SHEBOYGAN – Sue and Rick Rosenwald left Sheboygan headed south on their boat, “Fire Escape,” in October 2018.
In July, nearly four years later, they cruised back into Sheboygan from the opposite direction to a dock full of cheering friends and family.
America’s Great Loop — a more than 6,000-mile loop that took the Rosenwalds down inland rivers including the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida’s coastline, up the East Coast, into New York State canals and into Canada, before returning to Lake Michigan — usually takes about one year.
Although “life and COVID” unexpectedly extended the Rosenwalds’ trip, the loop was still the trip of a lifetime, they said.
About 150 boats complete the Great Loop each year, meaning fewer people complete the trip than climb Mount Everest annually, according to the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association.
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Sue and Rick, both Sheboygan South High School graduates, grew up boating with their families.
Rick bought his first boat at 18 years old, and the boats just kept getting bigger from there, he said.
When the couple were researching bucket list things to do in retirement, Sue came across the Great Loop. As they learned more about it, they were hooked.
The couple sold their boat at the time to buy the Fire Escape, a larger trawler designed for long-distance cruising, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and upstairs open area.
They drove the new boat to Sheboygan, loaded it with provisions and set off within about a month.
Each day, the couple got on the water at seven or eight in the morning and boated 40 or 50 miles, at about 8 miles an hour, to another spot.
“That way you can explore all those little towns that you would never have ever gone to otherwise, and some of them were so cute and fun,” Sue said. “That is part of the thrill, is going to different places.”
For instance, Carrabelle, Florida, was originally such a small town that the police department was a phone booth, Sue said.
At a lock in Phoenix, New York, a group of kids would help with whatever boaters needed, Rick said.
“If you needed groceries, if you needed something cleaned on the boat, whatever you needed, they would do,” Rick said. “It was really unique, and we’ve never seen anything like that.”
Many of the 74 locks in the “maze” between the Erie Canal, Oswego Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway in Canada were memorable, Sue said.
In one lock called the Big Chute Marine Railway, boats like the Rosenwalds’ — which is 66,000 pounds and holds 900 gallons of fuel — drive over an underwater cart and are strapped in and lifted up over a road before being dropped slowly into water on the the other side, Rick said.
What made the loop most special was meeting other “loopers” along the way, Sue said.
“We have lifelong friends now,” she said. “We got to visit them, they come to visit us, and you hear from all of them, ‘Where are you, what are you doing?’”
Since they’ve returned, the couple has been “paying it forward” to help loopers coming through Sheboygan get groceries and visit local sites.
“I’ve taken three people this week so far to grocery stores,” Sue said with a smile. “It’s paying it forward because people did it for us.”
“And people are so appreciative,” Rick said. “They can’t thank you enough.”
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Reach Maya Hilty at 920-400-7485 or MHilty@sheboygan.gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maya_hilty.