Cruising Into Retirement

By Connie Bryon

Despite a late start, this couple has managed two Great Loops and several Florida winters. Now their plans are to continue exploring as long as possible.

34 Wilbur Flybridge Cruiser on the St Charles RiverA late start in boating hasn't slowed the explorations of Connie and Ged Bryon aboard their boat Snow Goose.

My husband, Ged, and I got into boating late. We discovered how much we enjoyed cruising just three years before we retired. As young adults, we'd had a little exposure to boating when we vacationed in Maine with my in-laws. They had an 18-foot runabout, and when my father-in-law died, we began to use the runabout to push the limits of exploration. The first time we took that little boat to Jonesport, tied up at the dock, and walked into town for lunch, it blew us away how much we enjoyed being on the water.

Enter Connie B, a 28-foot Cape Dory flybridge cruiser. It was love at first sight when we saw her in October 1999. Little did we know that she was going to change our lives — even more than having children! Given our inexperience, we signed up for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary boating class and followed it up with courses in navigation, radar, and weather. Over the next three summers, we gained experience cruising along the coast of Maine from Casco Bay to Canada and joining flotillas that explored New Brunswick's St. John River and Nova Scotia.

Hatching The Plan

At that time, we still worked and lived in western Massachusetts, so going boating meant a two-hour drive to the coast. In our opinion, the good cruising started at Casco Bay, and as retirement neared, we began to explore buying property north of Portland so we could be closer to the water. We were having so much fun that I hatched a plan of doing the Great Loop.

In 2003, we put our house on the market, retired from our jobs, and by May 1 had disposed of our belongings and moved aboard for our first Loop. We began that wonderful adventure by cruising up the Hudson River, then through Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence. We visited Montréal and Ottawa and had our first experience locking through in the Rideau Canal. We were awed by the beauty of Georgian Bay and the North Channel and surprised to realize how the Illinois and Mississippi rivers act as a network of highways for moving goods around the country. As we cruised, we kept our eyes open for a place we might want to call home. We wintered in Florida but found that Maine kept calling us. So we returned the following year and settled on Maine's midcoast.

Best-Laid Plans

In October 2004, we lost Connie B. A severe nor'easter blew through, tearing her from her moorings and carrying her out to sea. We were heartbroken. That small boat had opened a delightful world. Knowing our lives would be seriously diminished without boating experiences, we began the search for another boat. We soon purchased Snow Goose, our 34 Wilbur flybridge cruiser. We also started thinking about a second Loop to see all the places we'd missed the first time. Snow Goose was the perfect fit for us. Built in Maine, she was a bit larger than Connie B but still able to get into the gunkholes we liked to explore. In 2006, after refitting and outfitting our new boat, we rented the Maine house and set off for Fort Myers, Florida, and our second Loop.

On this one, we cruised the entire length of the Erie Canal with a side trip into the Finger Lakes through beautiful water clear to the bottom, 25 feet below. We crossed Lake Erie to join the commercial Welland Canal, which lowered us into Lake Ontario and headed on to Toronto.

Waterford free town dock on the Erie CanalThe first stop on the east end of the Erie Canal is a dock in Waterbury.

We explored bays and inlets on our way to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and ventured through the locks into Lake Superior. From there we made a dash for Whitefish Point and waited out a blow by visiting the shipwreck museum, noting the irony. After that we crossed Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and I achieved my goal of dipping the bow in all five Great Lakes. We arrived back in Florida in November and spent the winter exploring the Gulf side to Key West, the Dry Tortugas, and the Abacos before returning to Maine up the Intracoastal.

We've devoted our last few summers to cruising and exploring the seemingly endless coast of Maine, taking two-and three-week trips to harbors and small towns new to us. The season is short, so we make the most of the time. Luckily, we're both in good health, so we hope the cruising years ahead are many. Still, we know life is uncertain, especially as we age, and we intend to keep making wakes as long as we can. 

Since writing this story, the Bryons have cruised near and far, including a summer voyage to explore Newfoundland.

— Published: October/November 2016


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