August 27, 2009
Just one day after walking across the stage at commencement ceremonies at Knox, Elizabeth McPhail jumped on board a modified small fishing boat for a summer adventure.
Spending every day and night on a boat, this political science major, who also holds a minor in social service and Spanish, will not be listening to the crisp snap of a billowing sail or retiring below deck for a nap. Elizabeth and her older sister Katie are onboard for a more primitive voyage on what most sailors call "the great loop."
Navigating the Great Loop is a circumnavigation of the eastern half of North America. It is a 6,000-mile-plus route of American and Canadian waterways and is consists of coastal ocean passages, bays, lakes, rivers and canals.
The boat is a modified version of a Duroboat from their father's small fishing boat company outside Seattle. According to Katie's recollection, the plan evolved from reading John Mirassou's Only in America. "The true story takes place about 25 years ago and is about a group of kids who steer through the loop," Katie explains. "I kept telling Elizabeth that we could do the same thing and use one of our dad's boats."
The sisters grew up on the water with pontoon boats and speed boats for water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing. "This is completely different, the DuroBoat is smaller," Elizabeth says. "We're both really comfortable on the water, and good swimmers, and, completely capable. It's just going to be like every day is going to be new because it's new waterways," she presumes.
Katie launched in Lake Michigan in Chicago and traveled down the Chicago River and the Illinois River where she docked at Havana and attended Elizabeth's graduation from Knox College in Galesburg.
Typically, this sixteen foot boat would have three bench seats, but essential living conditions mandated modifications. If they want to retire to their state room, they crawl to the small bench that covers their miniscule storage compartment and serves as a couch/bed.
Most marinas have water at the dock, toilet/shower and laundry facilities, but sometimes that is it. "We've covered the space between the first bench and the middle bench, so that it is all flat. If we find ourselves in a situation where we can't get to a marina, we have a tent and camping gear, so we can sleep right on the boat."
The girls recharge their phones on an inverter. "As long as our boat keeps going we've got power recharging and charging," Elizabeth says.
Sponsors are providing all of the GPS equipment (tracking their progress on a blog for the Boating Life magazine website), VHF radio and a weather satellite system. "So we can track the weather and know what's coming up ahead," the older sister adds. "And people can read the blog and see where we are."
The two sailors have more than high tech equipment to navigate their journey. They have a multitude of charts, literature and books. "Everyone we've contacted has been really helpful and excited and more than willing to give us local knowledge."
On average, they are covering about 100 miles a day navigating both water ways and weather. "You have your plan, your back up plan and your emergency plan. And all three are really important. But at the same time part of the trip is left completely open," Katie says. Elizabeth confirms the point. "Having friends and family meet us every few weeks and travel with us for a few days will break up the three months of alone time."
The Knox graduate admits that she is starting the trip a bit outside of her comfort zone. "But, I think at Knox there have been multiple times where I've step outside my comfort zone. My study abroad experience is one example of how I'm much more okay with not knowing what is exactly going on, and I think that will be happening a lot this trip."
When it comes to her future plans, Elizabeth is at the helm and says she is focused on the horizon. "Sooner or later the thought that I have graduated and said good bye to Knox will suddenly hit me. So my plan now extends through this trip and even with that I have no clue what to expect."