RealLife

Your Stories, From The Edge

 

The Great Loop By
Pontoon Boat

By Brigid Schulte
Published: October/November 2011

The captain of a souped-up pontoon boat takes on the historic Great Loop, and makes his dream of seeing the heartland come true.

Map of the Great Loop

For many boaters, The Great Loop is a trip of a lifetime. People save and plan and anticipate for years. Walter Cronkite even wrote about how he yearned to take this near mythical journey. Books, websites and an entire community of enthusiasts offer advice on which kind of large, 30 to 50-foot live-aboard boat is best, and what places to stop to soak in the local sights. With the special burgee of a "looper" fluttering off their boats, the trip is also one of the most social — with meet-ups and parties and reunions all along the way. But the one cardinal rule of the loop is this: Take Your Time. The idea is to slow down, loopers say. Take at least nine months. Take years. Just don't rush. And then along came Lyn Morgan.

Morgan beaned through 120 locks and 5,300 miles around the entire eastern seaboard at about 40 miles per hour, with stops for two major repairs, in eight weeks and one day. He traveled as far in one day, usually 200 miles, as most loopers do in one week. And, instead of cruising in a big boat, he steered a souped-up, 24-foot pontoon boat. "I'm probably the only person to do the Loop in two months," Morgan said. "But it was not a race. I wasn't trying to set any records. I was just enjoying America from the waterways."

Yes, people have done the loop in sailboats, on a jet ski, and even in a 17-foot aluminum boat. Morgan himself ran into someone doing the loop in a kayak — traveling 30 miles a day for an entire year. But his detractors say Morgan not only missed the point with his trip, he missed the boat.

"Eight weeks? Why bother?" said Eva Stob, a looper who, along with her husband, Ron, co-founded America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association. (www.greatloop.org) "We advocate going slow, not just putting a notch in your gun."

The inspiration for this trip, came to Morgan at a stop on a cross-country road trip a few years ago. He was sitting in a restaurant with his wife in Hannibal Missouri thinking about Mark Twain and the Mississippi River. He wandered down to a nearby dock and struck up a conversation with some locals. He'd been thinking about buying a pontoon boat, the slow-moving, boxy vessels favored for lazy afternoons of fishing or family picnicking more commonly known as the "party barge." How would that do on the mighty river? Mighty fine, the locals answered.

So Morgan, 64, drove back to his home in the Rocky Mountains in Avon, Colorado, determined to float the Mississippi in a pontoon boat. Not long after, a friend called from Chicago and mentioned her parents had just completed something called The Great Loop. Ten minutes later, after a quick Google search to see what the heck it was, Lyn Morgan decided that he, too, would cruise the Great Loop, the interconnected flow of some of the mightiest rivers, prettiest bays, serenest intracoastal waterways, and most treacherous open waters of the Great Lakes that circle the entire eastern portion of the United States and Canada. A loop some 5,000 to 7,000 miles long, depending on the route. And he decided to do it in that pontoon boat.

"He's just like that," his wife, Joanne, explained. This is a man who grew up on a ranch in Kansas, started his adult life as a marine corps officer in Vietnam leading a platoon in combat and worked for years as a paramedic running an entire ambulance district that spanned 700 square miles. He's climbed all 54 peaks in the state of Colorado that are over 14,000 feet, as well as volcanoes in Mexico. He's biked from California to Kansas. He has a black belt in karate, and cross-country skis about 10 miles a day. "He doesn't like to leave things undone."

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