Home again: Janesville couple finish cruising the Great Loop
JANESVILLE—After a year of living aboard their 41-foot motorboat, Chuck and Sue Sathre miss the sound of waves lapping on the hull at night.
The couple traveled 4,850 miles of what is known as America's Great Loop, a continuous waterway encompassing the eastern United States and Canada.
They finished the loop in late August and returned to their Janesville home.
“We feel really blessed that we were able to do it,” Sue said. “It's a feeling of great accomplishment.”
Only about 100 boats complete the Great Loop annually.
Sue is a dog groomer, while Chuck retired from a career as an electronics buyer at the end of August 2016.
Two days later, the Sathres were aboard their Silverton 402 yacht and leaving the familiar waters of Green Bay.
They traveled down Lake Michigan to inland rivers all the way to Mobile, Alabama.
Eventually, they cruised around Florida. Then they motored up the eastern seaboard to New York Harbor and on to the Hudson River and Erie Canal.
Later, they crossed three Great Lakes before returning to Fish Creek in Door County.
The couple speak fondly of other boaters they befriended along the way.
“We met so many wonderful people,” Sue said. “We have acquired friendships that will last a lifetime.”
People traveling the loop are known as “loopers,” and every looper flies a flag at the bow of the boat.
“When you come into an anchorage or a marina, the flag shows you are a looper,” Sue said. “The next thing you know, you are sitting and talking with people and exchanging stories with other loopers.”
Sometimes, the Sathres traveled long distances with boaters going their way.
“We all took care of each other,” Chuck said. “It was like a neat neighborhood that stays together.”
Their boat contained hot and cold running water, a galley, two staterooms, two heads with a full-standing shower and a main salon with a TV and entertainment center.
They even had a “porch” on the stern where sometimes they sat with new friends at the end of the day.
The Sathres began planning the journey two years before they left. On paper, it looked straightforward.
But Chuck and Sue were challenged in ways they never experienced in 35 years of boating on the Great Lakes.
“We had never experienced tides and how they affect us,” Sue explained.
If they anchored their boat, the Sathres planned for as much as a 9-foot tide.
“We might anchor in 12 feet of water at high tide,” Sue said, “but we had only 3 feet when the tide went out.”
They also took tides into consideration when crossing certain waterways so the tides did not work against them.
“There's a lot of homework involved in planning a safe journey,” Sue said.
Even good planning will not ward off all trouble.
When the Sathres crossed the Gulf of Mexico, wind and waves came up after they were a couple of hours into their journey.
Then a water hose came off one of the engines, causing them to lose power. Four-foot waves on the beam made things uncomfortable, and water flowed into the engine compartment.
Chuck hurried to reconnect the hose.
“In those circumstances, things got a little hectic,” Sue recalled.
The couple also experienced transmission trouble after hitting something submerged in the Mississippi River.
Eventually, they had the boat pulled out of the water and replaced both transmissions so the engines would be synchronized.
Today, the memory of mechanical trouble fades when compared to the adventure and camaraderie of their journey.
“We felt we were Mark Twain going down the river,” Sue said. “When you travel at 8 knots, you really experience a lot more than when you are traveling on the Interstate system.”
The Sathres saw lots of wildlife, including alligators in the South. Once, in the Gulf of Mexico, dolphins escorted them at the bow for miles. They even spotted a whale that was so close they could see its barnacles while coming up the East Coast.
Now that they are home again, the Sathres said they are in “looper withdrawal.”
“I don't think there could be another adventure that can top this one for us,” Sue said. “Several loopers are trying to talk us into going around again. We certainly miss it.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.