People ask, “What’s the Great Loop?” One of the most ambitious sailing adventures in America is the Great Loop, essentially up the East Coast to New England, down the St. Lawrence into the Great Lakes and on to Chicago, down the Mississippi to the Gulf, and across to Florida.
Meet David and Susan Houghland of Old Town, Alexandria. When they retire in a few years from the Air Force and real estate they hope to buy a 41-Hanse and make the Loop. On this day, they went sailing on the York River to hone their skills recently achieved in the ASA 101 course.
We set out under cloudy skies on an easterly wind of 12 mph with a steady course across the York River toward Wormley Creek. As David drove, I showed Susan how to tack the Genoa quickly under brisk winds and she caught on immediately. Before long we were at Goodwin Island, where the French threw a blockade of warships in 1781 to block Lord Cornwallis from escaping by water. We were the only ship out there, except for two US Coast Guard buoy tenders docked.
“We were in Norfolk over the weekend,” David said, “for a meet-and-greet reception by people going on the Great Loop expedition. But we missed it by one weekend.” We turned beyond the Thoroughfare and tacked back on a beam-to-broad tack. It was windy enough that we didn’t need the spinnaker. I sent them up to the bow for some romantic privacy, but they returned shortly to resume the helm.
Susan said, “We went on the Hanse at the Annapolis Boat Show recently. It rained heavily but we had a great time.” I suggested they try other boats for experience by renting through Boatsetter. Later I sent them three links for Annapolis, Rock Hall and Deltaville.
Susan took the wheel and recalled a childhood trauma. “I was seven years old the summer that Jaws came out at the movies. My father was trying to teach me to water ski, but I was petrified of the water. This is on a lake in Minnesota, where I knew there were no sharks. But still. I was just a kid.”
Their children are grown. “And we have a wedding coming up, paid for by the USA Network. Our daughter was on the reality show Temptation Island and won the top prize. They had 12 bachelors and seven young women, and now the wedding is next week. He works in Los Angeles and we like him a lot. You can look it up on YouTube under ‘Evan and Morgan Share Engagement Details.’”
Sailing with Journalists
Ernie and Jo-Ann Schreiber retired from the Lancaster PA newspaper, though it was unclear if they were laid off involuntarily. He quoted John Bull, “You never know when you’ll retire from a newspaper, but you know it will end badly.” He also quoted James Carville about central Pennsylvania: “Two cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between.”
They were joining May and Ray Wells of Williamsburg, who were on their third annual cruise with Let’s Go Sail. They brought longtime California friends Mark and Jennifer Montoya. He took the helm as the most experienced sailor as we cruised in 10 mph winds on a brilliant sunny day.
Mark said, “I sailed 25 years ago on a boat out of San Pedro that belonged to a Disney guy. His son was a friend of mine. We were crew, but we never won any races. We drank the beer anyway. I grew up in San Pedro. Yes, it’s a fishing village. Star Kist had a plant across the water, and Todd Shipbuilding built Navy ships. Now they’re rebuilding Ports O’ Call, the village shops for tourists. It’s a strange place. People complain that nothing has change. Then when it does, they complain about change. I suppose people are like that everywhere.” (sailing the Great Loop)
We sailed past the two USCG buoy tenders, so I radioed to find out how much a buoy weighs. There was a long pause, as if the boatswain was wondering if that’s top secret. He came back,”Our navigation aids weigh 12,000 pounds.” A short time later, the cruise ship Constitution weighed anchor to leave Yorktown. I radioed our intentions for deviating course, and he thanked me.
Sailing the Great Lakes
In the afternoon, five retired women from Cleveland took over the boat. They worked together in various jobs at the Cleveland city hospital complex, though none was a nurse. Tara Joyce took the wheel and did a fine job in winds that got progressively lighter.
“I used to sail out of Traverse City on the restored Madeline, a three-masted schooner. I was among the many volunteers who did the work. So I was popular because I’d work any of the odd jobs. We sailed all over the Great Lakes, all the way to Minnesota. There were no state rooms, just bunks. I’d go back and cruise with the crew when they weren’t taking paid customers out. It still sails out of Traverse City.” (sailing the Great Loop)
Tara added, “I had no idea this [helm] would be so easy. You have beautiful waters here.”
As the afternoon wore on quietly, they had a wonderful conversation.
“Did you ever lie on the ground with your kids and look up at the clouds?”
“There’s a chicken, see it?”
“I see a swan.”
“No, that’s a dragon.”
“Look below it, that’s a chicken leg.”
They laughed heartily.
Let’s Go Sailing the Great Loop
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Sailing the Great Loop
Northern Virginia couple practices their ASA skills on the way to sailing the Great Loop.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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