Joe Blanchard Has Just About Done It All on His Red Grand Banks 36, but He’s Still Going Strong
By Peter A. Janssen
If you’ve been cruising anywhere in the eastern half of the United States or Canada in the past few years, you’ve probably run across Joe Blanchard on his red-hulled Grand Banks 36 Firebird. Blanchard has pretty much done it all, mostly singlehanded – the Great Loop, the Down East Loop, the Small Triangle Loop. And he’s still going strong, heading south from the Hudson River for Florida, the Bahamas, maybe Cuba.
Now retired after a career in the Air Force, Blanchard grew up in Beverly, Mass., where his father was a lobster fisherman. As the oldest son, Joe worked on the boat. His father also had a wooden 37-foot Egg Harbor that Joe eventually bought to maintain; after his father passed away, he donated it to a school in Maine.
In 2004, Blanchard took to the water again, buying Firebird, a 1987 Grand Banks with a single 3208 Cat diesel. The hull was red when he bought it. “But I love it,” it told me. “I get many compliments wherever I go. I may get it re-Awlgripped this winter, the same color.”
On Firebird, Blanchard cruised up to the top of the Bay of Fundy with a friend in 2011. He then cruised the Down East Loop in 2013 and 2014, single-handed, wintering in Cape Breton and going up to Newfoundland before coming down the coast of Nova Scotia and back to Beverly. He says that trip served as the dry run for the Great Loop itself.
The next year Blanchard started the Great Loop, completing it last August, cruising most of the time by himself. At his Grand Banks’ cruising speed of 8 knots, it took a while. And he stopped to take in the sights along the way – the art museums in Chicago, the Civil War battlefield on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga (see the picture below), the Red Sox spring training in Fort Myers.
Blanchard then took some time off Firebird to help a friend cruise from Tarpon Springs, Florida, up to Norfolk, Virginia, in the friend’s 53 Trader. Then, back on Firebird, he completed the Small Triangle (up the Hudson to the Erie Canal, down the St. Lawrence to the Chambly Canal and Lake Champlain and back down the Hudson) just last week.
I emailed Blanchard as he just finished varnishing Firebird‘s transom in Saugerties, New York. I commiserated with him, saying that I once also had a Grand Banks 36 like his, and got very tired of varnishing. “I hate varnishing too,” he said. But once the varnish dried, Blanchard was off again. Look for him on the water; you can’t miss that red Grand Banks. And read about his adventures on his great blog, with lots of pictures, here: http://firebirdtofundy.blogspot.com