Art Hubert of Raleigh sits at the helm of Magoo, the boat he and his wife Sandra used to cruise The Great Loop, a 6,200-mile waterway around eastern North America. - COURTESY OF SANDRA HUBERT
'We just decided we're going to live that dream'
For those who dream of leaving corporate life and cruising into retirement, Art and Sandra Hubert say go for it.
They would know. The Raleigh couple recently returned from a nearly yearlong voyage along The Great Loop, a 6,200-mile waterway around eastern North America, aboard their 36-foot trawler, Magoo.
The 11-month journey that spanned 17 states and two countries was the fulfillment of a longtime dream and years of planning. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but a breeze it was not.
"A lot of people think you go on a cruise and you lay there eating grapes and living the good life," Sandra said. "But I'll tell you, it's down and dirty."
They battled stormy seas, navigated 7-foot swells on Lake Michigan and worked to avoid alligators and snakes in Florida. But the two 63-year-olds pushed through and crossed this item off the Bucket List.
After months of taking courses and studying charts and guidebooks to prepare for their seafaring adventure, the Huberts left their Raleigh townhouse on May 10, 2010. They pushed off from the North Carolina coast - with 200 pounds of study materials, stored in plastic containers to keep them from getting wet.
"It's unbelievable, the planning and logistics," said Art, who had retired two months earlier from ElectriCities, where he was chief operating officer and an interim CEO.
As the journey began, Art and Sandra made a deal with themselves in case doubts crept in: Take baby steps. Stay the course for a while. If it was too hard, turn back. If not, keep going.
They always kept going.
"You either dream your life or live your dream," Art said. "We just decided we're going to live that dream."
For most of the voyage, it was just the two of them. During planned stops and side trips along the way, they met up with others, including their son and daughter and their spouses, who each joined the jaunt for about a week at a time.
They also made friends with other boaters who were sailing The Great Loop at the same time. Those relationships came in handy when one boat had to tie to another to anchor.
Because weather can make or break a Great Loop voyage, it's important to plan the trip for the right time of year. For example, it helps to make it across Lake Michigan and through Chicago before Labor Day to avoid bone-chilling cold. It's best to avoid Alabama during hurricane season, and it's good to be in Florida during the winter.
Might seem easy, but at 8 mph it can be a challenge. Thankfully, aside from a tense weather moment here and there, the conditions were near perfect for the Huberts.
They even spent their 42nd wedding anniversary tied to a barge on the Mississippi. Romantic? Plenty.
"You really know how to show a girl a good time," Sandra told Art.
'The last safe adventure'
A big part of the Loop's allure is that it allows people to experience America in a new way, said Janice Kromer, executive director of America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association, a Summerville, S.C.-based group with about 4,000 members worldwide, including the Huberts.
"Seeing America from the water is a different perspective than the 70 mph interstates," Kromer said.
Association officials estimate 150 members complete the loop each year, though they don't keep official numbers. It's a good option for folks who want a relatively risk-free adventure.
"It's probably the last safe adventure you can go on," Kromer said. "It's nothing compared to crossing the ocean. No place you go are you that far from land and help."
Euphoria and tension
The trip was full of memorable moments, but the Huberts say some will stick with them more than others.
The best part? Canada in the North Channel, without a doubt.
Art: "The water's crystal clear. You can see down 30 feet."
Sandra: "You get up in the morning and you look out on the land there and there's a bear eating breakfast with you."
The scariest part? Going through Little Detroit in Canada during a storm and attempting to pass through an opening about 100 yards wide while avoiding dangerous, hidden rocks.
"It was raining so hard you could hardly see in front of you," Art said.
Art radioed a sailboat on the other side to see if he wanted to pass through first.
"He said, 'No. You go on through. I want to see if you make this.'"
Don't put it off
These experiences, along with countless other challenges and breathtaking moments, made the cruise all the more rewarding.
"There were lots of points in the trip where we felt like this is more work and harder than we ever imagined," Sandra said. "At the end of the day, it feels good that you got through all these challenges. You feel a really wonderful sense of pride."
The voyage concluded on April 10, 2011 - exactly 11 months after it started.
The Huberts chronicled everything via a detailed blog of anecdotes and striking scenic photos from their time on the water. They gained a following among boating types and fellow Loopers. The blog has 15,000 hits and counting. Emails have come in from friends and strangers.
That following only reinforced the significance of their accomplishment, Sandra said.
"It just really hit me like a ton of bricks; I had tears," she said. "It hits us every time when we look at the blog ... and look at all the pictures. "It just brings everything back. ... It's hard to believe we really did the whole thing."
Both agree the adventure exceeded their expectations. But will they do it again?
"We've got a philosophy in life: We don't want to do anything twice," Art said. "I don't think we'd want to do that again."
They might do an amended, three-month version next year to hit some places they regret not including on their trip. But for now, it's time to get their land legs back - and plan land-based adventures.
For those pondering their own Great Loop adventure, or another of life's Bucket List-type journeys, the Huberts' approach is to jump right in.
"There's always a reason or excuse to wait a little while. Don't wait," Sandra said. "You don't know what's around the corner."