A Friend In Every Port


 When Jim and I began our quest for boating adventures far from our home waters of the Great Lakes, we never could’ve imagined what gems, in terms of social benefits and interactions, awaited us. We rather naively expected to see some beautiful sights while learning more about boating and navigation as we made our way around the eastern part of the United States on our first 6,000-mile Great Loop trip, but the social benefits seemed to escape us at the time. We were so focused on the overall undertaking and preparation there seemed to be little time to comprehend what other advantages lay in store.

During the initial days of our first Loop we were in our own little bubble and quite content to meander by ourselves, first down the Michigan coastline from Charlevoix to Frankfort then, after we crossed Lake Michigan, continuing down the Wisconsin coast and on to Chicago. During this period we were basically learning how to coexist and divide up chores as we started to define our new lifestyle. We worked hard on developing communication between Captain and First Mate while underway and we both struggled to verbalize as well as listen to each other concerning our individual needs and expectations. We find that these skills are imperative when living in the close confines of a 40-foot boat.

We love this shot of the time we met up with a few boats on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands. We’d all met on the Illinois or Tennessee Rivers five months earlier. Three of us happened to be from Michigan.

After about a week and a half we arrived at the marina in Burnham Harbor, Chicago. Soon after we tied up on the end of one of the t-docks we were looking over at the t-dock just north of us and noticed a Looper burgee prominently displayed on the bow of a beautiful Nordhavn boat. We immediately felt a kinship to this boat and it’s inhabitants as we flew the same burgee on Kismet, so we thought we must have similar goals and interests. After calling to each other across the fairway, brief introductions were made and a plan to dinghy over was shortly arranged. Later in the evening we met again for cocktails and a tour of Evelyn J. This was where we first met Mike and Carol Gordon, also our first Looper encounter. The Gordons were three quarters of the way through their trip and had a lot of good information to share with us. They encouraged us to look them up when we got to their hometown of Fairhope, Alabama, which we have done on both of our Loop trips.

We have paid a visit to the Gordons several times when traveling through their lovely hometown of Fairhope, Alabama. The Gordons were the first Southerners we met who showed us what Southern hospitality was all about.

Meeting the Gordons was just one of many encounters we’ve been privileged to experience while traveling some 10,000 miles (and counting) on our boat Kismet. The more we travel the more acquaintances we accumulate and as we keep re-bumping into some of the same people over and over again, friendships are nurtured and deepened. The statement about having a “friend in every port” is not a big stretch of the truth. We are constantly bumping into boaters we have met in some other part of the United States, Bahamas or even the Pacific Northwest. Quite often we’ll plan our route to include a port where we know we can visit someone we have met before.

Not all the boaters we meet are Loopers. The boating community is vast and diverse. We have been very fortunate to meet people from all over the world who are living out their dream of seeing the world by boat. One time, we were stuck on the free wall in the town of Joliet, Illinois, due to heavy flooding on the Illinois River when we met a French family – parents and three teenagers. They were on a five-year trip sailing around the world. We probably won’t ever see them again but we will never forget them.

Bradenton, Florida was one of the anchorages where we met up with Wade and Suzie for a one-night stay. The next day we both pulled anchor and followed each other to the Fort Myers area where we again split up to go different directions.

One of the first things we do when we arrive at a marina is check out the other boats to see if there is anyone there we know. More often than not we find a familiar name and if there aren’t any recognizable to us there is always the great possibility that we can add another encounter to our growing list as we find boaters to be quite friendly people who generally like to hear where people came from and where they are going.

One of our favorite stories about making new friends began with a stop in Grafton, Illinois, which is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. We were stopping at the town dock, for just a few minutes, to run into town to pick up our mail (we had arranged for a package of mail to be sent to Grafton about a week before). On our way back from the Post Office, we noticed another boat tied up in front of Kismet and it wasn’t long before we introduced ourselves to Wade and Susie Ehlen, on Miss Happ. In this 20-minute introduction period we exchanged boat cards before we were both on our way into the Mississippi River. As the months wore on, we spent some memorable moments in the company of the Ehlens, as we’d find ourselves at the same marinas or anchorages. We would spend some time cruising together then we would go our separate ways because of different schedules and interests, but keeping in touch all the while to see if our paths might cross again, if so we would make plans to hook up. Consequently, we have both been to each other’s home (or, in our case, homeport, as we haven’t had a house since 2005) for visits by boat or by car when needing time off our boats.

Another story we love to tell is when we met Louis and Diane Wade, on Bella Luna, in our homeport of Charlevoix, Michigan. After a group of boats descended upon our marina the Wades approached our boat in their dinghy yelling to us, “You guys are one of the reasons we’re doing the Loop.” Louis religiously follows several Great Loop blogs/logs, ours being one of them, as research before they set out on their trip. It’s funny how just a chance encounter like this can really change your life for the better.

When Jim was helping our friend, Rick Garton, move a boat south down the ICW, just after we completed our first Loop, he ran into two boaters walking on the dock in Waterford, New York. The last time we had seen one of them was in that very spot just a few months earlier as we entered the Erie Canal. John was now helping Bob take his boat back south for the winter. They’d met during their Loops, became close friends and it made for a very typical encounter among boaters. On the same trip south Jim and Rick bumped into a woman, Mary Ellen, a singlehanded sailor, on Indigo Lady, in Sarnia, Canada. We had met her for the first time on the river system nine months earlier. (Mary Ellen is also one of the contributors to our book When the Water Calls, We Follow – Reflections While Traveling On The Great Loop Adventure, www.favorsventures.com/hm-bus.html).

Here we are, all tied up at the downtown dock in Savannah, Georgia. Five boats, good times.

As I’m writing this, Kismet is docked on the free town dock right in downtown Savannah, Georgia, along with five other boats that we’ve met in the past on one trip or another. As we have mentioned in previous logs, we have been traveling with the Wades on Bella Luna ever since we reached Morehead City, North Carolina; we’re traveling together for a couple of months and are headed for the St. Johns River in Florida. We reached Savannah together on Friday afternoon and secured our spots on the floating dock. We had talked with Bob and Charlotte Snider on Foreign Exchange on the radio earlier in the day and knew that they planned to join us on the dock early Saturday morning. When they showed up they let us know that they’d talked to Ed and Linda Brennan, on Shore Thing, and they also wanted to join us later in the day if there was enough room for them on the dock. On Sunday, we squeezed in Brantley and Brenda (friends of Louis and Diane, we had met them a few months ago), on Reel Estate mid-afternoon. They were just in time to join us for a big Happy Hour on the dock. Four out of the five boats had at one time or another met each other while traveling on the water. We are all migrating south towards Florida for the winter. Louis and Diane and Brantley and Brenda left from North Carolina, the Brennans from Connecticut, and the Snider’s from Toronto, Canada, we initially left from Solomons, Maryland where we spent the summer. (Diane, Charlotte, and Linda are all in our soon to be published book: Women On-Board, www.favorsventures.com/p/bus-wobc.html.)

Of course whenever more than a couple boats merge in one area a party is shortly organized on the dock. There was no exception the first night tied up in Savannah.

Because of our boat travels we’ve made close ties to people in Michigan, Alabama, Florida, New York, Connecticut, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana, the Pacific Northwest, and Canada. We have several ports to visit, on our trek south, where friends are waiting for us to stop. It is such a great feeling for us to recognize familiar boats and be able to hook up with them as we are all out there messing around in our boats. We look forward to the friend in every port, the welcome mat and the ready smiles. Whether we are standing still at our homeport marina or actively traveling, we are all ready to meet and greet each other with useful information or a helping hand, funny or interesting stories, usually followed with food and good cheer. What more could we ask for with the vagabond lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves?



The guys jockeyed the boats around tightening the space in-between so that we could fit one more boat in.