When I think about the possibility of cruising the Great Loop, I’m thinking about being comfortable. I’ve seen some of your boats at Rendezvous and I want a bed onboard to sleep in at night. I want a galley large enough to store and prepare food. I want a place to be able to sit back and get comfortable with a book (and what I would anticipate being our very reluctant boat cats).
Surely each of you have had similar conversations with your co-captain about what you expect your Loop boat to be. I would expect not too many of you would be thinking ~ kayak.
Stephen Chard had exactly that thought.
“The whole point was to NOT do it in anything other than a kayak propelled solely by manpower. To forsake comfort and engine/sail…this was all to celebrate me hitting 60 years of age.”
And it was also about raising money for several charities, both in the U.S. & Canada, as well as his home in the U.K. (We've listed the charities at the end of this post.)
The British charities he selected were all associated with his work life – Stephen retired from the South Western Ambulance Service after nine years of service. He also spent three years in Dorset County Hospital’s Renal Unit as a nursing assistant and served eight years in the Royal Navy Submarine Service. When he decided to add the Canadian and U.S. charities to the list, he noted that he “carried on the theme”.
Why raise money for charity by kayaking America’s Great Loop?
He has fundraising in his blood. “I have previously fundraised by running marathons, cycling and swimming long distances. I wanted to do a fourth different activity and chose kayaking.”
But the original plan was far less than a 6,000 mile adventure located across the pond. He was going to participate in a 4 day, 120 mile canoe/kayak marathon in the U.K., when a helpful friend upped the ante. She actually found Ron & Eva Stob’s book, Honey, Let’s Get a Boat at a local flea market and, as they say, the rest is history.
He spent the next two years researching and planning his route. He set up a facebook page and reached out to marinas, as well as kayaking, sailing and rowing clubs along the way.
Putting the kayak in the water
Stephen flew to Canada to begin his journey. “I was going to start and finish at Stuart but because my brother married a Nova Scotian, I decided to do something different and start from Halifax, thus including the coastlines of the Canadian Maritime Provinces and America’s New England States.”
Were you able to bring any gear?
“It’s amazing what you can carry inside an 18’ expedition sea kayak!” The photo of his gear includes:
- Tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag
- Three sets of clothes, wash bag
- 2 gallons of water, 2 weeks supply of food
- Storm waterproofs, first aid kit, foil survival blanket and chemical hand warmers
- Cell phone with “Navionics” nav app and waterproof charts occasionally
- A marine VHF radio and GPS
- Bow mounted compass and a Silva compass on deck right in front of him
- A Manual foghorn
- Small solar panel & a couple of rechargeable storage batteries to recharge cell phone & radio
- Hand crank transistor radio with weather channel
- Solar powered inflatable floating lights for camping & displaying a white light on the water
- Flares, whistle, throw line and tow line
- Knife and flashing beacon on PFD
- Wore a dry suit 70% of the trip.
As he got underway, he started out camping waterside, but as people met Stephen and learned of his adventure, he often found himself with offers of guest bedrooms, RVs, cabins, garage floors, and marina laundry rooms.
And, as many of you know well, the Loop builds some of the most beautiful friendships. “I started making true friends who started passing me along to their friends ahead of me on the route.” It does a heart good to read his facebook page and see all the names and photos of people in both countries who have helped him in whatever way they were able to give him the encouragement to keep going.
But as you know, there were still large portions of the route where all you will see for miles and miles is trees and water, so there were still many nights spent in the tent on the side of the river. A lot of you opened your boats to Stephen and he is grateful to each of you for letting him into your homes and your lives.
Wind is a four letter word
His basic plan was 20 miles a day, paddling 4 days in a row followed by a rest day. For most Loopers, weather plays an important role in determining if the boat is leaving the dock or staying in port another day. On a kayak, of course, weather can be an even bigger deal breaker.
“Light rain and moderate winds didn’t stop me. Heavy rain and /or winds above Force 4, either with me or against me, kept me ashore.”
When things are going too smoothly…
Stephen made it to Florida with little more than weather having been his biggest problem. By November he had gotten as far as West Bay, Florida when he noticed the kayak taking on water. Rick & Lynda O’Connor, aboard Recess, came to the rescue and picked him up to deliver him to a repair shop to find out what’s happened and if it can be repaired.
Because he missed Hurricane Michael by only a few weeks, Rick & Lynda took him to Carrabelle, getting him safely past the hurricane damaged areas around Panama City where he would have had a challenging time finding a marina (or anyone else, for that matter) in any condition to be able to help him repair the damage, help with provisioning, or provide a safe place for the night.
By this point in the trip, he’s beginning to feel, physically, in about the same shape as the kayak.
“My feeling ‘under the weather’...obviously run down after 5.5 months of paddling nearly 3000 miles -and we have realised I had got unintentionally a bit dehydrated and that I probably therefore have a UTI.” He also had bouts of headaches (at least one developed into a migraine) accompanied by shakes and shivers. Quite simply he needed a rest.
It’s perhaps a good thing that the kayak sprung a leak ~ Stephen was able to lay low, stay out of the weather, and let his body recuperate while the kayak was repaired. The diagnosis from the repair team was that the leak was likely caused by the kayak being dragged along a particularly rocky shoreline when he stopped for the night. Nothing a little TLC couldn’t fix.
And for Stephen, a month break to return to the U.K. for Christmas provided a little of that same TLC. He returned to the U.S. in January, ready to begin his migration north on the ICW.
Back at the Helm
As much as this is a story of laying witness to the kindness of all the people Stephen met in Canada and the U.S. during his Loop, we all know that not everyone is as open to strangers. On his way towards Jacksonville, he stopped for the night in a location where he was clearly not welcome. The property owner was not interested in having company and greeted Steve with a gun in his hand and dogs by his side.
By then, Stephen had met so many wonderful people that he was able to keep this experience in perspective. He said, “Thank God I know the truth about real American hospitality…”
Preferring to avoid trouble, he hopped back in the kayak and paddled a few more miles until he reached the outskirts of Jacksonville, where he was able to catch up a day early with friends who were expecting to meet up with him the next morning.
After his Facebook post regarding his unpleasant experience, people reached out to him from up and down the east coast offering him places to stay. My heart swells with pride for our countries. For all the negative press that circulates, it’s a beautiful thing to know that of all the places he stopped, big cities or small towns, U.S. and Canada, only one time in his 15-month journey, did he have a bad experience. Everyone else took him in and treated him as one of their own. It's truly amazing.
The day his kayak became a momma seal
Because I couldn't help myself ~ directly from Stephen's facebook post:
June 10 Jonesport, ME
What a day Monday 10th of June became!
First was me wandering down to my kayak this morning and finding a 1 or 2 day old harbor seal pup trying to suckle it... yes, it thought my kayak was the mum who had abandoned it!
The pup has a deformed flipper and mum had abandoned it because she knew it wouldn’t be able to out-swim a predator... The local lobster fisherfolk knew what to do though, we called the marine protection agency who said they would collect, nurse and eventually release...
What an amazing journey America’s Great Loop has been for Stephen. He has experienced more in our great countries in 15 months than some of us who have lived here all our lives. And best of all, as so many of you say, it’s been the people who have made his journey memorable. People have gotten out and paddled with him, given him a place to sleep, fed him, delivered him to the airport, showed him around their hometowns, and generally made him feel at home.
“Thank you to all the Loopers and AGLCA affiliated marinas who helped me!”
Read more on his facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PaddleWithSteve/
Stephen has currently raised 9,000 pounds across all 9 charities, but the donations pages are set to receive until Dec. 31, 2019. Click the links below to get involved.
Canada’s Naval Memorial Trust, HMCS Sackville
Kidney Foundation of Canada
Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance
Weldmar Hospicecare Trust, Dorchester, Dorset
Kidney Research UK
Walking With The Wounded
Disabled American Veterans
American Kidney Fund
US Navy Submarine Force Library & Museum, Groton, CT