Monday, November 1, 2010

Are You Feeling Loopy?

"Looper."  It sounds like a kind of pesky forest caterpillar.  But that’s the name for boaters who are travelling the route called "The Great Loop."

We just spent three days at the “fall rendezvous” of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA)--an event held every year at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, Alabama.  

The Cap’n sends this guest blog about the experience.

The docks and lodge at Joe Wheeler State Park in Alabama
We joined about 200 other “Loopers” for lectures, workshops, demonstrations, and social events. Participants included people like us, who are currently looping (most arrived by boat), plus Looper “alumni” who have already completed the trip and folks who are planning (or fantasizing) about some day taking a year to circumnavigate eastern North America. Also on hand were boat brokers, marina managers, and marine supply dealers.

For Cynthia and me, some of the most useful sessions dealt with specific reaches of the journey, like the detailed orientation to the Tenn-Tom Waterway given by Fred Myers, the author of numerous books and articles about inland waterways. The first mate was mightily excited to learn that, once our boat reaches the salt waters of the Gulf, our spider infestation will disappear.

I was impressed that, without exception, the speakers made a point of sharing their personal phone numbers and email addresses. All of them urged Loopers to get in touch as they approached the speakers’ home ports: for advice, for a ride to the supermarket, or to tie up to their guest dock. Yes, some Looper alumni maintain “guest docks” just to accommodate other Loopers – including people whom they have never even met before.

Other events during the meeting included the very popular “Looper Crawl,” a kind of open house where you could visit other people’s boats (very helpful for people thinking about Looping and deciding what kind of boat they want).  There were free vessel safety checks by Coast Guard-certified inspectors, a dinghy race, and safety equipment demonstrations.

One session was held at the park’s outdoor pool. Four Loopers jammed themselves into an ocean survival life raft equipped with everything they’d need to survive an emergency ditching in the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, the simulation was curtailed after 20 minutes to allow for cocktail hour, but I’m quite confident that they could have survived in that four-foot deep pool until the Coast Guard arrived.

The Great Loop has been described as the “adventure of a lifetime.” It’s a unique adventure because, though it can be strenuous, challenging, even scary, it’s not like climbing Everest or mushing sled dogs to the North Pole or even sailing singlehanded across the Atlantic. You don’t need to be a world-class athlete to Loop.

Most Loopers we’ve met are retired couples, and they have a wide range of knowledge, skills, and physical strength. At the upper end of experience, we’ve met couples who are both Coast Guard-certified master captains, with incredible training and experience. At the lower end, you have, well, people like us! We started our trip with exactly four days of previous experience running a powerboat, plus what we’d learned from an on-line class.  And every night (so far) we exchange high fives and chant, “We didn't sink the boat today!”  

Any two people with a boat (even a small boat), motivation, and a whole lot of time could embark on this trip, because they wouldn’t be doing it alone. On every stretch of the Loop, they could expect to find a support network of other Loopers willing to lend a hand. It’s that network that makes this “adventure of a lifetime” something just about anyone can undertake.

By the way, if you’re thinking YOU might like to be a Looper, the “Spring Rendezvous” will be held in May 2011 in Norfolk, Virginia, on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. 

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