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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Steve Chard: Kayaking the Great Loop
"It's the best kind of idiocy."
March 26, 2019

S
teve Chard of Piddletrenthide, England, wanted to do something grand. Something challenging. Which is how he found himself wearing a dilapidated, iridescent pink cowboy hat and paddling a kayak into Oriental’s harbor as part of his trip on The Great Loop.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
Steve Chard arrives in Oriental harbor, kayak loaded with enough gear to take him around The Great Loop.

Steve is a retired submariner of the Royal Navy, and most recently a retired driver and EMT for the ambulance service in Dorset, in the south of England. To prepare for his 60th birthday, he began searching for something new; a charity event of one to raise money for the causes close to his heart. His previous feats and fundraisers included marathons of the 10k variety, cycling hundreds of miles through the mountain country of Vietnam, open water swims of 31 km. When co-workers at his ambulance station purchased sit-on-top kayaks and invited him along, it gave him an idea for his next adventure.

Kayaker on The Great LoopKayaker on The Great LoopKayaker on The Great Loop
Steve arrives in Oriental, and unloads on Hodges Street.

“I knew I wanted to progress beyond sit-on-top and I bought a second-hand sea kayak. And I thought, I can do some sort of kayaking event for my 60th. My initial thoughts were a 4 day, 120 mile canoe marathon in the UK.” (The Devizes to Westminster canoe marathon which has been running since 1948 has 77 overland portages and is a test of mental and physical stamina.)

But then Steve was given a book about a retired couple’s trip around The Great Loop. The couple had made the trip – a circumnavigation of the eastern part of the US – on a trawler.

Through research, he found moreveunorthodox watercraft had made the loop, including a canoe and jet ski. Steve also found that another kayaker had as well. If it had been kayaked before, he figured, it could be done again. His goal set, Steve planned his route and started training.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
Steve original Great Loop plan. Foul weather caused him to haul out his kayak and portage overland more than once.”

In England, he and his training partners would take sea kayaks to Weymouth and Portland Harbor along the coast of Dorset.

When training started to get serious, they took a 4 day excursion on the River Wye in Wales. “We went to get me used to looking at how to read a river because of course you’ve got to look for the possibility of looking for whitewater ahead of you.” Though there’s no whitewater on the Mississippi, Steve found there are other hazards on the water, and the land as well.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
First things first: hot tea to warm up.

As a kayaker, Steve hugs the coastline, keeping closer than most. “Sometimes I go a mile out, because you might have to go ‘round a group of rocks or something like that. So I’m literally at the mercy of the local terrain. What you can follow are the fisherman’s buoys,” he said. “Because when the fisherman lay things like crab pots, lobster pots, anything that requires them to have a buoy to show where their gear is, if you follow those buoys, you know it’s safe because those fishing boats can come in that close to shore. You learn all the little signs that help you.”

Kayaker on The Great Loop
Steve shows his route, and how many miles he’s paddled, for the day.

Loopers, as those who complete the route are known, tend to travel down the Mississippi, across the Gulf and up the East Coast, cutting through New York at the Hudson River to connect to the St. Lawrence River above Montreal. Taking the river south and west, Loopers eventually find themselves in The Great Lakes with the option to travel either part or all of the Michigan coastline.

Steve had another route in mind.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
A closeup of the route.

“I traded the coastline of Michigan for the coastline of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England instead.” He has cousins in Canada, one of whom immigrated in the ’70s to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It seemed fitting that Steve begin (and eventually end) near a few familiar faces.

He left Halifax on June 1, 2018, his kayak loaded down with gear, and wearing the distinctive pink cowboy hat. His training partners showed up with the hats after a night out at a bachelor party. One of the men handed Steve a hat – and a challenge: “‘Steve, you are going to wear this around the whole Great Loop, aren’t you?’” Recalling the memory, Steve smiled, “How could I say no?”

Kayaker on The Great Loop
The pink cowboy hat Steve wears was a gift, and a challenge, from his training partners. He says it’s become a great conversation starter.

With his distinctive head gear in place, Steve traveled through the Straits of Canso, visiting coastal coves and villages like Tatamagouche and Malignant Cove, places most Loopers mish by going along the Hudson River.

Unlike Loopers, who have a built-in place to stay aboard their boats, Steve on his kayak had to find a new place to stay every night.

“What I’ve been doing quite frequently is I’ve been seeing a row of houses,” he said, “coming ashore and telling them who I am and what I’m doing, and saying please can you help me find somewhere to camp or stay tonight? Lo and behold, I’ve been invited in. I’ve been told where the campsites are. Everybody’s helped.”

There have been a few rough encounters. In coastal Nova Scotia, a deer took exception to Steve and his tent; it tried to trample them both.

Places where there are no houses – such as locks on the rivers – have campsites and public restrooms. One site on the Rideau Canal in eastern Ontario had a railroad trestle over the camping field. Freight trains ran through the night, blasting their horns.

Kayaker on The Great LoopKayaker on The Great LoopKayaker on The Great Loop
After an evening on the couch, Steve gets geared up for his return to the kayak.

“This particular place – because it had the visitor’s center, too – the doorway was a shared doorway to the restrooms. I realized that when the staff went home, I could move in to that building. [There was] a lovely little carpeted hallway to the visitor’s center where I could lay my sleeping mat down there and I could sleep inside the building. I got some protection, not only from the elements but from the noise of the train.”

He was out before staff arrived in the morning, leaving no trace.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
Steve Chard.

Otherwise, Steve’s way of finding lodging, and his online presence where followers can track his progress, have helped him gain a sleeping spot on porches, garage floors, lawns, couches, and guest beds along his route.

Only one incident has caused alarm. Steve tried his approach in Jacksonville, FL, asking for directions to a campsite or place to safely spend the night. The landowner “ran me off his land with a knife to my throat and three Dobermans; he had them under perfect control but they would have savaged me if he’d wanted them to.”

Friends familiar with the area said the man may have had something to hide, and may have assumed Steve was less of a weary traveler and more of an undercover law enforcement officer.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
A cart helps get Steve’s belongings back to the kayak.

“It was unbelievable. I knew it could happen. Everybody told me last year before I left Halifax, ‘Steve, you are gonna find some people who won’t help. You are gonna find some violent people. You are gonna find people who will shoot first and ask questions later.’ And I found it. And I wasn’t sure whether or not to post it on FaceBook and I did. And because of that, I’ve now received so much help. I’ve got hospitality lined up all the way to New England.”

There have been a few delays along the way. Early into his trip, Steve stopped to visit Canadian cousins along the Trent Severn Waterway in Ontario. His cousin’s wife “took one look at me and ran me down to the pharmacy. The pharmacist put me on a protein supplement immediately.” He had dropped a dangerous amount of weight in a short time: 46 pounds in two months.

The next few months took Steve to the Mississippi River, where he elected to continue his journey on the Tenn-Tom (Tennessee-Tombigbee) Waterway rather than fully down the Mississippi. The mighty river has too many levees, he said, and is a bit boring.

Kayaker on The Great LoopKayaker on The Great LoopKayaker on The Great Loop
Back in the water at Hodges Street in Oriental, Steve repacks his kayak.

On November 5, Steve arrived in Carabelle, FL. He had paddled his kayak more than 2,000 miles in 5 months, give or take a few portages due to bad weather (though nothing like the 77 portages of Devizes to Westminster.)

“I was exhausted,” Steve explained. He meant to rest for one month and to reset his travel visa, but his body and his friends made sure he took off two months. He flew home to Piddletrenthide, population about 500, to rest and recuperate for the Christmas season.

By mid January, Steve was back on the water in Florida and headed north up the East Coast. When he arrived in Oriental, he told TownDock.net he’d never capsized. That changed the day he left for Hobucken. Four miles outside Broad Creek, the weather had begun to change and Steve decided to turn back. The waves caught him broadside, and he was capsized.

But it was the Pamlico Sound, so Steve stood up, righted himself and his kayak, and returned to his hosts on Broad Creek for another evening.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
Putting it all back together.

Marshes and rivers, coastlines and coves – all are expected parts of The Great Loop. Steve has spent most of his time on the water but, here and there, takes a few days to explore the cities and towns on the way. “The coastline has been spectacular everywhere,” he said when asked about his favorite place. But, “it’s been the people more than the places” that have made a lasting impression. People, online and off, have been incredibly hospitable.

Steve hopes to make Halifax by August 31. When he started his journey, he kept the charity part of his trip fairly low-key. It didn’t seem right, he said, asking people to give money before he’d shown an effort to complete the trip. Now that he’s come so far, he has begun making more noise about the charitable side of his efforts.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
Steve Chard.

As a Brit traveling in Canada and America, he chose charities themed around his careers and that benefitted the citizens of his home and host countries. “Because I was going to be here for so long, I had to try and get permission to try and fundraise for American and Canadian charities.”

He is paddling to raise money for nine charities in total: four British, three American, and two Canadian. The charities honor veterans and the military, kidney research, and ambulance and hospice services.

Steve will spend the next few months paddling towards Canada, raising money for his charities. After that, it’s back to Piddletrenthide to rest and plan his next adventure.

Kayaker on The Great Loop
Steve continues on his way.

Steve’s Charities
American Charities
Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
American Kidney Fund
US Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton, CT

Canadian Charities
Canada’s Naval Memorial Trust, HMCS Sackville
Kidney Foundation of Canada

British Charities
Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance
Weldmar Hospicecare Trust, Dorchester, Dorset
Kidney Research UK
Walking With The Wounded

Posted Tuesday March 26, 2019 by Allison DeWeese


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