A local couple recently returned from a trip that took them far beyond their Elmira home: Kurt and Leanne Penfold just finished their second circumnavigation of the ‘Great Loop,’ a challenging adventure that takes boaters on a 6,000-mile journey through the eastern side of North America.
This earned them a MasterLOOPerate degree from America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Associations, given in recognition for finishing the Great Loop more than once – the Penfolds completed the trek back-to-back.
“We fell in love with staying in 26+ degrees Celsius sunny days because that’s what you do when you travel this loop with the season. The way it works out is, throughout November and December, you’re headed down to Florida and going down the interior of the United States; it’s really hot and sunny all the time,” said Kurt. “So we decided, hey, let’s forget the winters, and do it again.”
Starting in the fall of 2017 until summer 2018, and once again through 2018 and 2019, the pair completed the Great Loop aboard their 44’ Regal Express Cruiser powerboat, Festivus.
It features a fridge, ice-maker freezer, an electric grill, convection microwave, three televisions, three Blu-ray players, two washrooms and a salon area. Twin diesel 480 horsepower engines power the boat, while a diesel generator operates the heat and air conditioning.
It was more than enough to keep them comfortable as they took in incredible sights from the distinct vantage point of the water’s edge. Starting in Orillia, they made their way up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, through the New York State Canals, into the Great Lakes, down the inland river system, across the Gulf of Mexico, and around the southern tip of Florida. Often, they visited marinas during their pit stops.
The two explored plenty of unique landmarks along the way, from Civil War exhibits in South Carolina, to “mushroom” houses in Charlevoix, Michigan, to the sunny islands of Bahamas.
“[Ground Zero] in New York City… that would be the place that affected me the most,” said Leanne. “I remember where I was September 11, 2001. Being at a distance, you see it; you look at what happened … But when you go to this memorial, it really brought it home for me. It’s very well-done. I think it’s an awesome tribute to everybody who was involved that day. From first responders to people in the building.”
“The Bahamas was a highlight – we went back there because it was such a pleasant place,” added Kurt. “We stayed at Green Turtle Cay, that was our home base for a while. We met a lot of local people. They’re really nice.”
They kept a log to keep track of how the money they spent compared to their predicted cost and found they often spent a little more than predicted. Fuel was among the biggest overages, along with marina costs and food – but all deemed worth it for this trip of a lifetime.
There is meticulous planning that goes into a trip of this scale; the couple joined America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association that provided support, maps, meetings, and advice for how to successfully complete their journey. Despite all the planning, the couple added that there could be unforeseen circumstances that make a trip more difficult.
“One big factor is the weather. There are plenty of apps for that to check wind, waves, we travel in calm seas; we’re not a sailboat, so we like calm waters,” said Leanne. “These websites were, for the most part, pretty accurate. There was only twice in the two years that we had issues with the weather.”
But smooth seas never did make a strong sailor – the couple said that they were motivated to make the trip after several personal tragedies, and hope their experience inspires others to do the same.
“The first year, there were four close friends of ours who passed away unexpectedly,” said Kurt. “That part hit home for me: ‘hey, I’m glad we’re doing this. Because life isn’t forever.’”
“Don’t wait to do things too long, because tomorrow is not a given,” added Leanne.
The couple plans to continue boating on their vessel in summer 2020, this time around Georgian Bay and Manitoulin Island.