It’s not the first time those traveling the Great Loop have made their way to Ottawa via the blue highway, but something different was in store for boaters who chose to make the Friendly City a stop on their tour this year.
With Jimmy Buffet playing on a CD player aboard a docked boat Tuesday afternoon, John Mobley of Heritage Harbor Ottawa gathered about a dozen boaters in a seating area, briefing them on the city’s amenities.
Armed with a welcome package provided by Heritage Harbor, which included coupons and information about area businesses, as well as information from the Ottawa Visitors Center, Mobley played tour guide to those visiting Ottawa while traveling what is known as the Great Loop — a water trail that circles the eastern half of the United States basically using the Illinois, Mississippi and Tombigbee rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes.
While a city dock in downtown Ottawa is a favorite stop for “loopers,” it cannot accomodate the number of large boats — seven — that arrived at Heritage Harbor this week.
“When you stop here, we want you to say, ‘Wow, no one’s done that for me before,’ ” Mobley told the group of loopers Tuesday.
Mobley, who also serves on the city’s Riverfront Development Committee, knows about the Great Loop from person experience. He and his wife, Sue, made the trek from September 2004 to October 2005.
The loopers had only compliments for Heritage Harbor, the city and Mobley, with several noting they heard about the new marina via a blog on the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association Web site, www.greatloop.com.
Access to laundry facilities, grocery stores, post office, restaurants and other amenities are some of the top priorities of loopers, who said they were pleased with all the accommodations in Ottawa.
Louis Wade and his wife Diane left North Carolina on May 14 in their boat, Bella Luna, traveling the East Coast to New York, up through Canada and back down through Lake Michigan until they reached Ottawa Tuesday afternoon.
The first-time loopers planned to finish the 6,000-mile trip in about a year.
“We just decided we needed to do it,” Louis Wade said. “There’s great people and you remember everyone by their first name and their boat’s name.”
“We’re fortunate to be retired … if we weren’t out here, we’d just be sitting at home, piddlin’ with the grandkids, watching TV and asking what we’re going to eat for dinner.
“This has been a great adventure.”
Networking is vital in such a trip, as loopers will blog on the AGLCA site about various marinas and the amenities offered, and offering other tips as to where to find the cheapest gas.
“I call it paying it forward,” Mobley said.
The loopers at Heritage Harbor all have met along the trip, but don’t necessarily travel together.
Cindy and Jess Still of Corpus Christi, Texas, left 16 months ago and arrived in Ottawa Monday during a cold rainshower.
“But these guys were standing here waiting for us in the rain,” Cindy Still said of Heritage Harbor staff. “This has just been primo, and we will promote it on the blog, and every looper will read it.”
There are an estimated 4,000 AGLCA members. However, it is difficult to estimate how many are currently making the loop.
On the way into downtown Ottawa from Canal Road-Green Street, Still said she was in awe of the homes on the city’s East Side.
“It was like all these homes you see in the movies,” she said, adding she and Jess also were impressed with the city’s restaurant selection.
Various businesses have lent a hand in the past to boaters, offering discounts or just a little help. For example, Larry McGrogan of Handy Foods has driven boaters back to the docks when they have too much food to carry.
Cindy Still said although she became paralyzed from the neck down after a fall three years ago, she was determined to make the loop.
“I was determined to beat it and get well,” she said.
Today, she walks with a cane — but only on land. No need for it on the boat, she said, laughing.
Mobley said so far this season, he estimates about 20 to 25 boaters have docked at Heritage Harbor. Loopers also continue to use the 110-foot city dock. The typical season for the loopers runs roughly from the end of August to October, when the boaters begin making their way south before winter weather sets in.
Also welcoming loopers was a mini-van temporarily loaned by Bill Walsh Automotive Group for boaters to take into town to run errands.
With their coupons and maps in tow, many of the loopers piled in the mini-van around 6 p.m. Tuesday, headed for downtown, with Handy Foods, Herman’s Package Store and Jardines on their itinerary.
“We want to start a new era of marinas,” Mobley told The Times as he waved them off.
Most of the loopers will ship off early today, and it’s uncertain when they’ll meet up again. But they’re certain to see each other again on the loop.
Diane Wade said the loop is not only about sight-seeing.
“It’s not the places you go, but the people you meet.”