By admin ~ December 20th, 2008. Filed under: Destinations.
The Journey &
Helpful tips and must-see sights for cruisers
embarking on America’s Great LoopBy Risa Merl
There’s a saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” America’s longest inland cruise, the more than 5,000-mile Great Loop, is both. For some intrepid cruisers, it’s about the destination; the achievement of completing a route that spans anywhere from 5,400 to 7,000 miles (including side trips) and can take years to complete. For others, it’s about the journey, the beautiful blue highway, quaint towns and bustling cities along the way; Americana experienced from the deck of your boat. But for the majority of Great Loop cruisers, Loopers, if you will, it is both the journey and the destination that makes them decide to pack up the boat, hire a mail forwarder and tell friends and family, “See you next year.”
“It’s an adventure,” says Janice Kromer, executive director of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA), which provides information and social networking for Loopers. “It’s also a sense of accomplishment. Some are working, but many are retired and don’t want to feel like the adventure is over. This is a way to combine traveling on the water with a goal, and they get to see the beautiful nature of the U.S. and Canada.”
The Great Loop is quite literally a loop around the eastern United States (and part of Canada) through inland waterways, including the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, Erie Canal, Great Lakes, Mississippi River, Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and the Florida Keys (see map). For the sake of brevity, we’ve split the trip into three legs–Florida to New York, New York to Chicago and down the river systems to the Gulf. While the Mississippi is a viable route, its commercial congestion and lack of recreational marina facilities steers many Loopers to the more cruiser-friendly Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway for the third leg.
The trip can be done in as little as nine months or stretched out, with legs completed over the years. One bit of advice is not to rush. Jim and Lisa Favors completed their first trip in nine months, and, feeling they pushed it, are currently on their second go-round. This time, they plan to spend two years completing the Loop, including stopping for a few months in the Bahamas and spending the summer on Chesapeake Bay. “There is so much to see that you really need to take your time and not rush,” says Jim.
After determining route and timetable, the next thing to consider is craft. Height restrictions, locks and barge traffic come into play when choosing a Loop-worthy boat. Bill Fink saw all kinds of boats when he completed the Loop, and while there isn’t one “best” boat for making the journey, he says most will choose a 30- to 45-foot trawler. Bill and his wife traveled in their Grand Banks 42 Europa, aptly named Worth Doing. Powerboats outnumber sailboats about 20 to 1; this is easily explained as sailboats will have to have to lower the mast for most of the journey due to bridge restrictions. It’s not recommended to go in a day boat; however, there are many traveling in sportfishermen, sport cruisers and motoryachts.
There’s a reason the trawler is such a popular Great Loop craft, as the Favors found out. They completed their first trip in a Silverton flybridge that had served them well for plying Lake Michigan. For the second trip, they chose a 40-foot Fathom trawler. Jim says that with the Fathom they are spending at least 50 percent less on fuel and have more creature comforts, including a washer and dryer. He says the trawler is also better for maneuvering through locks, “I actually have fun doing the locks now, if you can say that about locks.”
From guidebooks to the AGLCA Web site (greatloop.com)–with its invaluable FAQ page–there are plenty of resources to get Loopers prepared. Those who find themselves overflowing with knowledge upon their return have published books to help fellow travelers–some concentrating on niches in Loop cruising, such as Ron and Eva Stob’s Great Loop Side Trips, which features 20 Loop adventures. Jim and Lisa Favors took a different approach with their book, When the Water Calls, We Follow, in which they interviewed cruisers they met along the way about their personal experiences.
We spoke to many experienced Loopers
to compile these tips for Looper hopefuls:
• Don’t Over Plan
“We found that you need to be prepared, but you don’t need to have a daily, detailed plan as you will vary from it almost immediately,” says. Bill. “Don’t make reservations, because you won’t be there the day you think–either you’ll love a place so much you’ll want to stay longer, or the weather will keep you back. It’s important to stay flexible.”
Bill counsels that if you plan to meet up with friends, “Pick a date or place, but not both,” and check in when the date gets closer to see where you really are.
“Take every day as it comes,” Janice advises. As a natural-born perfectionist, she found it hard to convert to this laid-back style. “I’d get frustrated when we weren’t where we wanted to be on a certain day,” she says. “But I gave into it, and I found it very liberating, [making] the trip much more enjoyable.”
• Think Ahead About Supplies
“For each three days of cruising, plan one weather delay,” Janice says, which should help you make sure the galley is ready.
Bill added that his well-stocked spares kit helped him in many a pinch, and he recommends bringing a complete set of spare parts, tools and fluids.
• Have a Mentor
“Have someone in your pocket, or cell phone, that you can call and ask specific questions,” says Southern Boating reader Ed Potter, who has completed the East Coast portion of the Loop eight times. Ed says he has had several mentors, and he now passes on the favor by mentoring for rookie Loopers. Questions for your mentor might range from “what’s the current like entering this harbor?” to “where did you find those great fried pickles?”
• Make Friends
One of the wonderful things about cruising the Loop is you can be as social or independent as you desire. The AGLCA does a lot to help Great Loop cruisers stay in touch–an e-mail group that’s great for planning before the trip also keeps Loopers in touch while traveling, and the organization holds rendezvous along the route, featuring seminars, games, dinghy races, cocktails, and dinner parties. The AGLCA’s Web site even features a Looper Locator that works much like Google Earth–put in your location and it will show you on a map where other Loopers are located.
Some choose to travel the Loop in flotillas, meeting up each night for cocktail hour at the docks, while others prefer a more solitary existence, meeting up with other boats occasionally. “We’re not loners, but we do like to do our thing,” says Ed. “However, we have others meet up and follow us through tricky areas. If I see a cruiser going through a challenging area, I’ll offer advice.”
Bill said he was surprised by how many people they kept bumping into on various legs of the trip, some who remain friends today. He advises having a business card with your name, boat’s name and contact information to give to folks you meet along the way.
• Couples: Establish Rules of Engagement
For many couples, this might be the first time they’re spending every day together in a confined space. In order to ensure smooth sailing, Jim recommends establishing what he calls “rules of engagement,” which translates to exploring issues that might arise before the trip and making compromises. Establish how each other feel about anchoring versus staying at marinas, running in bad weather, even how many nights to eat out each week. Discussing, and compromising, on these things in advance can save big headaches later.
There are also simple ways to get alone time when traveling. “Head to the marina showers at different times so your mate can enjoy some alone time on the boat. Don’t always go to the store together,” Jim says. “It’s healthy to have space.”
• Two Goals for the Price of One
While accomplishing the goal of completing the Great Loop, you can also work to achieve personal goals, such as putting that photo class to use, keeping a journal or blog or working to get a captain’s license. The latter might prove the most useful to the cruiser. Bill self-studied and logged hours and tested for his license upon his return. “You get to experience everything you’ll be tested on while during the trip!” he says. If you really want to do something special, keep a blog or send a newsletter to friends to keep them updated of your travels. Be sure to drop us a line here at Southern Boating, too.
Oh, the places you’ll go…
You can begin anywhere, but many guidebooks recommend starting the first leg–Florida up to New York–in April. “Get off the boat, and it’s a like a history book of the U.S. opens in front of you,” says Ed. Here are a few Looper East Coast favorites:
• Savannah, Georgia
Undisturbed during the Civil War because of its beauty, this unspoiled historic seaport is a cruiser favorite. “It has great marinas and it’s a wonderful walking town,” says Ed.
• The salt marshes of Georgia
While sometimes hard to navigate, these calm, quiet marshes have enchanted many a cruiser with their stunning beauty at sunrise and sunset.
• Beaufort, South Carolina
“It’s a great place to stop,” says. Bill. “There’s a swift current, but the people on the docks know how to handle it. He and his wife enjoyed Southern cooking and taking a carriage ride through town.
• Charleston, South Carolina
This major seaport is brimming over with maritime history, fantastic sightseeing diversions (visit the South Carolina Aquarium on Charleston Harbor) and five-star dining.
• New York, New York
“There is nothing like the feeling of coming into New York City on your own boat,” Ed says. And he’s not alone in this. Many Loopers can recount the thrill of cruising by the Statue of Liberty, and most have the pictures to prove it.
“New York City was a happy surprise,” says. Bill. “The first night we stayed at Liberty Landing, which had tight slips, but the second night we moved to 79th Street Boat Basin, which was a great place–it was walking distance to Zabar’s Deli.”
One thing about Loopers, as the Favors found when compiling their book, is that it doesn’t matter what you did in your life prior to starting the Loop, it doesn’t even matter what type of boat you have–“Everyone is on the same playing field, we’re all out there doing the same thing and we all want to help each other.” I guess it’s just one, big Loopy family.