AN ENCOUNTER WITH A PIRATE
In Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, noticing smoke rising from one
of the keys, they rowed their dinghy over and encountered a woman
tending a cook fire. She welcomed them into a small hut where they
met the legendary John Gomez. Born in Portugal in 1781, Gomez
was a brother-in-law and former shipmate of the pirate Gasparilla.
Abandoning piracy, Gomez fought under General Jackson in the
Seminole War of 1837 before settling on Panther Key. By then he was
118 years old and still vigorous. He took great interest in Gazelle and
gave the boys loads of invaluable navigation advice about the area.
They would have been sad to learn the following year that Gomez,
one of the most fascinating people they met on their epic journey,
drowned shortly after their visit, caught in his net while fishing alone.
After sailing around the tip of Florida, Frank went swimming in
a tidal pool near Miami at low tide and discovered he was sharing
it with an unhappy shark, which he fought until Ken could reach
him in the dinghy and haul him aboard. The boys came in from
the Atlantic at St. Lucie Inlet and sailed north on the Indian River.
The boys were strong, resilient, and driven at this point. When they
reached the Haulover Canal on June 2 and found it badly silted, they
decided to reopen it themselves. Taking one-hour turns in the water
shoveling and using the anchor as a kedge, they slowly pulled Gazelle
forward using the windlass. After three days of backbreaking work,
they entered Mosquito Lagoon.
INTO THE OPEN SEA & HOME TO MICHIGAN
Gazelle sailed back into the Atlantic at New Smyrna Beach and spent
July sailing north in the open sea. Sure, they were nearly run over
by a large yacht sailing south at night with no running lights, and
they experienced several severe squalls at sea, but they encountered
no hurricanes, as the first Atlantic hurricane of 1899 did not form
until August. On August 1, Gazelle came in from the Atlantic to the
shelter of Beaufort, North Carolina.
They sailed north inside the barrier islands that today
form Cape Lookout National Seashore, passing through
Core, Pamlico, Croatan, and Albemarle sounds, arriving
at Norfolk, Virginia, on August 12. Gazelle sailed north
up the Chesapeake, through the C&D Canal and Delaware River, to
Philadelphia, spending several days visiting the historic sites before
continuing north to the Delaware and Raritan Canal. They crossed
New Jersey via the canal and headed for the bright lights of New York
City and a week they’d been looking forward to all year.
From New York, they sailed the Hudson River to Albany
and inquired about buying a transit permit and arranging a tow
through the Erie Canal. But funds were woefully short by then, and
the prices asked were way beyond their means. Our intrepid lads
bought a horse, harness, and enough feed for the canal transit – for
$10. They named him Step Lively, and he towed Gazelle the length
of the Erie Canal from September 20 to October 10. When they
reached Buffalo, Ken sold him for $3.
Fighting stiffening fall breezes, Gazelle sailed westward the length
of Lake Erie and around November 1 sailed into Lake St. Claire and
the Clinton River, just north of Detroit. Ken’s Uncle John had a farm
on the river, and they put Gazelle on the hard for winter. In just over
a year, they’d circumnavigated the eastern United States, leaving
from and returning to Michigan. Ken and Gazelle crossed their wake
the following spring when he sailed her
back to St. Joseph. Ken never used the
term Great Loop in his writings about the
trip, nor did he set out intending to blaze
a new trail. He was looking for adventure
with good friends. Undertaken in a homemade sailboat, on a shoestring budget by
four young men with their eyes on the
exciting horizon ahead, the voyage was an
Bruce and Susan Armstrong completed their Great Loop voyage in
2008, and published the story of their four-year trip in Coming Full
Circle: A Voyage On America’s Great Loop. They live and boat in
Naples, Florida, on a World Cat 250DC.