old Loopers out here nodding our heads 'YES, YES' ? Thank you for letting us follow you and relive our own Loops. Please let us know when you decide to do the Northwest Passage so we can follow a new adventure.