Cruising into retirement
Couple embarks on a yearlong boat trip around the Great LoopPublished:
Editor’s note: Dennis and Carol Barkow were interviewed for this story in early September, just before they departed Racine for a yearlong boating adventure to cruise the Great Loop.
By Julie Rossman
Within two months of retirement, Dennis and Carol Barkow sold both of their cars and found renters for their lakeview home in Racine. For the next year, “home” is their 40-foot Marine Trader Sundeck boat, named Reunion.
The couple admits that for some, the transition to retirement can be difficult.
“So many people that retire end up going back to some kind of work,” Dennis said.
But not the Barkows. They have been planning and preparing for their adventure for five years — ever since they heard about the “Great Loop.”
They were shopping for a new boat — something larger than Dennis’ 22 footer — Carol said, when a salesman told them, “This boat has done the Great Loop.” The couple both responded with, “Huh?”
Carol and Dennis both describe themselves as “goal oriented.” The goal of boating the Great Loop was attractive to them.
The Great Loop can be described as a boating tour of the Eastern half of the United States.
The Barkows’ route will go from Racine to Chicago, where they will take the Illinois River through the state of Illinois. Then, to the Mississippi River, to the Ohio River, then East to the Tennessee River. Then, they’ll take the Tom Bigby Waterway to the Black Warrior River and to Mobile, Ala.
They will stay for a week at a state park in Alabama, for a big rendezvous with other boaters, or “Loopers,” who are taking the trip. From there, the Barkows will cross the Gulf of Mexico to Tarpon Springs, Fla. They will stay for a month or two in Sarasota, where they’ll spend time with some family and friends, and then travel to the Florida Keys, and maybe the Bahamas.
Then they will head north, traveling up the East Coast, mostly via the Intercoastal Waterway, to Jacksonville, Fla., then Norfolk, Va. They’ll take the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River, travel around New Jersey to the Hudson River, which will take them through the port of New York, right past the Statue of Liberty. From there, the couple will go north into Canada, cruising the Trent-Severn Waterway and Georgian Bay. Then, finally, they will be back to Lake Michigan and head home.
They plan to return next September.
The Barkows will take a break in November, when they plan to fly back to Racine to visit family and friends over Thanksgiving. Dennis and Carol have been married for 16 years. They have five daughters between the two of them, and three grandchildren. Carol equated the November trip home to a visit home from college — complete with dirty laundry. Only this time, it will be the parents staying with the kids.
Dennis, who worked in information technology, retired from the School District of New Berlin on July 1. His hobbies have always centered on boating and the water. He estimates he spent 200 to 250 hours at the Pugh Marina garage over the winter, preparing the 26-year-old boat for the trip.
Carol retired as vice president of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce on June 1, where she worked for 17 years. Carol’s hobbies include reading, sewing and quilting. In fact, she packed her sewing machine for the trip and plans to work on some quilting projects over the next year. Since meeting Dennis 17 years ago, Carol has also come to enjoy boating.
“Dennis has had boats all his life — I’ve had boats since I had Dennis,” she said.
Dennis doesn’t really consider himself adventurous but more goal driven. He likes to set goals, then plan for and accomplish them. Several years ago, he took a successful solo boat ride in his 22-footer, across Lake Michigan to the Michigan shore, then turned around and came home.
Dennis said the Great Loop trip just kind of came. “It seemed to be a natural progression from other things we’ve done on the water,” he said.
Dennis and Carol were attracted to the trip because of the challenges and goals it would bring. They are both excited to go to new places and try new things each day. Over the course of the year, they expect to see a variety of waterways, different seasons, big cities and small towns, and everything in between.
“There will be lots of things to do and places to see along the way,” Carol said.
The Barkows are members of America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association. Those who are traveling, or have traveled the Great Loop, are referred to as “Loopers.” Dennis and Carol said Loopers have a nice camaraderie with each other. They can network with each other online and via VHF radio. They keep track of others who are on the trip and sometimes will arrange to meet and socialize.
According to Dennis, the entire trip is 6,500 miles. Their goal for each travel day is 50 miles. “We plan to travel 130 out of 365 days,” Dennis said.
Their travel schedule will be largely dependent on the weather. They have a plan for stops along the way, but no firm dates.
The couple will constantly study the weather for changes, and they plan to be cautious. They also have to study each waterway, as they can all bring different challenges.
“Each waterway has its own standards — its own operating procedure,” Dennis said. He compared the five-foot tides on the East Coast, to the open waters of Lake Michigan. “It’s a whole different animal,” he said.
“Dennis is a superb captain — very conscientious. I would ride with him before anybody else,” Carol said.
Dennis said he will have to remember that even though he is goal-driven, he will have to be careful when it comes to weather.
“I’m the captain, Carol is first mate. She’s also admiral — she has to be happy,” Dennis said. “Her comfort level is not as high as mine, so I have to remember that,” he added.
Neither Dennis nor Carol fear growing tired of one another over the long trip. “We enjoy each other’s company,” Dennis said.
They do feel the need to stay connected to family, friends and their church; as they will miss them all. They plan to post on their blog each evening so family and friends can follow their adventures. They will also meet up with friends and family at different stops along the way.
The couple met and were married at Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church in Racine and say they will really miss the sense of community at their church. They plan to stay connected by listening to a weekly podcast of the church service over the Internet.
Before leaving for the trip, Carol said people would ask them, “What are you going to do when you are done?” to which the couple responded, “We have no idea.”
But Dennis and Carol both agree, they will have lots of time to think and talk about it over the next year.
Follow the trip
Carol and Dennis Barkow post regular updates of their trip on a blog at www.reunionvoyage.blogspot.com/?m=1. Here are a couple of excerpts:
“Cruising to Chicago we had 1-to-3-foot waves and a cool breeze in the sun for the seven-hour trip. It was fun to recognize so many towns and landmarks along the way. The Baha’i Temple at Wilmette was especially beautiful, and shortly after that we were watching the Chicago skyline come close. We had a great view of the city from the Outer Harbor — came around Navy Pier and past the old Chicago Lighthouse.”
“A steaming hot day but we covered a lot of distance. We left Heritage Harbor at 7:30 in the morning and fortunately the overcast sky kept the heat down until about noon. The Illinois River is wide and shallow and on a Sunday it’s got a ton of recreational traffic. We enjoyed seeing speedboats, boogie boards, giant tubes, water skiers and lots and lots of fishermen. Families were camped along the river bank and fishing from shore.
“Since we were northeast of Peoria, but southwest of the fish electrification zone, we also saw quite a few Asian carp leaping behind the smaller boats. Only a few were out in the center of the river where we were, but at least 4 made the jump that seemed like they were aiming to board our dinghy. Being an aluminum dinghy set up vertically against our stern, it made a great sudden thump that caught us by surprise the first time — but got to be funny after a few more. One of the boats traveling near us had to scoop a big carp back into the river. Their boat has a lower stern than ours.”