03-15-10 Sneads Ferry, NC – Thanks

[Rick] With us safely back in Sneads Ferry, the time has come to end our great loop adventure. However, we recognize that we would not have had such a great time without some help from many people. Along the way, we met many wonderful people and we have become friends with many. Included in this group are friends or relatives who joined us for a day or so. These folks include (dates are in parenthesis so you can look up the blog entry if you wish):

Louise, Betsy’s childhood friend that drove 4 hours (one way) to spend a day and a night with us. She is the only overnight visitor we had…after all it is only a 26 foot boat! She slept on the convertible dinette table in a sleeping bag (6/24).

Chris Gunter, Betsy’s nephew that lives in Rochester, NY, drove to visit us in Oswego, NY to visit (6/30).

Tina, Trina, and Tara, the Zephyrhills wild bunch. We drove there, then they drove to Clearwater, all during Christmas week.

Ryan, my nephew, and a great kid, and his mother Bonnie, visited us in Boca Raton (1/23).

Betsy’s second cousin Ben Newland and his wife Rose, took us to Disney’s Wild Kingdom and let us stay with them in Orlando, FL (2/9).

Another of Betsy’s second cousins, Scott Makepeace and his wife Pat, drove from Jacksonville to St. Augustine to take us to Osteen’s Restaurant for the best shrimp dinner we have ever had (2/16).

Friends from college days Duncan and Cami Mills, hand delivered an air conditioner/heater to us. They picked it up in their hometown of Richmond VA and drove all the way to Great Bridge, VA, to deliver it to us. We really used the heater. The air conditioner, not so much (5/28).

Jimmy and Gaye Thomas, friends from Wilmington also visited us in Great Bridge (5/28).

Kim Volek, a former member of our church in Sneads Ferry, dropped by for a visit in Beaufort, SC. We had never actually met Kim but she had been reading our blog regularly, and had moved to Beaufort after we left on our trip (2/27).

Sue, daughter of our Topsail Beach neighbor, and her husband Gary, dropped in for a visit while we were in Isle of Palms, SC. They just happened to be vacationing there and Sue’s mother knew from reading the blog that we were there at the same time (3/3).

Dolli and Jimmy Adams, our friends from Lumberton came to Myrtle Beach and took us to Sticky Fingers for lunch and catching up.

There is another group of important people. These are the ones that we owe thanks, in a big way. We cannot name everyone, But, here goes:

We start with Glenn in Chicago. He towed us around the Carp Crap and we are truly indebted to him. Not only did he save us $600, he showed that there are friendly, helpful boaters on the water (9/3).

Sid in Luddington. He offered us, complete strangers, the use of his truck while we were weather hostages and he was great company docked next to us (8/16).

Bruce in Fairhope. Shared his lovely town and church with us (11/29).

Tom and Patsy Conrad. These wonderful people let us tie to their dock and kept us entertained for three days (12/1 – 12/2). In addition, Tom’s weather musings, well respected by AGLCA loopers, helped us pick the right day to cross Florida’s Big Bend.

Ron and Marji Cyr also let us dock at their home in Punta Gorda FL and were wonderful hosts just after they had completed the loop themselves (1/11-1/12).

There were many, many other loopers that we travelled with along the way that were so helpful to us, but we can’t mention them all for fear of leaving someone out. Just know that if we travelled with you even for a day or two, you were special to us and we will not forget you.

I have saved the biggest thanks for last. We do not even know how to begin to thank Tom and Billie Hayden for all their help. Tom took care of our mail, certainly not the easiest of tasks. Tom and Billie “managed” the two disasters at home when the water pipes burst on the Florida heat pump and flooded our downstairs with thousands of gallons of water. They were a constant source of information and news from Sneads Ferry. Thank You Very Much.

This is probably our last blog entry for this trip. We will leave the blog and website open so anyone can refer back. We hope that everyone has enjoyed reading the blog as much as we have enjoyed having you as our “virtual crew’. Now, cast off your lines and go live a little……..

Betsy, Rick, and Beamer

03-14-10 Crossing Our Wake!

Betsy speaks: We attended our church in Topsail Beach this morning, and were surprised to be greeted at the door by our former (retired) pastor from Sneads Ferry Presbyterian. He lives nearby and knew we would be at Topsail’s Emma Anderson Chapel today, so he and his wife decided to show up to welcome us home. What a wonderful surprise (although Rick knew ahead of time that they might be there). Sorry we didn't get a picture of Tim and Margaret!
After church we loaded the boat up and took off for our final slip in Sneads Ferry, where we would cross our wake, indicating that we had completed the Great Loop. My brother John and his wife Pat were there to see us off. On that final stretch between Topsail Beach and Sneads Ferry, about 24 very familiar miles, we reminisced about what a wonderful trip we had had. We are both so glad we did this thing that on the surface seems so far-fetched.

Along the way, we passed the “pepto-pink” house that many loopers have included in their blogs because it is such a standout along this stretch. When we left the pink was so faded it might not have warranted a picture, but it looks like they painted it just for our return because it is as bright as we’ve ever seen it!

We thought there might be a few people waiting for us at our slip as we had publicized on the blog our expected arrival time of 2PM. Sure enough as we rounded the final bend we saw quite a gathering waiting for us.

The amazing thing was that as I pulled into the slip I started hearing bagpipes! Howard Orr, a member of our church family, used to be a piper but I’d never heard him play. Last I heard his pipes were not playable and beyond repair. So I’m looking around trying to figure out where this bagpipe sound is coming from, thinking it must be a recording or something. Then the people on shore pointed at Howard on the opposite shore, and sure enough we were escorted in with live bagpipes proudly playing Scotland the Brave! Since we left, Howard has joined a pipe band and gotten some new pipes.

In addition to the bagpipes, we were greeted with hugs and mimosas. The gathering consisted of New River Sail and Power Squadron friends and several members of our Sneads Ferry Presbyterian Church family. Most of these had been reading the blog regularly, and several said they feared they would suffer from blog withdrawal now that we are back. I think we counted 22 people in all.

We were proud to finally hoist the AGLCA Gold Burgee, which we estimated cost us something upwards of $30,000. But it was worth every dime, and now I will strive for a Platinum Burgee (multiple loops) as soon as we recuperate from this trip.

Here’s one final sunset picture, taken yesterday from our home in Topsail Beach. With sunsets like these right here, you might wonder why we ever want to leave this beautiful place! Even gorgeous sunsets can’t inhibit the wanderlust of a born Gypsy!

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for what we think will be our final blog, in which we will talk about the special people that made this trip so memorable. Also, if you are statistically oriented, we have updated the “Log Book” which is found on a tab on the left of our home page,

03-13-10 Animal Encounters and Best/Worst Days

We hoped we would see lots of wildlife along the way, and indeed we did. We are both animal lovers, and one of the highlights of the trip was visiting several wonderful aquariums including the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We also went to a much smaller rescue aquarium facility in Clearwater.

In the wild, we saw more dolphins than anything, yet still we stop nearly every time we see them just to watch them closely. It seems they always want to follow you into or out of ports. We missed them all through Canada and down the rivers, but as soon as we neared the bottom of Mobile Bay they escorted us into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. It seems that the dolphins in Florida are more likely to actually jump out of the water and surf the boat’s wake than those we see here in North Carolina, and we never stopped trying to get that great picture of one all the way out of the water. Here’s our best shot, taken West coast of Florida.

Of course, coming down the Illinois River we ran into the issue about the Asian Carp, and we saw plenty of those once we were south of the electronic barrier at Joliet, ILL. You can read about that by looking at the blog entries for 09/03 and 09/08.

We saw our first Bald Eagles while on the Tennessee River, and then saw a couple more near Lake Okeechobee. We were disappointed not to have seen more eagles

We were also disappointed not to see more alligators. We saw a couple on the rim of Lake Okeechobee, and then a few in the ditches along side the road at the Kennedy Space Center. I think the bitter cold weather was the reason we didn’t see more.

I think I also expected to see more Manatees, and again I think it was because of the cold weather that we didn’t see them. We did see one or two on the Okeechobee rim; one dove right in front of us within seconds after we got our warning for not obeying the Slow Manatee Zone sign that we didn’t see near Lantana, FL. Then we saw a couple in Fort Pierce outside the Manatee Museum.

But we did have two unique and incredible animal encounters. The first was in Port St. Joe where we saw the manatee rescue (12/07). The other was just before reaching Punta Gorda, where we spent several hours guarding an injured sea turtle while we waited for help to come (01/11).

Moving on, we’ve had a really hard time coming up with our “best days” and “worst days” on the water. This does not include our favorite or least favorite stops…we talked about them yesterday. This is our cruising experience. I (Betsy) personally loved every day we were on the water…even a bad day was a learning experience. Rick, who suffers from a slight case mal-de-mer, wasn’t so crazy about the bad days!

Under Best Days we have to put, in chronological order:

Cruising into New York Harbor and past the Statute of Liberty…probably tops on any looper’s list! I’m sorry we didn’t wait a day or two to have sun instead of the misty fog we encountered. (6/15)

Cruising from Alexandria Bay, NY to Kingston, Ontario….the scenery was the prettiest we had seen to date and some of the prettiest we saw on the entire trip (07/03).

Transiting the much anticipated Peterborough (07/12) and Big Chute (07/19) Locks in Canada.

Cruising in beautiful Collins Inlet as we neared Killarney, Ontario (07/29).

One perfectly gorgeous cruising day on Lake Michigan cruising from Charlevoix to Frankfurt past the magnificient sand dunes and the Pointe Betsie Light (08/12). Maybe this one day and the one following made up for all the awful days we had on Lake Michigan.

Crossing Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Chicago, leaving at sunrise and cruising under autopilot most of the way, 117 miles on a beautiful clear day, seeing the Chicago skyline from 40 miles out (08/19).

Everything on the Tennessee River! (Month of October)

All of our good days have one thing in common: beautiful weather and smooth seas! Wish we had seen more of that!

Along with the good comes the bad, and we did have a few “worst” days:

Transiting the canal to Point Pleasant, NJ, very narrow with tremendous current and turbulence but you had to go at idle speed. We had trouble finding a place to stay; once we did find a place we had to back into a tiny slip (it was the only time we had to back in on the entire trip). Then Rick lost a lens out of the brand new glasses he had just purchased in Atlantic City (06/14)

Going out Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey. This is the one time you have to go outside into the ocean on the entire trip and we did not do it on a good day. We were nearly swamped by the huge wake of a very large and very fast boat that cut right in front of us on our way out and our entire boat was literally underwater twice (06/15).

Going out of Gore Bay, deciding it was too rough and turned around to go back. We almost lost the bikes off the bow (8/05).

Arriving back in the United States at Drummond Island. The trip started out in smooth seas, but in the final few miles we encountered the roughest water we had on the entire trip, with no way to get out of it. The water was like a mixing bowl as the huge waves bounced off the surrounding rocks. To the big water helmsman (Betsy) this was our worst day (09/06).

On the Ohio River floating around with eight other boats in the very confined quarters of a lock, finally breaking a throttle that had been giving us trouble since day one (09/17).

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico from Apalachicola to Clearwater in pea soup fog the entire way (12/14).
Tune in Sunday to read about our final leg. We expect to cross our wake in Sneads Ferry, NC at 2PM Sunday afternoon.

03-12-10 Wrap-up: Favorite Towns & Marinas

There are certain towns and marinas that absolutely everyone that does the loop has to see or visit. We’ve listed those here mostly as a reminder of some of the famous things we saw. Following that, we’ve listed smaller towns that we really thought were special that the average person might never visit, especially if you were travelling by car rather than by boat.

BIG CITIES THAT WE ENJOYED: Annapolis; Baltimore; Atlantic City; New York; Kingston, Ontario; Chicago; Chattanooga; Clearwater; Sarasota; Fort Myers; St. Augustine; Savannah; Charleston (which we bypassed this time because we’d been there several times before by boat). All of these towns are boater friendly and have nearby museums, aquariums and other attractions. Although there are exceptions, most have very nice marinas. Most are very biker friendly, and it was in these large cities that we really used the bikes.

SMALLER TOWNS ALONG THE WAY: The things that made small towns attractive were mainly that the marina would be right in the heart of town. The towns would offer good re-provisioning opportunities, good shops, good restaurants nearby, historic areas or small local museums that were within walking distance, great parks, etc. Listed below are some of our favorites, most with the date of our visit in parenthesis. You can refer back to that date in the blog to see why we liked each of these places. We tried to narrow the list down, but just couldn’t leave out any of these places. They are more or less in chronological order.

North Carolina: Beaufort and Oriental

Virginia: Yorktown, as well as many other small towns in the Chesapeake, but we sort of skipped by them this trip because we had been there before.

New York: Sylvan Beach (6/27);
Alexandria Bay (7/2). I will note that Alexandria Bay was not part of our plan but became a necessary side trip that turned out to be one of the most beautiful areas we saw on the entire trip.

Ontario, Canada:
Peterborough (7/9 and 7/12) where we traversed the famous Peterborough Lift Lock;
Bobcaygeon (7/13) where on the way we encountered the canoes in the lock;
Orillia (7/17 and 7/18) where we happened upon a Scottish Festival;
Little Current (8/1 and 8/2) where we happened upon the Haweater Festival.

Michigan: St. Ignace (8/7 and 8/8); Petoskey (8/10)

Illinois: Grafton (9/4)

Alabama: Everything and every town along the gorgeous Tennessee River! (Entire month of October). Particularly Florence, Guntersville, Scottsboro, and Chattanooga.

Florida: Port St. Joe (12/5); Sanibel Island (1/13 and 1/14, 2010); Melbourne (1/30)

South Carolina: Beaufort…one of our all-time favorites (2/25 through 2/28).

All along the way we sort of “rated” marinas as to how they suited our needs. The main criterion for a great marina is clean restrooms and showers since we are so dependent on them, unlike loopers on larger boats. A great marina would also have wi-fi; cable tv hookup; courtesy car unless they were right downtown; floating docks and a personable staff. Eating facilities nearby is a plus.

There are a couple of marinas that you MUST stop at whether you want to or not because of their remote locations. These would include Hoppies on the Mississippi River. You absolutely must stop here to top off your tank (very expensive) prior to the 250 miles before the next marina. Hoppies consists of three barges lashed together, almost non-existent restroom facilities, no showers. There is a small town within walking distance with several restaurants and shops. Fern Hopkins sits down with boaters late each afternoon to warn them of what they will face as they travel on down the mighty Mississippi and to let them know of any impending hazards she has heard about. (See blog 9/15).

The other MUST stop is Bobby’s Fish Camp on the Tenn-Tom. This is the last stop before a very long stretch to Mobile Bay (see blog 11/27).

Now for our Favorite marinas, based on the criteria listed above:

Dowry Creek Marina in Belhaven, NC (5/21…we’ve stayed here many times before)

Harbor View Marina in Ludington, MI (8/16) excellent facilities with friendly people…thanks Sid and Carol for your hospitality!

Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, IL (9/4 – 9/7) Absolutely superb facilities with lots of loopers for camaraderie. Thanks Capt. Moe! Great staff with lots of activities.

Beardstown, KY (9/10)…(This isn’t really a marina, but it was a great experience! Since the town dock was closed we ended up tying up to a barge for the night).

Alton City Marina in Alton, IL (9/13) Absolutely the best shower/bathroom facilities we ever encountered!

Pebble Isle Marina in Johnsonville, TN (9/23) where there were many other loopers, free food, great hospitality. It was here that we met Harbor Hosts Patsy and Ray Whitney for the first time…they were here touting the benefits of stopping at Port St. Joe (see below)

Grand Harbor Marina in Iuka, MS (9/25 – 9/27) at the head of the Tenn-Tom. Great docks, courtesy car, great staff!

Goose Pond Marina in Scottsboro, AL (10/5 – 10/15) The most peaceful place we stayed…we just happened upon it and then couldn’t bring it upon ourselves to leave! Not that the facilities were that great, we just loved this location and this town! It is definitely off the beaten path, but since Harbor Hosts Ray and Patsy Whitney are getting ready to move here from Port St. Joe (see below) it will soon become a favorite of all loopers!

Port St. Joe Marina in Port St. Joe, FL (12/5). Off the beaten path but worth the side trip….wonderful Harbor Hosts Patsy and Ray Whitney.

OK, so what is a “Harbor Host?” you might ask! This is a new program sponsored by the AGLCA, wherein cruisers that live in or near looper friendly towns make themselves available to loopers that pass through. Rick and I will probably become Harbor Hosts for the Topsail/Sneads Ferry area once we get settled in after our trip. Harbor Hosts can do as much or as little as they want, but in general they make themselves available to help other loopers that pass through.

Patsy and Ray take this a step farther, becoming ambassadors, for their home port. They travel in their boat up and down the waterways touting their home port, which at the time we met them was Port St. Joe. PSJ is not on the regular beaten path for loopers…you must go several miles out of your way to get there. But Patsy and Ray convince you it is worthwhile to do this. Then when it is the right time of year for loopers to be in their area, they are there with welcoming arms. I’m sure that when they move to Scottsboro later this spring, our favorite off the beaten path marina Goose Pond will double its looper business as a result of their ambassadorship.

Some Harbor Hosts, like Tom and Patsy Conrad, make their home dock near Pensacola available on a first come first served basis…we certainly took advantage of them. Others just offer a home cooked meal. We had our first home cooked meal on the trip at the home of Jim and Sue Starke, Harbor Hosts in Bay Hill, AL, who came to our boat and introduced themselves and invited us to dinner at their home nearby. Others may just offer the use of a vehicle.

Well, now I’ve digressed into something we weren’t going to talk about today, so I guess I’m rambling and it’s time to close. Tune in tomorrow for more favorites!

03-11-10 Topsail Beach – Still resting up for the finale!

Betsy speaks: Well, it’s nearing bedtime and Rick says we need to blog, and suggests we pick our five favorite parts of the loop as our blog material for tonight. I say I can’t come up with my favorites without going back to day one blog and reminding myself about parts of the trip. I started to do that, and became so overwhelmed with what we had done and how hard it is to choose “favorites” that I’m thinking we need to put this off ‘til tomorrow. Maybe I’ll sit down then and start making a list. So be patient, and we’ll work up something when we it’s not so near bed time.

[Rick] Actually, Betsy is correct. It is very difficult to come up with your favorite or even your top five favorites after a 10 month trip. So, I, too, will think about it and we will decide soon. Later.

03-10-10 Topsail Beach - Coast Guard Stop

[Rick] Since we are at Topsail beach rejuvenating ourselves until we “officially” cross our wake in Sneads Ferry on Sunday, I thought I would take the next couple of nights to write about some of the questions, favorites, funny things that happened, etc.

Here is a very funny story that we have not shared before.

As we approached Annapolis, Betsy was at the helm navigating very slowly through the mooring field, we were approached by a small Coast Guard boat that turned on his blue light. We knew we were doing nothing wrong. They just wanted to board for a safety inspection. I immediately put Beamer in the front cabin and closed the door. Two men boarded the boat, one was very young. The elder of the two wanted the registration, which I retrieved from the closed cabin. He began to complete the paperwork. The younger pulled out a 3X5 card containing a list of items he needed to see… flares, fire extinguishers, notices, etc. Almost everything he asked, I had to retrieve from the cabin, and each time I went in and came out I carefully closed the door behind me to keep the dog inside. Of course Beamer, the Psycho Dog, was going berserk. After we had gone through the entire list, and I had been in the cabin 4-5 times, the young officer nodded to the closed door and said “I guess it would be too much trouble to see your engine room.” At which point, I pointed to the stern of the boat and said “We have outboards.” Yes, there was a small grimace on his face. The older of the two rolled his eyes, and Betsy and I both stifled a laugh. I often wondered what kind of harassment the young man received once back on the Coast Guard boat.

One question we get often is in regard to the size of our boat. We are only 26 feet, but we have all of the necessary, not excessive, creature comforts. We took this boat on the loop because it is the boat we own. If we had a 50 foot boat, we would have done the loop in it. There is no perfect boat. On the loop, we saw a 21ft Ranger Tug, a 25 ft Ranger Tug with two adults and two big dogs, a pontoon boat with a tarp draped over a rope for a shelter. We also saw a 56ft Hampton and a 61ft Hampton. And, we saw everything in between. Generally, the loop boats are 30-40 feet, mostly trawlers. Most have the ability to anchor out for days at a time. Some, like us, never anchor out. Our shower facilities are very limited and we prefer to take showers in marinas. Thus, we spend most nights in marinas. Our boat would be too small for most couples. You cannot be the “needy” type or “high maintenance” type to do the loop on our boat because there is no “me” time. You are always in sight and sound of the other person. You will recall that we had two rules on the boat. 1) No guns or knives aboard, and 2) If it ain’t fatal, get over it…..

However, regardless of the size of the boat or its amenities, all loopers have some things in common: A sense of adventure; an enjoyment of meeting other people; and a sense of doing something most people will never do, thereby gaining a sense of accomplishment.

03-09-10 Topsail Beach II

[Rick] Our first full day in Topsail Beach was relaxed and easy. We performed a few maintenance items on the rental house. We spent some time catching up with Betsy’s brother, Steve. Around 1300, Power Squadron friends Toad and Dauna Gable arrived to take us to lunch. Since there is nothing open in Topsail Beach at this time, we went to Mollie’s in Surf City. The lunch specials were delicious. After lunch, the Gables took us to Sneads Ferry where we turned on the water at our townhouse, picked up the mail that has accumulated since our trip home in November, and retrieved a vehicle. Right now Betsy is enjoying going through Christmas cards!

Several times as we did our loop we shared photos of beautiful sunsets. None were as pretty as we have right here at Topsail Beach.