by Courtney Mabeus
Kevin Tucker dreamed for a long time about completing the Great Loop – a 6,000-mile boating circuit of waterways that connect the eastern portion of the United States and Canada and finishes at the Gulf of Mexico. The problem was, as a general contractor and developer, he just didn’t have the time to take a year off and boat across half the country.
Sure, some people could work from the boat or complete the loop in segments, but Kevin and his wife, Sandy, a longtime yoga instructor, wanted to do the whole thing at once. So it would have to wait for their retirement.
One of the truly great parts of finishing your workaday life, for those who have planned for it, is that it can afford the time and means necessary to take trips that had previously seemed impossible.
A recent study by the AARP found that baby boomers, those born between 1944 and 1964, expect to take up to five leisure trips a year and spend about $6,500 on travel. And increasingly this demographic, according to the AARP, wants trips that are “true escapes.”
And few escapes can match the adventure of the Great Loop. One might say Kevin, who bought his first boat at 14, had been preparing for this one much of his life. Over the course of their 35-year marriage, Sandy had grown used to enjoying the scenery and serving as a hostess on the small boats she and Kevin owned.
The couple bought Koastal Karma, a 39-foot Mainship 350 trawler, nearly seven years ago in preparation for the Loop. For Sandy, space to practice yoga was at the top of her must-haves. She carved out a spot in front of the boat’s galley kitchen. “Right here, every morning,” she says, standing in the cozy space during a tour.
Kevin, 68, retired about five years ago. After some other travel, and a yearlong ordeal with breast cancer, from which Sandy, also 68, has recovered, the couple set their sights on the grand adventure.
While the call of the open road and endless interstates may attract motor home enthusiasts, long-term travel by boat is a different challenge. It takes preparation and dedication. According to the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, only about 150 boats complete the journey annually.
The Tuckers began their journey on land. They attended meet-ups for Loopers in Norfolk, where they took classes, met folks who had completed the trip, and gathered travel tips. Two years before starting the Loop, Kevin and Sandy tested the waters with a six-month trip to the Florida Keys. That required they condense their living space from about 3,000 square feet down to about 250. “I wanted to do a shorter trip before I did the whole Loop, to make sure we were still married,” she says.
A map hanging on a wall inside the cabin – color coded by season – outlines the couple’s route. It’s littered with dozens of dots marking each stop. They left Virginia Beach on April 28, 2018, and stopped in Norfolk at Waterside before heading north along the Intracoastal Waterway and entering New York via the Hudson River.
A series of canals led to Lake Ontario and into Canada, where the Tuckers spent nearly two months exploring. They found beautiful bike trails and watched the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill in Ottawa before winding up in the Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. “This area is absolutely stunningly beautiful,”
Kevin says. “The water is crystal clear. There’s just cottages on islands out there.”
They re-entered the U.S. at Mackinac Island, at the northern tip of Michigan. At Chicago, they connected with a series of internal rivers. “Chicago was great,” Kevin says. “You’re right there. You’re next to the Navy Pier, for Pete’s sake. You’re right downtown.”
The couple brought their bikes and often sought out live music. They found a speakeasy in Peoria, Ill., located in a building from which Al Capone smuggled whiskey. Sandy used apps to track weather and find marinas. When repairs from striking a log on the Illinois River sidelined them, first for two weeks and later for a full month in Mobile, Ala., to replace their transmission, they made the best of it by flying back to Virginia Beach for Thanksgiving and spent two weeks in Orlando with their two adult daughters.
The Tuckers returned home in June, after four months in the Florida Keys. A binder full of boat cards marks all their new friends. Two months after returning, the couple had barely bothered to unpack their five-bedroom home in Cape Henry Shores, which they had rented out during their trip.
The trip, they say, brought them closer. While they don’t have plans to retrace the Loop, they say they look forward to more boat travels.
“I can easily see spending another year on the boat,” Kevin says. “No problem.”