Jim and Cindy Kosmos are recent retirees who have begun the next chapter of their lives in a unique and adventurous way.
"I was lucky enough to retire young, at 55," said Jim Kosmos, who stepped down at IBM after 32 years of service. "We looked around and felt like we were running out of time. We decided to do something special."
The Stark County couple have combined their love of boating and travel by completing America's Great Loop.
The "loop" is a 6,000-mile journey that navigates the eastern United States and Canada using the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, the Great Lakes, New York's canal system, the country's inland rivers, the Gulf of Mexico and the tip of Florida.
The Kosmoses will complete the trip on "The Journey," their 45-foot trawler, in mid-September.
They've been sailing inland lakes, such as Tappan and West Branch, for years. They decided to learn more, Kosmos said, and joined the U.S. Power Squadron, which is how they learned about America's Great Loop.
"It turned out that quite a few (local) couples had done this in past, so that became our goal," Kosmos said.
In preparation, they took numerous classes, including courses in seamanship and cruise planning. Kosmos also served as commander of the Stark Power Squadron from 2015 to 2106, and Cindy Kosmos served as secretary.
They purchased The Journey in the spring of 2015. Two friends, Bill and Lillian Wood of Louisville, helped them transport it from Annapolis, Md., to the Sandusky Harbor Marina.
"We had a lot of good guidance from people who had traveled across the U.S.," Kosmos said. "We finally determined our boat would be a trawler, an American Tug built in Washington state. It fits perfectly."
They left port in May, with visits from family and friends along the way. They also share their travels via a family newsletter.
"When it started, our children and grandchildren were so supportive," Kosmos said. "We joked around that 'We're spending your inheritance.'"
Kosmos said the trip has confirmed his faith in people.
"Sometimes you see bad things on news, but we never saw that on the waterways," he said. "We saw good hard-working Americans. We've met new friends. We saw young people, working hard on the docks. The whole experience was more than we thought it would be."
The Great Loop has existed for 100 years, said Kim Russo, director of the American's Great Loop Cruisers Association.
"The first boat was 1908," she said. "It really became more popular around 1990 or so, when the founders of our organization did a Great Loop and wrote a book about it. Social media has really caused information to (spread)."
Russo said that currently 100 boats are traversing the route.
"It's definitely a unique adventure," she said. "Fewer people complete it than climb Mount Everest."
Kosmos jokes that because "it's a boat," the trip hasn't been without its hiccups. A leaky coolant pump screeched its failure as they pulled into port in Michigan City. The flywheel on a swashplate came undone recently in Portsmouth, Va.
Both breaks occurred over holiday weekends, which meant they had to stay put until the parts could be ordered.
"One of the things we found is health care can be a problem in doing this because we're restricted to networks," Kosmos said.
Traveling down the Illinois River at night, Kosmos began having vision problems. It was discovered that the retina in his right eye had nearly detached. The couple traveled to Peoria, Ill., which coincidentally has one of the top retina centers in the country. Luckily, Kosmos' insurance company agreed to cover the out-of-network costs.
Kosmos said he also appreciates local providers'efforts to coordinate all of their medical checkups when they returned home for a grandson's First Communion.
Kosmos said the trip has highlighted the difference between book learning and hands-on experience. His wife does the cruise planning while he does the daily maintenance and piloting.
"We've noticed on the loop, even with our book skills, we didn't have water skills," he said.
Those new skills, Kosmos said, including learning how to read the weather, river currents, ocean waves and tides, which differ from place to place.
Kosmos talked about some his favorite places thus far.
"When we were going through Michigan, we saw some of the most beautiful little towns you've ever seen. Very quaint fishing towns, with bike trails," he said "You always hear about southern hospitality. In Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, it still exists. People would just go out of their way to make you feel at home. It gave us a true feeling of what true Americans are all about. There are so many hard-working good people."
Russo said some of the Great Loop's appeal is that it's a relatively low-risk adventure.
"You get to the see U.S. and Canada from a completely different point of view," she said. "A lot of towns were settled on the water. You see it from a different vantage point. Plus, there's so much going on around the world, a lot of travelers feel safer in North America, rather than going overseas.
"We compare it to the Appalachian Trail; there's that kind of interest in it."
Russo said people who complete the Great Loop earn the title of "gold" Loopers. Those who have done it more than once are designated as "platinum" Loopers.
"There are people who live aboard and just continue to circle around, with no port," she said.
So far, the Kosmoses have completed more than 5,000 nautical miles.
"There's a whole other world out there," Kosmos said. "People are so cooperative and friendly. it truly has been a trip of a lifetime."
For more information on Stark County Power Squadron, check out starkcountyps.org; and for info on America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or email@example.comOn Twitter: @cgoshayREP