When I think about a Looper single-handing, I don't know about you, but I expect they are cruising in a smaller boat. It just seems like a smaller boat would be easier for one person to handle on their own. But last year's Harbor Host of the Year and AGLCA's new Solo Loopers Ambassador, Herb Seaton, completed his loop in Phantom, a 53' Trader Powerboat. That's a big boat!
But the Great Loop wasn't the driving factor in Herb's decision to purchase Phantom. "I always wanted to live on a boat." He searched for five years, looking for the perfect 35'-45' boat. Because his intention was to live aboard full-time, he had a list of demands and he had no intention of settling. He was about to give up when his boat broker told him about Phantom. Herb went to look at her.
"From the beginning, I thought this could be it BUT she was 53' but the price was right and she intrigued me, just like all women!"
When Herb brought her home, his nephew-in-law exclaimed, "You have to take her on the Loop!" Herb had no idea what the Loop was, but after doing some research, he found AGLCA. He noticed our Harbor Host program and thought it would be a great way to meet loopers, lend a hand, and talk to them about what a trip like this would entail.
He started to prepare in earnest when he met an Italian 100T Captain who was willing to give him some lessons on Phantom. "It was painful at first because she was so big..." Herb took her out in the Gulf to practice, good weather or not, over and over and over again.
Herb's original intention was to have other people accompany him on the Loop. "I never would have started thinking I could do the loop by myself. Never ever crossed my mind." But those who wanted to come along were ultimately unable to go as the time drew nearer and by then, he was determined to go. "It was not going to be something I couldn't handle by myself." He added, "some people thought I wouldn't go alone. I had to show people the Great Loop is doable by someone in a big boat by themselves, so they can do it with help in a 35-40' boat."
He did have a little company along the way: Gold Looper Joe Blanchard helped him get underway and up to Norfolk, a lady friend (with no boating experience) cruised to New York with him and his nephew-in-law accompanied him up the Hudson River and Erie Canal. From there, he was on his own.
Challenges of Single-Handing
Docking, Herb notes, was something he quickly learned needs to be done slowly. "You must let her settle to see what she wants to do, then use what you've learned to coax her to do what you want." He advises you to have a plan, but be prepared to abort and try something else. You can't always count on marina employees to be helpful, as many are inexperienced and just want to get you pulled into the dock as quickly as possible. Herb always asks the dock hands to talk to him the whole way through the process. It's better to have too much information about what's happening around you than to have your boat run into the dock.
While he now realizes he enjoyed the solitude, there were certainly times when Herb wished he had company for more of the trip. It would have been nice to have another set of eyes on what was going on around him and have someone who was able to research docking and anchoring options while en route. "The one thing I missed the most is I couldn't take a lot of photos because of needing to put the safety of Phantom first."
Another hand is always helpful when weather gets rough. One time, trying to dock at a marina in Mackinaw City and get out of a storm, he got as far as backing into his slip when the wind speed jumped suddenly to 40-50 miles an hour. There were several people on the dock who could have caught a line to help him, had he been able to toss them one. He spent the next half hour trying to keep Phantom from hitting the dock or another boat.
Herb admits to having some days when it all felt a little daunting and he would think, "What am I doing here!?" Mother Nature will throw things at you and Herb has learned it's most important to stay calm and do what you know how to do. If you've had training, trust in what you've learned and do it to the best of your abilities. Know your boat and what she can do.
Another tidbid of advice Herb learned was, "If, while underway, you have something you don't understand, stop. Don't go forward until you figure it out."
In regards to dealing with less than ideal weather conditions he advises, "People have to realize that it's OK to turn around and go back. Don't continue on when you're too uncomfortable." He did this very thing cruising from the Potomac to the Chesapeake when some unexpected weather blew in. He went back to the marina he had just left and waited out the storm.
In a boat this big, being able to control her by yourself is of the utmost importance. Herb notes, "I installed a stern thruster to go with the bow thruster. I also bought a wireless control for these extra motors." He also has wireless control for his auto pilot. These wireless controls allow him to stay in control, but give him a little freedom to do other things at the same time. He's also considering a Yacht Commander so he can operate the boat from anywhere within radio control.
Look for him if you are out on the Loop in 2018 - you may well see Phantom out there, working on going Platinum!