Friday, May 1, 2015


I was not raised in a maritime environment. The clang and bustle of great ships being built, their great horns sounding as they begin their voyages around the world, flocks of seagulls -- these were not a significant part of my childhood. Several years of that childhood I spent in a small Midwestern town which is adjacent to a creek. The creek didn't leave a big impression in my memory. I don't recall any boats from miles away going past or docking at our town. On Google Earth I can't see any water at all in the creek next to our town or to the south. Perhaps 10 miles to the north, as the crow flies, more than 10 miles by the meanderings of the creek, there is some water in it, perhaps enough for a canoe, maybe for a boat somewhat larger than that, and it empties into a larger river, and after about 100 miles of meandering that larger river empties into one of the Great Lakes.

This town was founded over 150 years ago. I gather that back then it was more than somewhat unusual for towns to be built far away from navigable water -- has the creek dried up considerably since then? Or maybe the creek wasn't navigable a century and a half ago either, and the town wasn't intended to be more than a half-way stop between this city on that river and that city on this river? I don't know. You're asking about waterways and boats, and I don't know about that stuff.

I don't know much about water. As an adult I've spent a fair amount of time on the coasts of various oceans. As a child the oceans seemed immensely distant to me. In the northern Midwest, the closest big bodies of water to us were the Great Lakes, upon whose shores have been erected the mighty metropolises of Toronto, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and Duluth. There are plenty of small private craft out on those lakes, lots of bigger ships too. Trucks and trains continue to eat away at the water-freight business, but how mighty would any of those metropolises have become without the Erie Canal connecting NYC to Lake Erie via Albany, or the St Lawrence Seaway connecting the St Lawrence River to Lake Ontario?

Of course, a ship continuing on west from Lake Ontario will have to go through some locks between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. How many locks? Let me put it this way: the quick way west from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie is over Niagara Falls.

So it took some doing and some digging, but today you can take a fairly large ship east from Detroit or Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean via the St Lawrence Seaway and Montreal, or a somewhat smaller ship via the Erie Canal and NYC.

Or with a somewhat smaller craft still, small enough to go in 5 feet of water and under a bridge with less than 20 feet of clearance, you can go from Chicago down the system of rivers and canals now known as the Chicago River to the Mississippi River, then take one of several routes to the Gulf of Mexico or cutting across Florida to the Atlantic via a system of rivers and canals, and then up the east coast either to the Hudson at NYC or quite a bit further north to the Gulf of St Lawrence and the St Lawrence River, then west again to the Great Lakes via the Erie canal or the St Lawrence Seaway, and then you could make another counter-clockwise lap around the eastern US, and another and another, forever, without ever getting out of the water, or you could turn around and do it clockwise.

You could make such laps on the water, and I gather that some people do. Counter-clockwise, mostly. And that they call themselves loopers. And that some people, rich eccentrics mostly, I assume, have decided to devote the rest of their lives to making loop after loop, one loop per years, six months or more of each year on the water and going, and some time on land. I gather you can't do an entire loop with just sails, you need to motor part of the way.

Honestly, I don't know how to feel about this. Is looping folly? Wretched excess? Heroism? Some from Column A, some from Column B, some from Column C? Do the Columns depend on how they do it? I honestly have no idea what I'm looking at here. I don't even know what labels to put on this blog post. But something tells me that I will find out more about loopers.

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