Ron and Michele Hall had a dream before they had a boat.
Five years ago when their cruising was limited to the Internet, Ron stumbled across a website describing something called the Great Loop.
The 6,000-mile loop circumnavigates the Eastern United States using the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, canals, the Great Lakes, rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.
About 100 boats per year complete the journey, according to America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association. The Browns Point couple wanted to join that club.
“We thought it would be a wonderful way to travel from small community to village to village to get a better understanding of America and our Canadian neighbors,” Ron said. “It was an exploration for us and a renewal of ourselves.
“The world looks a lot different when you travel 7 mph.”
While Ron, now 71, was smitten immediately with the idea of the adventure, Michele (she says she’s in her early 60s) said she was “the reluctant spouse.”
That changed in 2012 when the couple attended a Loopers Conference in Virginia. They were surprised to see more than 300 people at the event. Some were finishers, some were in progress and some aspired to do the loop.
“Everybody there looked like me,” Ron said. “In their 60s or 70s and retired or near retirement.”
At the conference, they realized they had much to learn about boats, maintenance, safety and navigation, but it also reinforced that they were capable of completing the adventure.
“I started getting excited about it,” Michele said.
They took boating lessons in Bellingham and Tacoma, and Ron earned his captain’s license.
But they still needed a boat. After months of shopping, the Halls found a 48-foot Kadey Krogen trawler. The yacht had two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a living room. Michele turned the second bedroom into a quilting room.
They purchased the Spirit Journey in March 2013 and on May 20, 2013, they were underway. They launched from Stuart, Florida.
The Halls likely would have finished last year if they weren’t feeling a little extra adventurous. They tacked on nearly 5,000 miles of side trips, including the Down East Loop.
During this 2014 side trip, they spent 71 days traveling from New York up the Hudson River, across Lake Champlain and into Canada. They motored up the St. Lawrence River, visited Nova Scotia and returned to New York along the coast.
By the time they returned to Stuart on April 27 of this year, the Halls had traveled nearly 11,000 miles over 217 days. They returned home in winter months to run their business, a Seattle Woodcraft store.
The trip had numerous highlights. In New York, they met a firefighter who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They saw hundreds of beluga whales north of Quebec. They enjoyed the skylines of major cities like Chicago, New York, Boston and Toronto. They sailed past the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
“That just tugs at your heart strings,” Michele said.
They passed through an estimated 230 locks, some of which are still hand-operated. They stopped at dozens of museums, big and small.
“It was so cool how proud these local docents are of their communities,” Michele said. “I really got a charge out of that.”
The Halls also learned a lot about each other. “You’re together 24/7, and we enjoyed that,” Ron said.
Of course, Michele said, “Sometimes I needed a little elbow room from my Prince Charming.” Michele would take sewing breaks in the quilting room, and Ron would sit on the flybridge and read on his iPad.
The trip wasn’t without nervous moments.
Ron describes the first few days as “white knuckle boating.” He gripped the wheel tightly, anxious to avoid making a mistake. “But it got better as the trip went on,” he said.
In Canada, there were narrow passages, barely wide enough for the Spirit Journey. They navigated a dense sea of lobster pots off the coast of Maine. And they got underway at 1:30 one morning in Nova Scotia to avoid the wrong end of 50-foot tides.
Perhaps the scariest moment came one evening off the coast of New York. Visibility was limited, and 35-knot winds whipped the sea into a frenzy.
“Michele called it her four-bucket night,” Ron said. “It checks your resolve, but we look back at those times as part of the building process.”
The Halls’ agenda was intentionally unintentional. “The worst thing a boater can do on a voyage like this is have a schedule,” Ron said. “If the weather is not right or we don’t feel good about the day or we are tired, then we don’t go.”
The lack of a schedule allows them to make more than safety a priority.
“That’s the great thing about boat people, they aren’t in a hurry,” Ron said. “They aren’t searching a destination. They are searching a journey. An experience.”
Whether by boat, bike, RV or motorcycle, the Halls encourage people to take an adventure that allows them to explore the land, culture and themselves.
“Don’t wait for tomorrow, do it today,” Ron said. “Everything is temporary.”
On Friday, the Halls planned to ship their boat to Vancouver, B.C., for their next adventure. They want to spend two to three years exploring the Inside Passage.
“I say stop worrying about every little thing in life and just appreciate what you have,” Ron said. “Stop worrying about growing old and go do it.”