THE VIP CLUB

The Cult of Cruis­ing the Loop

Passage Maker - - Contents - Bob Ar­ring­ton

HU­MANS ARE A RESTLESS LOT.

It is our na­ture to ex­plore and our na­ture to be cu­ri­ous, and trav­el­ing by boat is by far one of the most sat­is­fy­ing ways of keep­ing this ex­plorer’s cu­rios­ity alive. The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the “Great Loop”—a con­tin­u­ous wa­ter­way cir­cling the east­ern half of the U.S. and por­tions of Canada—is good ev­i­dence that many agree.

No one is sure who first nav­i­gated the “Loop,” but it had to be some time af­ter 1848, when the Illi­nois and Michi­gan Canal, which con­nected Lake Michi­gan to the Mis­sis­sippi River, joined the pre­vi­ously con­structed Erie Canal. Th­ese two canal projects cre­ated an is­land of sorts of the east­ern half of the con­ti­nen­tal United States. A col­lec­tion of in­ter­con­nected rivers, lakes, and wa­ter­ways en­abled a boater to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the Loop with­out portag­ing any land ob­sta­cles.

Sto­ries are told of three boys com­plet­ing the route in a small sail­boat some­time around 1890. While th­ese wa­ter­ways were built for com­merce, not for re­cre­ational use, it is not in­con­ceiv­able that th­ese young lads saw this sys­tem of canals as a chal­lenge and set out on a jour­ney. The first doc­u­mented voy­age, how­ever, wasn’t un­til nearly a cen­tury later in 1971 when John Wright and Terry Richards com­pleted the route on a 27-foot, sin­gle-en­gine Chris- Craft Cav­a­lier.

John Wright, or sim­ply “Cap­tain John” as he has come to be known, has gone on to com­plete the Loop nu­mer­ous times and has been a leader in en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to fol­low. One of the cou­ples that fol­lowed Cap­tain John was Ron and Eva Stob. While on a char­ter canal boat va­ca­tion along the Trent-Sev­ern Wa­ter­way in On­tario, Canada, Ron and Eva learned of the Loop from a cou­ple trav­el­ing along the route. Ron and Eva had no boat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but cer­tainly had an ad­ven­tur­ous streak. The seed was planted on that va­ca­tion that they would some­day not only com­plete the Loop them­selves, but in do­ing so fos­ter an en­ter­prise that would en­able thousands to fol­low in their wake.

Risk and Re­ward

Ad­ven­tures come in all forms, and we get to choose those which suit our tastes as well as our risk tol­er­ance. Cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing the Loop de­liv­ers one of the high­est re­wards imag­in­able, with a level of risk lower than al­most any other boat­ing ac­tiv­ity.

Depend­ing on the route and num­ber of side trips taken, the Loop can take a boater on a 6,000-mile odyssey through 20 states, the coastal wa­ters of the At­lantic Ocean, all five Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mex­ico, six ma­jor rivers, and two his­toric wa­ter­ways (the Erie Canal and the In­tra­coastal, both over 200 years old in their con­cept and plan­ning). Add to this an in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in the French- Cana­dian prov­ince of Que­bec, and one can see why many Loop­ers are on their sec­ond or third cruises; it’s too much to take in on a sin­gle voy­age.

Bal­ance this breadth of ex­pe­ri­ences with the rel­a­tively low risk of boat­ing al­most ex­clu­sively within sight of land, and of boat­ing in the most pre­dictable sea­sonal weather as you progress around the Loop, and it’s easy to see why even peo­ple with lit­tle or no boat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence feel com­fort­able tak­ing on this ad­ven­ture. Shared Ex­pe­ri­ence

Loop­ers re­peat­edly cite the friend­ships formed along the way as one of the most re­ward­ing as­pects of their trip. The Stobs tapped into this quickly af­ter com­plet­ing their first Loop ad­ven­ture. As a travel writer, Ron was ac­cus­tomed to shar­ing their travel sto­ries with oth­ers, and he turned their Loop ex­pe­ri­ence into a best­selling book, Honey, Let’s Get a Boat. In April 1999, at TrawlerFest in Mel­bourne, Florida, the Stobs pro­moted their new book and an idea for a new club: Amer­ica’s Great Loop Cruis­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (AGLCA). At that event they col­lected the names of the first 14 mem­bers of their new club. The fol­low­ing years showed steady growth and in­ter­est in the shared in­for­ma­tion be­tween ex­pe­ri­enced and prospec­tive Loop­ers. A monthly news­let­ter kept ev­ery­one in­formed of the group’s ac­tiv­i­ties along with rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion about the Loop. Clearly there was strong in­ter­est from an ever-grow­ing group ea­ger to learn more about this ad­ven­ture.

At a can­celed TrawlerFest sched­uled for Grand Haven, Michi­gan, in Au­gust 2001, Ron and Eva at­tended their first im­promptu “ren­dezvous” cre­ated from a potluck din­ner or­ga­nized by Loop­ers gath­ered for the show. The chem­istry and ca­ma­raderie of the group was too good for this to be a one­time event. The Looper’s Ren­dezvous was born and has only in­creased in size and frequency over the past 17 years.

To­day the AGLCA holds two sea­sonal ren­dezvous, along with mul­ti­ple shorter ed­u­ca­tional ses­sions. A Spring Ren­dezvous is held ev­ery year along the East Coast for Loop­ers start­ing on the leg north, fol­lowed by a sec­ond Ren­dezvous in the fall, typ­i­cally lo­cated at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, Alabama. Th­ese have be­come sell­out events. This year’s Spring Ren­dezvous in

Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, had 300 at­ten­dees and over 50 boats, and the Fall Ren­dezvous was al­ready sold out with a wait list by mid-July.

Th­ese events are a “Looper’s Uni­ver­sity,” tak­ing the non­boater from en­try-level 101 cour­ses to grad­u­ate-level in­struc­tion in a sin­gle week­end, with classes taught by a mix of ex­pe­ri­enced Loop­ers and other boat­ing pro­fes­sion­als. Each ren­dezvous is also a re­union, giv­ing Loop­ers a chance to re­con­nect with oth­ers they’ve met along the way.

The AGLCA, orig­i­nally formed by the Stobs, has changed hands and evolved over the years into a smoothly run pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tion. Hav­ing at­tended a cou­ple of their events, I can tell you they are some of the most ef­fi­ciently run pro­grams I’ve ever at­tended. The en­thu­si­asm of past Loop­ers is in­fec­tious, and prospec­tive Loop­ers leave the events not only ex­cited to make the trip but also con­fi­dent that they can do it.

A Life-Chang­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence

Mike and Judy Hechtkopf al­ways joined their friends from the Cav­a­lier Yacht Club for the an­nual Me­mo­rial Day cruise to nearby Cape Charles, Vir­ginia. How­ever, this par­tic­u­lar year was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. On Monday when ev­ery­one from the Club headed south back to Vir­ginia Beach, Mike and Judy turned north to be­gin a long-held dream of cruis­ing the Great Loop. The Hechtkopfs first learned of the Loop from friends at their yacht club. Like so many Loop­ers, Mike still had sev­eral more years to work, so he re­searched and planned and dreamed for the even­tual trip.

Fi­nally the time had come. Prior to get­ting un­der­way, the Hechtkopfs signed up for the Spring AGLCA ren­dezvous in nearby Nor­folk, Vir­ginia. They at­tended all of the classes on what to ex­pect, how to do this, and what to bring aboard. Pack­ing their Vik­ing Sport Cruiser 50 with every­thing they needed and prob­a­bly more, they locked the house and set off. The plan was to com­plete the Loop non­stop, bring­ing them back to their home in Vir­ginia Beach.

Mike and Judy had heard the sto­ries, but they had no idea how their lives were about to change. Judy re­mem­bers meet­ing peo­ple at the ren­dezvous. While they all col­lec­tively said they looked

for­ward to see­ing each other along the way, Mike and Judy felt quite con­tent, but also quite alone, when they left their yacht club friends that Monday morn­ing to set off on the Loop.

The stops through the Ch­e­sa­peake were mostly fa­mil­iar to them, hav­ing spent va­ca­tions en­joy­ing the bay’s rivers and trib­u­taries. When they reached the New Jersey Shore, they were in new ter­ri­tory, how­ever. And that’s when they started see­ing the fa­mil­iar burgee of fel­low Loop­ers. It wasn’t un­til they fell into a group of cruis­ers who would be­come life­long friends that they fully un­der­stood and ap­pre­ci­ated the sto­ries they had heard.

The Hechtkopfs took 13 months to com­plete their loop, tak­ing a few breaks along the way for fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. They will tell you it was every­thing they dreamed it would be and en­cour­age any­one dream­ing of it to find a way to make it hap­pen.

Some Can’t Get Enough

Don and Barb Cavin lived a slightly more ad­ven­tur­ous life than the av­er­age cou­ple. Af­ter Don re­tired from his ca­reer as a U.S. Air Force Re­servist and com­mer­cial air­line pi­lot and Barb re­tired from her ca­reer as a flight at­ten­dant, they trav­eled ex­ten­sively. But it clearly wasn’t enough to satisy their crav­ing for ad­ven­ture.

In 2009, the Cavins pur­chased Cavara, a 1988 49-foot DeFever raised pilot­house with plans to con­tinue their trav­els: by wa­ter now, in­stead of by air. The Cavins spent sev­eral years re­fur­bish­ing Cavara, per­son­al­iz­ing the boat to suit their tastes and mak­ing it cruise-ready. When they at­tended their first AGLCA ren­dezvous in the spring of 2013, they hadn’t com­mit­ted to start­ing the Loop yet. They con­tin­ued to cruise the east­ern seaboard and Canada, even com­plet­ing what is known as the “Down East Cir­cle Loop.” This route starts at New York’s Hud­son River and goes through the Erie Canal, Lake On­tario, out the St. Lawrence Sea­way, and back down the East Coast.

Four years later, hav­ing gained con­fi­dence in their boat and their own abil­i­ties, they made the de­ci­sion to of­fi­cially be­gin the Loop in Fe­bru­ary 2017. They worked their way around Florida and started north where we met them at the Spring ren­dezvous in May 2018. They are cur­rently in the Great Lakes and en­joy­ing their cruise more than they could have imag­ined. They will “cross their wake” in Sara­sota this win­ter. And while they will have com­pleted the Great Loop, they have no plans to end their ad­ven­tures there. Cavara will take them north again next sum­mer as their jour­ney con­tin­ues.

The Cavins, like most Loop­ers, know that while the Loop is in­deed a cir­cle and their route will return them to where they started, they won’t come back the same peo­ple.

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