KNIFE RIVER, Minn. – Cross an adventure off Kay and Greg Libby’s bucket list. They are officially “Loopers” now.
You may remember the retired couple from the Duluth area, the News Tribune wrote about in March who were beginning the second leg of a two-summer trip around the eastern half of the United States by boat.
It’s called the “Great Loop”: some 6,000 miles of interconnected waterways, from the Great Lakes to the great rivers of the heartland of the United States, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the east coast and in historic canals and the inland waterways of New York and Canada.
The Libbys completed the loop and sailed their trawler, “Superior Passage”, to their home port of Knife River on the north shore of Minnesota’s Lake Superior on July 16.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect from this entry…but it far exceeded my expectations,” Kay Libby said after staying home for a few days. The couple are readjusting to life on land after living the last five months on the 31ft boat.
The Libbys agreed that beyond the incredible scenery and historic sites they visited, it was the people they met at the dock along the way that they will remember the most. “The camaraderie between the Loopers was fantastic,” added Kay.
Greg Libby agreed, adding that the journey may have seemed daunting before it began. But not anymore. “I actually think it was easier to do than I expected,” Greg said.
They had mostly good weather along the way, but also had a week of wind and fog that kept them docked along the east coast. They had little trouble sailing, but their 2022 leg began two weeks late due to flooding from a river in Tennessee, and they spent an additional week tied to a dock in Ontario when a system of canals stopped due to the rising waters.
The Libbys seemed to be taking it all in stride. And that’s exactly the mantra of the Looper culture.
“It didn’t really affect us,” Greg said of the delays. “We went with the flow.”
They had bikes to cycle around the cities, and museums and historic houses and forts to visit. They took a tour boat to the Statue of Liberty. Even navigating the bustling New York Harbor proved to be a breeze.
“We did it early in the morning. I think it was a Sunday so it wasn’t that bad,” Greg said.
There were tides, river currents and flow levels and navigational hazards like drawbridges and locks – the man-made system for raising and lowering boats upstream or downstream to different parts rivers that would otherwise be unnavigable.
Greg was usually at the helm of Superior Passage. Kay served as navigator and trip planner, deciding the route and distance they would go each day, based on what they wanted to see in the future, where they wanted to take more time land and any amenities or supplies they needed.
“You determine at the start of the journey what roles everyone will play and we kind of stick to that,” Kay said. “We got along very well.”
They cut their trip short by a few weeks with a decision made while in upstate New York deciding to forgo a northern loop to Quebec, in part because the Libbys both have elderly parents with whom they wanted to go home, but also partly because of high fuel prices in Canada. Diesel prices on their journey started at around $2.89 per gallon in 2021, then skyrocketed during this year’s leg, reaching $7.50 in Canada (converted to US currency).
“That was one of the factors that prevented the Montreal/Ottawa detour,” noted Kay.
The Libbys sell the overpass — some Loopers keep looping, but their trip was one and done — and they’ll stay home with their family for a while before planning another big adventure.
However, Kay is already nostalgic for the friends she has made along the Grande Boucle.
“To describe the Looper culture, I would say that the boaters we met are open to adventure, discover new things, people, places and foods, are willing to step out of their comfort zone, can (eventually) laugh at those humble moments, are always willing to lend a hand, spare parts or information… puts safety first, lives without a schedule and takes it one day at a time, is good at problem solving and can ‘roll with it’ when things happen,” Kay wrote in a Facebook post at the end of the trip.
Loopers realize that “you don’t need a lot, you support each other, celebrate each other’s accomplishments, respect that everyone’s loop is in their own way, don’t talk politics or of COVID or don’t swear and pour a drink until the boat is docked,” Kay said in her post. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a 60ft yacht or a 22ft tug, everyone fits into this group equally.”
The News Tribune asked the Libbys to elaborate on their adventure:
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE WATERWAY?
Trent Severn (in Ontario). It’s 240 miles with 44 locks. …It’s a protected waterway, interesting historical sites, beautiful scenery and fun little towns along the way. The scenery changed as we got closer to Georgian Bay, with the Canadian Shield and it was spectacular.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PORT CITY?
Jekyll Island (Ga.), Annapolis (Md.) and St. Augustine (Florida) were some of our favorites. We had been to big cities before, but small towns were new to us. We loved towns that had beautiful waterfronts, preserved historic sites and homes, were easy to navigate on foot and by bike, offered interesting tours and natural beauty.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR LEAST FAVORITE WATERWAY?
The section we covered on the Ohio River. Had quite heavy commercial traffic and wasn’t very scenic. There were no marinas on this stretch.
WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PORT CITY?
Atlantic City (NJ). The marinas were expensive/overpriced, the people we met weren’t particularly boater friendly…and we had a bad mooring experience.
HOW WAS THE TRIP DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOU EXPECTED BEFORE STARTING?
Discovering new things every day – sights, scenery, meeting new people, local foods – made it an amazing experience. …Mother Nature controls your schedule. …It’s a simple lifestyle where you live in the moment without outside distractions. … The camaraderie among the Loop boaters was a bonus for us. We liked traveling with another boat or two for a few weeks or months and then you split up and connect with the others. … We learned pretty quickly that everyone’s loop is different. There was everything from 22ft to 60ft boats doing the loop. Some do it in segments over a few years and some are “all inclusive” meaning they’ve sold their house and cars and done the loop twice or more. Many had dogs or cats with them.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY UNEXPECTED PROBLEMS?
Only minor inconveniences. We rang our propeller and had to replace it. The Tenn-Tom river was in flood which delayed us a few weeks (from the 2022 stage). Greg had COVID. Locks at Trent Severn have been closed for a week.
WHAT WAS YOUR WORST TIME?
It was actually on the dock. We had two instances of high winds that rocked the boat against the dock with enough force. When we were in the Chesapeake Bay, the wind blew hard for a week and everyone had to stay put. When it finally stopped we had two days of solid fog. But we were never out (on the water) in bad weather.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE ANYONE CONSIDERING DOING THE GREAT LOOP?
Do your research and go for it. You never know how long the window of opportunity will remain open. Be open to stepping out of your comfort zone and take it one day at a time. Your life will be enriched with new experiences.
WHAT IS YOUR NEXT BIG ADVENTURE?
Simply enjoying our family, friends, and activities at home with a fresh perspective.