Looping With Little Ones

By Gary Kramer
Photos by Danielle and Craig Parrent
Published: August/September 2014

Tackling the Great Loop with three young kids turns out to be doable and rewarding for this family of five.

Photo of Morgan, Ryann and Jaxon Parrent
Morgan, Ryann, and Jaxon Parrent (left to right) spent 12 months cruising the Great Loop with their folks, learning along the way.

Extended cruising with a family may seem an uncommon choice. The challenge of uprooting the kids, the expense, and the need for schooling mean many boaters may put off cruising dreams. But Danielle and Craig Parrent, of Spring Lake, Michigan, made the leap in 2010, taking 12 months to complete the Great Loop on a 1987, 48-foot Chris-Craft Catalina with their three children Morgan, Ryann, and Jaxon, ages 9, 7, and 4. Janice Cromer, executive director of the American Great Loop Cruising Association (AGLCA), thinks Jaxon is the youngest Looper to make the entire trip. Their story is about encouraging children to explore and encounter life beyond the electronic, high-tech world kids love.

In order to afford this adventure, the Parrents lived very frugally, saved enough to carefully live a year without income, sold their house at a profit, and bought a modest, older boat. Craig is a custom-home builder, Danielle helps run the business, and the family has moved frequently for work. So the children are a self-reliant bunch. A couple of years earlier, between Craig's homebuilding projects, they'd completed a 26,000-mile RV trip of America's coastline from Maine to Washington, an adventure that whet their appetite for the Loop. "It was a great trial run," Danielle says. "We got used to small spaces, simple living, homeschooling, and traveling."

While preparing for the Loop, the Parrents focused on safety and education, including a preschool program for Jaxon. One of Danielle's favorite parts of the trip was the dual parenting for all their activities including boat schooling. Craig did most of the piloting and, while on long, calm stretches, helped give quizzes, spelling tests, weekly tests, handled flash cards, or tutored math. The kids were motivated to get their formal schoolwork done by noon so they could move on to arts-and-crafts projects, using materials brought or found along the way. Or, they might put together a play store, set prices, sell products, and make change.

Photo of the children studying history and biology

Photo of arts and crafts projects aboardOn long, calm stretches, the kids got lessons on-the-go in history, art, and biology 101.

Traveling when the kids were very young helped mold them to the idea, pace, and lifestyle. It helped that they were at an age where playing together was still fun for them. Danielle says, "It might be tougher for families with older children who might miss their lifelong friends, sports, dating, and modern conveniences." She says the children really didn't miss things they'd left behind, except for their extended family. So, grandparents and other relatives met them at different places along heir route. Many Loopers are grandparents themselves, so they frequently assumed that role with the Parrent kids. Part of the children's personal growth came from learning to be comfortable talking to adults they met along the way. Being trusted by some of those folks to dog-sit while the owners left their boats for a while also boosted the kids' confidence.

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