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Bold: Sudbury family chucks everyday life for boating adventure

Luke Booker and Shelly Werner and their two kids, along with the family’s dogs, recently completed the ‘Great Loop’ in a pre-loved boat

The idea of abandoning everyday life and spending a year travelling on a quarter-century-old pre-loved boat would probably seem outlandish to most people, especially to couples with school-age kids.

But that’s exactly what a local family did between August 2021 and August 2022, and they have no regrets.

Luke Booker and Shelly Werner took leave from their careers in the cash services and insurance industries, respectively, and rented out their Skead home in aid of their epic boating adventure.

They and their two kids, McKenna, 13, and Kinley, 11, along with the family’s two poodles, recently completed what’s known as the “Great Loop” on a 47-foot, three-bedroom 1998 Bayliner Pilothouse called the “Oh Henry.”

“We laughed, we cried,” said Shelly, in a recent interview where the family recounted their adventures to 

“Oh, there was crying,” McKenna chimed in.

“We were faced with challenges that we never thought we would be faced with,” added Shelly. “We were rewarded with some of the coolest places that I've ever been in my life. Yeah, that trip was pretty cool. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would leave tomorrow.”

The “Great Loop” is a system of waterways that encompasses part of Canada and the eastern portion of the United States.

“Fun fact, less people finish the loop than climb Mount Everest in the year,” Shelly said. “That’s how rare it is.”

The family’s plan was particularly uncertain because the U.S. border was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions when they first moved onto their boat during summer 2021.

After obtaining a U.S. cruising permit in October of last year (read about how they finally cleared that bureaucratic hurdle in our 2021 story), the family were able to start out on their trip from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

From there they travelled to Chicago, through the internal rivers of the U.S., arriving in Mobile, Alabama. They then headed down to Florida and into the Bahamas, where they stayed for a few months, eventually coming back to the U.S. through the Erie Canal, and then back to Canadian waters.

Highlights of the trip, in no particular order, include swimming with the sharks in the Bahamas, seeing the Gateway Arch monument in St. Louis, Missouri, watching a crewed rocket launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and anchoring near the Statue of Liberty at New York City.

Of course, the family ran into a few sticky moments. That includes riding out a tornado on their boat in Punta Gorda, Florida just before Christmas last year.

Shelly said the forecast was for windy weather, but nothing that was cause for concern at the time. But then the weather took a turn for the worse.

“We didn’t really see the funnel, but the winds dramatically picked up, and the downdraft actually bent the rails on the bimini (open-front canvas top over the cockpit of a boat),” she said.

In March, when the family was travelling between the islands of Eleuthera and Abacco — rather ominously located in the Bermuda Triangle — they lost one of their engines while navigating 10-foot rollers.

They were worried they’d possibly pumped some bad gas into their boat, and were going to lose a second engine, which would have meant real danger. Fortunately, Luke was able to resolve the issue and get both engines running again.

“The first thing that went through my mind is, ‘Oh my God, I'm down an engine. I'm in the Atlantic Ocean. No one's coming to help me. I'm on my own here.’ So that kind of freaked me out a bit,” said Shelly.

In between their adventures, the kids attended online classes through the Rainbow District School Board.

One of the main reasons the family decided to go forward with the trip is that online schooling was still being offered in Ontario due to the pandemic, and the parents didn’t feel they had the capacity to do homeschooling.

For the most part, reliable internet was available throughout their travels. 

But one of the downsides is between the pandemic and the trip, the kids ended up attending fully online school for two-and-a-half years, and they missed out on interacting with peers. “So they get along much better with adults now,” laughs Shelly.

McKenna and Kinley are now back at in-person school, attending Lasalle Secondary School and Northeastern Elementary School, respectively.

As for their two 10-pound poodles, Ebony and Penny, their humans made sure they were below decks while cruising for safety reasons. While not on land, the dogs did their business on a two-foot-square patch of astroturf on the front of the boat.

The family was helped greatly by the “Looper” community throughout their travels, with other boaters showing them great hospitality and helping them out in a pinch.

They were seen as something of an oddity, with most other people doing the Great Loop travelling in much bigger, newer and fancier boats. Other Loopers were typically of an older generation and very few were travelling with kids.

“We were always known as the ‘Crazy Canucks,’ because we were not normal,” said Shelly.

“We were a young family doing the trip. We didn't pull into marinas like everybody else did. We anchored out. We were the budget young family that everybody kind of wanted to take under their wings. So that was awesome.”

The family encourages other families considering a big adventure to get out there and make it happen.

“Go do it,” said Luke.

“Throw caution to the wind and go,” said Shelly. “Don't overthink it. If you overthink it, you're never gonna go. Like, it's easy to say ‘I want to do a trip of this magnitude.’ But it's also easy to never do it.” 

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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