People do the Great Loop in all kinds of boats, from large motoryachts and sailboats to personal watercraft and I suppose even kayaks. There is not much to recommend a jet ski and smaller vessels as anything more than stunts, in my mind. But what if you created a really small but capable boat to do this trip? Let me introduce Dave Pike.
Dave is a retired engineer from Michigan. He and his wife, Ann, lived for a time in the Pacific Northwest, where they got into boating, buying a Krogen 42, Spirit Quest, with help from veteran broker Dean Mosier. (I mention Dean because many PNW Krogen owners know how special he is. Truly great person.) They cruised to Alaska in 2007 and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, as often happens, a few years later they felt the tug to return to friends and family in Michigan, and reluctantly sold the trawler. It is something Ann is still sorry about. Dave and Ann now split their time between homes in Spring Lake, Michigan and Buckeye, Arizona.
But Dave was not done with boating... About three years ago, a friend got him interested in the East Coast circumnavigation we know as the Great Circle, or Great Loop. Something about it resonated with Dave, who had been thinking he needed a solo adventure of some kind, some alone time. So began his journey...
Dave said he didn't want to worry about height or draft restrictions, and as he would be alone, he didn't feel the need for a big boat that might be hard to handle. They had a Walker Bay dinghy on their Krogen, and he was comfortable with the quality of the brand, and his local dealer in Grand Haven, Michigan showed him the largest boat in the company's line (at the time), a Generation 450. It is rated for up to eight passengers, has five watertight compartments, and comes with a 60hp Honda outboard. While relatively small, the boat is large enough to sleep in, on the rare occasion he might not find local lodging. With plenty of storage space for his camping and cruising lifestyle, it would also be a great boat after the Loop to enjoy on the waters of Spring Lake, Michigan with his grandchildren. He named it Journey.
Journey has an internal 15-gallon fuel tank, and he supplements that with two five-gallon jerry cans, mounted on a custom stainless steel arch that was designed and built for this boat, along with a custom frame and enclosure. Both are very well done. He added a Garmin chartplotter, VHF radio, AIS, and the electronics connect to the Honda via a NEMA 2000 network, so he has all engine information readily available.
In preparation for his departure last year, he made several long runs on Lake Michigan to make sure everything worked as planned, although he never slept aboard. As a backpacker and camper he planned to bring a tent and the usual camping gear, and would adapt to his surroundings. He read blogs of others doing their Loop, and spent hours calculating fuel stops and distances, using the many online resources and cruising guides. During the trip he pulls up charts and information each evening to plot the next day's run on his iPad with Garmin's BlueChart Mobile app.
Another element of Dave's grand adventure involves his total fascination with pickleball. He is member of the USA Pickleball Association, and planned to stop and play pickleball as he made his way around the Loop. He hopes to play as much as possible, perhaps several times a week, as he locates the courts and local members who agree to play with him. (It sounds to me that this somewhat grounded him along the way, as he arranges to meet people, adding a level of social interaction that would otherwise be missing on a long, solo cruise.) As it turns out, this definitely adds to his enjoyment of the trip. Some small towns made a big deal of his passing through, hosting him with group parties and pickleball tournaments. It also keeps him active and phyically fit, which compensates for the many hours sitting behind the wheel of Journey.
While his daily run usually ends by stopping at marinas, lodging and restaurants, he is prepared to rough it if conditions warranted. He carries a couple of cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew and Campbell Vegeatble Beef Soup. They are his "rations." His cooler is kept full of ice and water. In an emergency he can get by. (He once got stranded by a bridge unable to open due to high water, so he successfully ordered a pizza that was delivered to his boat.)
To read more about his trip so far, and follow his adventure, see his blog/website at https://sixthousandmilesinadinghy.wordpress.com/. He decided to write the blog of his trip for two reasons. It would be a great personal record of his experience to reflect on, and it also gives his grandchildren an opportunity to learn more about their grandfather. (And it also makes for entertaining inspiration for the rest of us!)
When I caught up with Dave, Ann had just driven to Annapolis from Michigan to join him for a few days. We are pretty sure we'd met years ago at Trawler Fest in Poulsbo. Ah, the good old days! As he began to tell the story of his journey, he said that after so many miles in narrow, protected waterways, he did not expect the sheer openness of Mobile Bay. The predictability of river systems was a marked contrast to the open water, and he found it unsettling.
He also told me that many marinas don't charge him to tie up his 14'9" boat, or perhaps just five dollars. Strangers buy him meals to hear his story, and he finds most cruisers willing to share if he needs anything. When he stopped at Deltaville, Virginia, he stayed at Zimmerman Marine's facility. When he returned from the showers in the morning, he found one of the ZMI folks had left coffee and a Danish for him on his boat. This solo traveler finds such kindness wonderful.
If he can line up pickleball matches, he might stay two, three, even four days, otherwise it is usually overnight, depending on weather. He wishes he had the custom enclosure done with screens, as the clear eisenglass really heats up the interior, so it is either opened or closed. He admits he underestimated the weather, and with no air conditioning, screens would be nice to keep the bugs and heat out. Next time!?!
Dave Pike is having a good time with no regrets. Doing this trip alone obviously has its plus and minus sides, but he recommends doing this trip on a simple agenda with no schedule. With very few exceptions, he always feels safe. He said technology makes this trip possible. He uses Uber a lot to get to motels and stores. And if he needs to deal with some issue, it is easy to have Journey pulled out of the water.
For the most part, Ann is doing fine at home alone, until things break and Dave isn't around to fix it. She would go on this trip in a heartbeat, and would especially love to do the Rideau Canal in Canada. "If we do another cruise, it will be together," she said. They are a lovely couple and it would be great if our paths crossed again on the Rideau, perhaps for dinner at Hotel Kenney at the Jones Falls lock.
His Honda has been trouble free, but he makes sure it stays that way by getting all maintenance done on schedule. With this 60hp engine and a fully loaded boat (combined weight is around 1,200lbs), he said his sweet spot is 18 knots, burning 1.8 GPH. He did have one issue where he lost power in shallow water near Steinhatchee, Florida, when the engine intake sucked up eel grass. It took a mechanic to explain the problem and how to deal with it in the future. Apparently this is an issue with Honda outboards.
Whenever rough seas or nasty weather are forecast, Dave's routine is to call Ann every hour to check in. Luckily, she has not yet needed to call the Coast Guard to rescue the pint-size cruiser.
With his well-equipped Walker Bay, and his camping gear with tent, toilet, and stove, Dave has all he needs to camp/cruise his way around the Great Loop. He is really looking forward to the Erie Canal, as he winds around toward Michigan.
I wish him fair winds, and following seas...
Dave gives a tour of his boat in the video below: