Life on the Loop: Heading South for the Winter – Plus Brunch at Tacky Jack’s and Pizza and Popcorn for Dinner
By Peter A. Janssen
This is the time of year when the annual migration of cruising boats from the Great Lakes and Midwest reaches the Gulf Coast, having moved down the Mississippi and the Tombigbee, looking for warmer weather. The movement is timed to the end of the hurricane season, for insurance (as well as safety) reasons, and means that a large group of Loopers are now gathering in the Mobile and Pensacola area before cruising farther south around the Keys and over to the Bahamas for the winter.
This is the life that Art and Sue Wittmack, of Des Moines, Iowa, dreamed of for the past several years. Art, the son of a sailor, has been boating all his life, racing scows growing up, attending Naval OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, then graduating to bigger boats and blue water sailing. For her part, Sue’s family had a pontoon boat on a lake in Iowa.
Like many cruising powerboat owners, they started out sailing. They bought their first boat, a Catalina 387, in 2007. They also chartered sailboats -17 times – everywhere from Lake Superior to Greece. Then Sue read a magazine story about the Great Loop.
In 2015, the Wittmacks saw a Prestige 500s power cruiser at the Chicago Boat Show and bought it for the Loop. They thought it was large enough for them to live on for a year, while entertaining occasional family and guests; it could fit under the 19’ fixed bridge on the Illinois River, and its IPS pod drives would make it nimble and easy to handle in locks and marinas along the way. With twin 435-hp Volvo diesels, the Prestige cruises at 25 knots and tops out at 30 knots.
The Wittmacks then spent two years getting the boat, and themselves, ready for the Loop. Art got his 50-ton Master license; Sue took a boater certification course so they could spend time cruising in Canada.
And on Sept.13 they left their home port of Milwaukee on Loofah 111 (their two sailboats had been Loofah and Loofah 11), and recently made it down to Mobile Bay, where they relaxed for a while and took in some local color, heading over to Ed’s Seafood Shed “home of Yo Mama’s seafood platter” (fish, oysters, shrimp, scallops and crab claws), and taking the dinghy over to Tacky Jack’s for Sunday brunch. The walls there are decorated with strips of duct tape listing the names and boat names of patrons. Art climbed on a bar stool to put the tape with their names and Loofah 111 on the wall. That night they crashed, having pizza and popcorn on the boat for dinner.
The Wittmacks are now in Pensacola and soon will head farther south, to the Keys and the Bahamas, before cruising up the east coast, making it north of Norfolk, Virginia, by the start of hurricane season on June 1. Meanwhile, they’re enjoying their life on the Loop, writing on their blog: “Time on the Loop is special. It breaks life’s everyday patterns. Things seem simpler. There is little to separate you from the winds and water. You have time to reflect each day as the sun rises and sets.” Read more: