Sunday, December 30, 2018

Random thoughts from 3 years Looping and living aboard. December 30, 2018

We wrote most of this in early October while sitting in a slip at North Shore Marina in Grand Haven, Michigan contemplating our planned life "on the dirt" for 6 months and are doing so with highly mixed emotions.  It will be hard to leave our home (yes our boat is really our home) and place it in heated storage, but it will be wonderful to visit family and do some other travelling too.  We look forward to these visits and travel but also getting back and relaunching (literally) our live aboard adventure in late April 2019.

Many have asked for a recap of our thoughts and observations from our three years and over 13,000 statute miles of water travel and live aboard experience.  So, in no particular order here are some ruminations....

We started out way back in 2010 thinking about 15 month Great Loop that would begin in the Spring of 2015.  Well one needs to be flexible...our start date quickly became delayed and a two, then a three plus year Loop plan evolved.  But very early along the way, we decided this live aboard lifestyle could also easily be a lifestyle we could enjoy in our good health with which we are blessed.  We are so glad we sold the home, cars and reduced down our belongings to a 5'x10' storage unit.  This simplification and our floating home provides us great flexibility to follow the seasons...we don't do winters anymore.😎  No worries about anything other than our boat and travel schedule this way.

We made it a point not to have too many fixed schedule commitments.  We made general plans and revised them along the way due to weather, repair delays, etc.  When we had a firm date and place commitment, we made sure we had plenty of time to arrive and explored areas near the destination more thoroughly if we arrived a few days (or weeks) early.  This proved to greatly reduce the stress levels of travelling long distances.  But it also enabled us to have family and friends join us at various locations to enjoy the highlights of those particular areas.  When we had an event we needed to attend far from where the boat was located, we found it easy to find a marina to store the boat for a period of time, fly or rent a car and travel to the family event. We also flexibly arranged a number of short term plans and friends or family visited us in those circumstances. Flexibility is key.

Budgeting thoughts.  Overall, we ended up pretty much on plan but we'll share some observations.  We did not specifically track food, beverage, phone and clothing with the thought that our lifestyle aboard would not differ from a land based home. And looking back, we think this was pretty accurate in total. The major expenses incurred were repairs/maintenance, marinas, fuel and car rental/air fare, in that order. We ended up a little under our planned marina and fuel budget but spent way over our maintenance and repairs plans.  Your "mileage may vary" on this, we just had some ill luck with some major unforeseen mechanical issues. Many boats complete the Loop with very few repairs, others have spent much more on larger problems than we have..."luck of the draw" here.  Just have some funds set aside for major repairs, no one wants to have these "ruin" your travels.

Biggest surprise?  The people you meet.   Just wonderful!!  Such a friendly and social lot cruisers are!  We now have friends in every area of the country (and countries!...Bahamas and Canada) that we visited.   And it is not just boaters.  We met many friendly and competent repair technicians, marina personnel, car rental and transportation folks, restaurant and grocery store employees etc. along the way.  Most want to "hear your stories" and go out of their way to help with local recommendations and such.

What would we do different?  Probably nothing.  Your boat selection is a big part. Make sure the "livability" criteria you have are well covered with your choice. There is no perfect boat and ours proved just fine.  Yes, it burns a lot of fuel, but we used the speed flexibility to our advantage a number of times (bridges, locks, weather/waves).  If it were only a "slow boat" we would definitely look for one with stabilizers based on our experience in the ocean.  Our "stabilizers" are speed and fuel burn and it worked for us.  The "walk around" decks proved very useful in the 130 locks we traversed.  The fly bridge is very nice for visibility in the Bahamas or heavy crab pot infested areas and has proven to be a great entertainment area as well.  The dual helm is wonderful for weather and insect issues....never have to be hot or cold or swatting nasty flies on the fly bridge, just come below and run the genset for air or heat!  The lower helm with the pilot door is also nice for stairs to traverse to handle a line. And the two heads/showers is great for visitors for a few days at a time as well as redundancy should one head malfunction.  Not perfect as no boat is, but we found it stable, comfortable and functional.

To those contemplating the Loop we say, find your boat a year or more early, learn and update its systems, get training on handling and education on cruising challenges, put together a rough "seasonal" planned itinerary, practice a bunch and then head out!  Don't make firm plans for more than 3 days out...the weather will likely change them anyways!  Just build that rough seasonal schedule and work against that.  Utilize Active Captain, Waterway Guide, other online resources and local knowledge inquiries to learn about route challenges in your next few days travels.  Understand tides, currents, weather, and other hazards and plan accordingly, including a contingency plan for each day's travel. Join the AGLCA, sign on to their and other boater forums and search their websites for answers to questions you might have.  Post questions you cannot find answers to...others have already experienced your concern and will be glad to help. The Loop is then a bunch of well planned day trips put together with the knowledge and planning you complete.

Someone said or posted a comment that we found to be a good reminder... "The difference between a crisis and an adventure is attitude".  We found this to be great advice.  Make your plans, including contingency plans and adjust your expectations and plans when those unanticipated repairs or nasty weather get in the way.  It all works out to be a great experience!

Final Monthly and 3+ Year Statistics (August 2015 to September 2018):
Miles travelled:  Month:  229/ Trip to Date: 13,089
Travel days: 9 / 308
Engine hours: 26 / 1492

Locks:   0 / 129
Bridges opened:  4 / 114
Days on hook or free facilities: 25 / 193
Gallons of diesel:  176/ 10197
The cruising lifestyle and the people we meet…priceless!!!

Sum Escape was finally put in a building the week of Nov 5.  We just beat the snow!
Living out of our suitcases now and for the next few months....we already know we prefer cruising!
Our belongings for our 6 months of travel are awaiting us....

We went to a rental home in Florida October 10. We went to Kalamazoo to visit family for Thanksgiving, then back to Sarasota until Dec 17.  Then our travels took us to Denver and Bellingham for more family visits.  After some additional travel we will return to Bellingham in February 2019 to be near for the birth of our first grandchild (a girl)!
Our next update may not be until after we are grandparents in February.  Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Back to Lake Michigan and now Gold Loopers!! August 27-September 16, 2018

We waited a few days at Duncan Bay for the winds and waves to subside.  Stirling (Element) a fellow GLGBA member who was also at Duncan Bay was kind enough to pick me up in Pellston when I dropped off the rental car.  Thanks so much Stirling!
Here we are leaving on a rainy foggy but relatively calm morning.

Carole and DeVere (Job Site) were planning to go to Mackinac Island on Wednesday, the waves subsided, and we were able to meet them there.

We had a great lunch and dinner with them.  It was so great catching up with our Bahamas buddy boaters!  We missed you guys last winter!  Bahamas 2020!!

We also had the opportunity to do some walking there and enjoyed the nice, albeit cloudy, weather.

Thursday we pushed off for Harbor Springs, one of our favorite stops, hoping to get a slip for the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Back in Lake Michigan!!

The "rules" have not changed here, they do not take reservations but do take your boat name over the telephone.  Once you pass the lighthouse on the point you call on VHF and they assign you a slip if available.  We had a great slip overlooking the harbor.

We were able to say hello to another GLGBA member, Laura (Meritage).  This is their home port and we last saw Laura and Vern in Killarney where they also attended the Grand Banks rendezvous.

On Friday our friends Paula and Rich rode their motorcycle from Farmington and joined us aboard for the weekend.  We had a great walk around town, a great dinner at the Pier and generally laughed and caught up with these two.

We were not successful in gaining an invitation to this beautiful 160 footer...

We also hoisted our Gold Looper Flag here!

We bought the boat here in June 2014 with the intention of doing the Loop starting in 2015.  So we are "officially" Gold Loopers although we will have another celebration in Muskegon or Grand Haven later this month when we arrive there. That will be the crossing we publish on the AGLCA as official.  We moved aboard in Muskegon on August 5, 2015 and we cannot believe we have been aboard for over three years! We love the cruising lifestyle and we both wonder what the winter of travelling via land and air will be like in comparison....a big change for sure.

Saturday, because of the gracious hospitality of Carole and DeVere, we were able to go about 5 miles to Bay Harbor Yacht Club as their guests. Wow, what a beautiful facility and setting this is!

We had a wonderful lunch with Carole and DeVere and afterward they allowed us use of their electric vehicle to explore the beautiful area.  We toured around on the electric vehicle and saw beautiful homes, golf courses and the Bay Harbor shopping area and hotel as well.

A wonderful sunset along the way.

We also used their car to go retrieve the motorcycle.  Thanks so much for the wonderful hospitality Carole and DeVere!  We look forward to a trip to the Bahamas with you in winter 2019/2020 when we get Sum Escape back south again.

Sunday morning Paula and Rich took the motorcycle and Julie and I took Sum Escape over to Charlevoix City Marina.

Being the last night of the Holiday weekend we were luckily able to secure a slip at the marina. They said they had 85 boats in 79 slips on Saturday night!  This is also one of our favorites so we are happy we could get a slip here.  Some more nice walks, a few beverages and ice cream...and more laughs.  Thanks for joining us Paula and Rich!
Monday our guests left as did many boats at the marina.

And the rates drop to buy one night, get one free.  So this is nice as we need to leave the boat here for a few days as we drive to Grand Rapids for doctors appointments and a wedding.  We hope to be back underway on Sunday.
Enterprise picked us up on Wednesday and doctors appointments, visits with Mom and a wedding to attend kept us busy the rest of the week  through Sept 10. We were able to meet friends we had not seen for seven years, Rhonda and Paul, for lunch at Rose's on Reed's Lake on Friday as they were in town for the wedding too. The Saturday wedding was at the parish we attended for 25 years in Jenison, MI.  It was like "old home day" as many of our friends still attend the parish and we were able to chat with them after the wedding and at the reception.  It was great to catch up a bit.  All were surprised we had been living aboard for three years, time flies!  After the wedding we drove to Big Rapids to make the trip back to Charlevoix a little shorter on Sunday.
We arrived in Charlevoix, got a few groceries, dropped the car at the library parking lot, turned in the keys to the harbor master and made the 11 AM bridge opening.  It was a nice day for our trip to Leland and we arrived early enough to take a nice walk before dinner. Lunch was served along the way, thank you Julie!
Scott and Nancy are renting a cottage nearby in Glen Arbor so they stopped to say hello in the evening as well.  Its always nice to have visitors, thanks for stopping Nancy and Scott and for the accommodations last week when we were in the Grand Rapids area!!

On Monday, we departed for one of our favorite anchorage spots, Portage Lake.  As we passed Sleeping Bear Dunes, Nancy and Scott were hiking and waved at us.  Looking for them on the dunes.

Pictures were taken by them from the dunes too! Thanks!!!

Entering Portage Lake there was some construction and we found the depths much improved versus 4 years ago.
Portage Lake was nicely protected from the strong northerly breeze and once again proved to be a good anchorage. We departed on Tuesday morning bound for Pentwater. Removing a pretty large bundle of weeds from the anchor. 

It got a little snotty with beam seas after rounding Big Sable Point so we cranked the speed up to 12 MPH or so to take some roll out of the equation.  We arrived at Snug Harbor Marina around 1 PM, 

took a nice walk and later Bill and Carol joined us for dinner at Gull Landing.  After dinner we thought ice cream sounded great but after a walk a few blocks to the ice cream store we found it closes at 5 PM during week days after Labor Day.  Yep, the season is changing and things are already winding down in western Michigan resort communities.  We think our first part of October storage timing is going to be good!
But "never fail Bill" asks how far it is to House of Flavors in Ludington.  As it is only 10 or 12 miles we all decide we should go there!  And it was worth the trip, very good ice cream.

We also were able to meet friends of Carol and Bill,  Sue and Bob, who are planning to do the Loop next year.  We toured their steel hulled trawler that they spent 9 years finishing out.  It is fabulous work and should prove a very good Loop boat.
On Thursday we departed for an anchorage on White Lake, one of our old favorites.  Leaving Pentwater.
Arriving White Lake.

It was a very warm day for mid September so I checked the water temperature thinking maybe a swim.  66 degrees does not fit my tolerance so a no go on that!  In the evening after dinner we took a dinghy ride out into Lake Michigan for a walk along the beach and to watch the sunset.
Friday morning we pulled anchor after a fog delay to head for Grand Haven for the Salmon Festival weekend activities and to welcome our son and daughter in law aboard to Celebrate Jordan's 35th birthday.  

But along the way we officially crossed our wake as we passed the Muskegon Channel. We left this channel on August 27, 2015 around 11 AM and passed it again on September 14, 2018 about noon.  We travelled over 13,000 miles over these three years!  I never would have imagined doing that many miles by boat.  Look, there is our wake with the channel in the distance!
Well OK, maybe that wasn't our wake but it made a nice picture!  We arrived in Grand Haven to what could have easily been a July day.  Such wonderful mid September weather!
 The water has to be about two or three feet higher than when we left judging by the height of the pier above the water!  Doesn't take much of a wave to breach the pier now.  And it is all rebuilt with new cement surface after a couple year project to renew it.  the iconic catwalk will be reinstalled next year.
 A beach day in mid September in Michigan.

Jordan and Eliza arrived to celebrate his birthday with us.  Thanks so much for coming!  It was Eliza's first time to see the famous musical fountain!
We had a great dinner at Snug Harbor on the deck, enjoyed the Salmon Festival food, wine and beer tasting event and generally enjoyed their company for the weekend.
We also had many friends stop by to say hello as so many of our boating friends from the area were in town for the festivities.  It was pretty much a whirlwind weekend but it is so great to catch up with everyone!

On Sunday, Jordan and Eliza headed home and Julie's brother Kevin picked us up to take a boat ride around Spring Lake in his and Deb's new boat.  Craig and Erin, Julie's other brother and spouse, also joined us.

We enjoyed a great dinner at Kevin and Deb's after the boat ride.  Thanks so much for a great day all!
We will spend a few weeks in the Grand Haven area visiting family and friends, doctor's appointments and readying Sum Escape for heated indoor storage.  We will likely leave the area before mid October with Florida being our first destination for a couple months. 
Posting here will likely be sparse but we will occasionally post our adventures.  Thanks for following our three year journey.  It has been a wonderful lifestyle and we look forward too resuming living aboard and cruising in the Spring of 2019.....