When I said to my husband, “Honey, let’s get a boat and cruise the Great Loop,” we could not foresee how a 10-month cruise around Eastern North America in a 40-foot trawler would change our lives. My husband, Ron, had been writing travel features for newspapers and magazines, and he had written three books on what to see and do around the area where we lived at California’s Central Coast. A few years before this, we had chartered a little cruising faux tug in Ontario, Canada, and spent a week bumping through the Trent-Severn Waterway with my sister and her husband. None of us was a boater, but we had a great time, learned a little about boating, and met someone from Virginia who was doing the Great Loop in a big white cruiser. I realized then that Eastern North America is really a big island with a navigable water route surrounding it.
Sometime after returning home, I got the bug to do more boating. That’s when I sprang the idea of taking a year’s leave of absence from work, buying a trawler, and cruising America’s Great Loop (a.k.a. the Great Circle Route). Ron needed a new writing challenge, and I needed to get away from my hospital laboratory job for a while. To prepare for such a challenge, we spent nearly two years taking classes with the United States Power Squadrons and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, visiting marinas and boatyards, talking to other boaters, and reading everything we could get our hands on about boats and boating.
Newsletters as the Nucleus
We bought the boat in Florida, where our cruise began in February. After three days, the boat broke down and we were sidelined for major repairs that cost 10 times what the two of us had budgeted for breakdowns. Although we considered cutting our losses and canceling the trip, Ron and I persevered and the boat became the magic carpet we’d dreamed about. Along the way, newsletters we sent to friends and family who were concerned about us became the first draft of a book.
Ten months later, we returned to Florida after having cruised northward on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, up the Hudson River to Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence Seaway, across the Great Lakes, down the inland rivers to the Gulf of Mexico and back to Florida. Then we sold the boat and returned to California and our previous way of life.
After spending a few years trying to find a publisher, Ron and I knew that we would have to self-publish“Honey, Let’s Get a Boat…”: A Cruising Adventure of America’s Great Loop or we’d never see it in print. The story was too good to let it die. So I quit my hospital job, the two of us moved to Tennessee, and we built a house on Tellico Lake and then set about becoming publishers, marketers, public speakers, and business entrepreneurs.
Our business plan has evolved gradually. I searched the Web for boating sites that might be interested in the book and stumbled onto the West Marine Trawler Fest Web site. These special “boat shows” at locations around the country are designed to educate attendees about various aspects of boating and include seminars on boat purchasing, maintenance, and cruise destinations. I whipped off an e-mail to the organizers telling them about our cruise and the book and saying that we were prepared to give a seminar on cruising the Great Loop. Because of our writing and photography experience, we had a show in the can when they said, “Yes.” We’ve been regulars with Trawler Fest now for four years.
Adding an Organization
West Marine Trawler Fests also feature an expo where vendors display and sell nautical products. We received a booth in lieu of payment for our presentation. There, we asked visitors if they would be interested in becoming charter members of an organization that would share information on the Great Loop Cruise. Fourteen people signed up and we had the beginning of America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, which we formed in 1999. With membership in the organization came a 15% discount on the book and a newsletter every other month.
A friend designed our Web site (www.greatloop.com), which has information about the association, the book, and the cruise, along with a membership application. Press releases to boating magazines (free advertising) expanded our base. In one period, the organization grew at the rate of 30 new members each day, and most of them ordered the book. Today, it has more than 1,400 members from nearly all of the states and many territories of the U. S., most Canadian provinces, and several foreign countries.
We’ve added services and products including a directory of members, listed alphabetically, by location, and also by boat name. Rendezvous in Canada in the summer and along the Gulf coast in the fall/winter are beginning to look like regular events. When members complete their Loop cruise, they receive a BaccaLOOPerate Degree, a silly little certificate on faux parchment suitable for framing. An association burgee (ship’s flag), a book on going through locks (by another author), back issues of the newsletters, electronic charts, shirts, mugs, “placemaps,” and a poster-sized wall map of all the navigable rivers of Eastern North America are available for purchase. Each year, the members who are doing the cruise stay in touch with each other via an e-mail list, sharing the latest up-to-date information with members cruising ahead of or behind them. Flying the burgee lets members of this floating armada spot each other along the waterways, and they often travel together and share stories. Invariably, they recommend the book and association to fellow cruisers.
The products have been profitable on different levels. Some of them make money (the book and the map); others (the burgee and the shirts) serve primarily to advertise the association. But there is little doubt that all of them, and the services the association offers, directly affect the success of the book, which is in its third printing and nearing the 10,000 mark in sales. We sell it at Amazon.com as well as at our Web site and via Robert Hale & Co. (a distributor of nautical books) and the usual suppliers to retail stores.
Ron and I now have a trailerable 25-foot cruiser, which we take to places we want to cruise and also cover through writing. Future books on topics such as Great Loop side trips, planning the Great Loop Cruise, and pets on board are works-in-progress. Our next book will be A Cat Called Canoe, about our black and white feline companion. But I’m dreaming about the next big cruise. What will Ron do when I say, “Honey, let’s get another big boat and cruise Alaska’s Inside Passage?”
Eva Stob and her husband Ron are freelance writers and photographers who write for a variety of publications including boating and RV magazines. They and their cat now reside at Tellico Lake in the hills of East Tennessee. You can reach them at REStob@aol.com or visit their Web site at www.greatloop.com.