Johann's Great Loop Adventure

Published: March 4th 2010
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The Great Loop on the Marilsnick

The Marilsnick is a 36-foot Grand Banks trawler. Between 1995 she cruised the San Juan Islands of Washington and the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. In 2008 and 2009 she made two journeys up the Inside Passage as far north as Juneau, Alaska. But the skipper had bigger dreams... He read about the Great Loop: a journey along the Gulf of Mexico from Mobile, AL to Fort Myers Florida, transiting Florida by the Okechobee Waterway, then sailing the Intercoastal Waterway along the East Coast of the USA, up the Hudson River, along the Erie and Oswego Canals through Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan, along the Illinois into the Mississpi River then to the Ohio River into the Tombigbee Canal back towards Mobile, Al., a journey of 5000 miles.

Planning: December 2009
It is one thing to dream about the Great Loop but it is another to plan and to execute such a plan. Before committing eight months and a considerable sum of money I had to answer a number of questions. Was the status of my health, my advanced age (I will have a 73rd birthday somewhere on the cruise), the cost of the journey and lacking mechanical talent a “contraindication” to speak in medical terms? Would I find people to join me? Since no one was willing to travel with me all 5000 miles friends and relatives had to be asked and engaged. Would I find compatible people? Would we find marinas so that my fellow travelers would have convenient access to airports as they arrived and departed? How could the Marilsnick be transported from Gig Harbor, WA to the Gulf Coast? How would children and grandchildren react to my absence of eight months?

The cruise would involve risks dictated by my age and my lacking mechanical knowledge. Would my crew be endangered? The only difference between previous journeys and the Loop was that I had gotten one year older but had completed about 2000 hours of ship handling . Not a single crewmember had complained about me taking unreasonable risks. Several crews even wanted to “hire on” for segments on the Loop.

From the beginning I had been confident about the Marilsnick. She had proven herself especially on her last journey to Alaska when she had been the comfortable home for me and for four different crews. Although the Marilsnick has bow thrusters docking still had been a challenge during adverse winds and currents. Navigation never had been a problem although a few times the computer shut down without an explanation. Having inherited from my maternal grandfather a certain timidness had been advantageous and made me risk adverse during past cruises. That would not change on the Great Loop.

For several weeks I studied books describing the different segments of the Great Loop. I calculated distances, found Marinas. The American Great Loop Cruisers Association has a great website where I learned that timing would be critical. Since planning the Loop in a single swoop I could not afford to be in the Great Lakes during Fall or Winter or in Florida during hurricane season. It became clear that I had to leave Mobile in March in order to complete the Loop by the end of October. That meant that we would have to be in the Great Lakes in July and August.

What modifications did the Marilsnick require in the different and warmer climate? A Bimini top had to be installed because we needed shade during spring time in Florida and during the summer months in the Great Lakes. A dinghy davit had been installed last season but it had given us a lot of grief so that it had to be modified. A second fuel filter was installed and the electrical system was checked in detail. The bottom of the Marilsnick had to be painted.

Finally, several friends and family members had expressed a wish to receive reports during the journey, which could best be accomplished with a website such as the one you are reading now. But even with intuitive Mac software it took some time to learn it. My son-in-law Grant was an invaluable help.

While the planning using a combination of electronic charts, books and as well as had been fun the real problem was the shipping of the Marilsnick over 2000 miles of road. It will be the highest dollar cost item of the cruise. I found Associated Boat Transport located just north of Seattle in Marysville, which according to all knowledgeable people seemed the best company to ship the Marilsnick. By the end of 2009 the arrangements had been made for the boat to depart during the last week of February so that it and I would arrive during the first week of March to unpack it at the Dog River Marina.

Planning: January 2010
In the beginning of the year I had to learn how to handle the Bimini top. It was fitted in our covered slip but the roof at the exit was too narrow to sail it out of the slip. So with the help of Skip Williams, who proved to be a trusted mentor we floated out of the slip to a nearby dock and lowered the roof of the dinghy. The new system that was easy to manage after receiving instructions. Hopefully the lesson won’t be forgotten after my arrival in Alabama.
All my Northwest cruising books and charts had to be removed. The new books, which I had purchased assumed their place.
Charts were another problem. I wanted to keep my Nobeltec system, which had served me well in the Northwest. I tried out certain charts only to learn that they could not be incorporated into Nobeltec. After significant search I found the correct chart and they will work with the Nobeltec system. I learned about Raster charts and Vector charts and their differences, the advantages and disadvantages. The river charts apparently cannot be imported into the Nobeltec software so we’ll just have to manage. A few years ago GPS navigation was not possible and I still remember the old system, which was more laborious and much less accurate. Most experts recommend to also taking paper charts along. So far my electronics have never left me in the dark. Nevertheless I will purchase some of the paper charts for the journey. I feel reassured since I have two computers as backup also loaded with navigation software and charts.
It has been most rewarding how quickly I found people to travel with me. All but one two-week slot have been filled. A neighborhood couple Lucretia and Mike Berg, whom I met at a Christmas party were excited that the segment from Parry Sound, Ontario to Mackinac , MI was available. Mike is Canadian and has heard of the Lake Huron area as a cruising paradise.

Planning: February, 2010
In February the planning took on a more serious and urgent character. We needed a new autopilot, the old one had worked for more than fifteen years and had given us trouble lately. After installation we undertook a sea trial to adjust the setting of compass and steering mechanism. Skip Williams, my biggest helper with all boat details has been working on the dinghy davit. I had to relearn the most important lessons for boat owner: everything gets finished at the very last moment, if then. On the 15th of February we took the boat to Seattle, where the boat was prepared for the land segment of the journey. All this was intimidating for someone who has no experience to put it all together and who only hesitatingly places his faith on the mechanics at the Dog River Marina in Mobile. Unfortunately I had no choice.
A day after we dropped off the Marilsnick at the Seaview Boatyard there was bad news: the rubber, which kept the propeller in a stable position had loosened and the propeller had a crack. A day later more bad news: the transport company called to let me know that there would be some delay, which appeared to put us into Mobile a week later than planned.
Another unanticipated event happened before we took the boat to Seattle. I had had developed pains in my arms, mainly at nigh. My Internist and I had initially suspected that a cholesterol-lowering medication was the culprit. It was not! An MRI indicated a spinal and foraminal stenosis within my neck. It took a long anxious weekend and a phone consultation with a Neurosurgeon before I was reassured that it should not keep me from going on the cruise. A few tons of weight was lifted from my shoulders.
It would be dishonest to say I had not have had second thoughts about the whole enterprise during many of the planning stages. Most people start somewhere near the Gulf of Mexico or Florida’s Atlantic Coast but when the Marilsnick gets started there she will have a 2000-mile highway journey already behind her. Who knows if she will sustain damage or what she will look like when I meet her again in Mobile.
Worries are positive if they lead to more detailed planning. I kept the shipmates current about the progress and the planning. Some wanted to know in which Marina I would meet them, an answer I could not provide. The firm dates are those of crew changes, because people will fly in from various places in the US and Germany; hopefully no incidents will occur that would prevent me from being at the appointed port at the appointed time.
One reason for me to undertake the whole journey is to hopefully conquer my natural anxieties and panicky worries. Adventure means being ready for the unforeseen, which is difficult for me. But that is the reason for undertaking the venture now: in five or ten years I will be too old. Sometimes I ask myself even now if I am not too old. Only the outcome of the adventure will provide the answer.
In the meantime the Marilsnick has been loaded on a low-bed truck. The transport was to begin after loading but the Cascade Passes have been closed for such big loads for the time being. When will she arrive in Mobile, AL. I am scheduled to be there on March 5.


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