Here is the link to my Loop article in the Power Squadron newsletter. The text portion is below.
I am your coach and I am going to give you a pep talk to convince you to cast off your dock lines and head out on the cruise of a lifetime. My wife Priscilla and I keep our boat in Waukegan, Illinois and have recently completed a one year, 6,500 mile cruise on America’s Great Loop. Our Loop adventure was exciting and rewarding resulting in making many new friends and great memories. America’s Great Loop is a cruise on the inland rivers and intercostal waterway around the eastern United States. We didn’t just wake up one day and start cruising the Great Loop. We worked our way up to it by cruising the North Channel of Lake Huron several times and cruising both sides of Lake Michigan. We eventually cruised all five Great Lakes. This provided experience in navigation, anchoring, booking marinas, cruise planning, provisioning, dealing with Canadian and US Customs and building our courage to take longer trips.
I will give a shout out to Georgian Bay and the North Channel. These are some of the best cruising grounds in the world. No salt, no sharks, no worries. Just pristine fresh water anchorages and cruising grounds. There are great harbors, many with marinas if you prefer not to anchor out. Many of you may have head about the North Channel and might even know someone who has cruised there. A great way to build your own cruising skills and courage is to cruise there yourself. Everyone has heard about the hidden rocks lying in wait for you. I can say with confidence that during my five trips to the North Channel my Navionics Gold GPS navigation was extremely accurate. In addition joining the Great Lakes Cruising Club gives access to their detailed charts of every anchorage and gunk hole.
I am not saying you have to go to the North Channel before you do America’s Great Loop, but it helps. America’s Great Loop can be thought of as a series of 30, 50 or 100 mile day trips from one marina or anchorage to the next. If you can cruise from Waukegan to Chicago or Milwaukee you probably have the skills to do the Loop. We planned out a rough schedule of where we wanted to be and when we wanted to be there, although the most dangerous thing to have on a boat is a schedule. A schedule will cause you to make a move in conditions that are not ideal. That is when the best stories are created. All of our cruise plans had several layover days built in to account for the unexpected such as bad weather, maintenance issues or the desire to spend another day sight-seeing.
Our timeline for planning and departing on our cruise of America’s Great Loop was five years. You can certainly do the planning in much less time. That timeline included retiring, buying our Loop boat, learning how to run her and dealing with all the details of living on a boat for a year.
After reading articles in boating magazines about the Loop we bought and read several books written by Looper’s about their Great Loop experiences. These books provide a real sense of what will be encountered along the way. Two of the better books we read were written by platinum Loopers (completed two or more Loops) George and Pat Hospodar – “Reflection on America’s Great Loop” and “The Great Loop Experience from Concept to Completion.” Reading those books helped us decide what we needed to have in our ideal Loop boat. We cruised the Loop with another couple so we needed a boat with two very equal staterooms. There are two types of Loopers – go fast Loopers and go slow Loopers. The go slow Loopers buy trawlers and sailboats to do the Loop at 6 – 8 kts. The go fast Loopers buy express cruisers and motor yachts. They can cruise at a fuel sipping 6 – 8 kts but have the option to cruise at 20 – 25 kts if they prefer. With the help of Chris Weber of Weber Yachts as our buyers broker, we bought a Cruisers 4450 motor yacht and were fast Loopers. We cruised 6,500 miles and burned 6,200 of diesel. When we bought our boat in the fall of 2013 the cost of marine diesel was $4.25 per gallon. When we departed on the Loop in September 2016 the cost of marine diesel was closer to $2.00. That really helped our budget.
During our twelve month Loop cruise the real highlights were the people we met. You will meet fellow Loopers all along the way. We met Loopers on the Illinois River that we met again the Bahamas. The Looper community is a great resource for new or would be Loopers. Even if you are merely in the Looper dreamer stage you should join the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association. www.aglca.org
Having completed the Loop we often hear from people that were Loop dreamers or knew Loop dreamers. Most often they waited too long to cast off their dock lines and they became ill or their wife or husband became too ill to start the adventure. The adventure of America’s Great Loop awaits. What are you waiting for?
My second career is working as a broker for Weber Yachts. Upon completing the Loop Weber Yachts sold our Loop boat within two weeks. If I can be of assistance for you to find your ideal Loop boat, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Written by Eddy Johnsen
We first heard about it years ago on one of those glorious, sun-filled summer days, when a fellow boater shared his dream of one day doing something called the Great Loop. Intrigued by the thought of having an extended adventure aboard our boat without having to battle sea monsters, pirates or gigantic rogue waves on the open ocean, we decided to research the subject. Little did we know that Ron and Eva Stob’s book, Honey, Let’s Get a Boat, would be the kindling for the passion we developed for the cruising lifestyle.
America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA), founded by the Stobs, is dedicated to guiding adventure- seeking boaters along a continuous 6,000-mile waterway journey through the eastern half of the United States and part of Canada. Loopers, the moniker for AGLCA members, cruise the Great Loop in such a manner as to ensure their year long odyssey is spent in warm inviting waters. You’ll find them in Florida during the winter and Canada during the summer. And if things go as planned they’ll always be able to wear shorts!
Our own trip began at the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous event at Joe Wheeler State Park, held every October along the shores of the Tennessee River in northern Alabama. During this four-day rendezvous, seminars are presented to ensure that Loopers are armed with knowledge about the waterways, anchorages, marinas and must-see sites that lie ahead. It’s a perfect time and place to get answers to the myriad questions that plagued all of us before embarking on this adventure of a lifetime.
Leaving Joe Wheeler, we chose to do a side trip up the Tennessee River to Chattanooga before heading down to the Gulf of Mexico. During our four-day journey up the river at the mind-numbing speed of eight miles an hour, we dropped the hook in some of the most picturesque and serene anchorages imaginable. During our weeklong stay in Chattanooga, we tried numerous restaurants, including Maple Street Biscuit Company and Big River Grille & Brewing Works, and none of them ever disappointed. It was very obvious that Chattanooga has spent a great deal of time and the fort making its beautiful, historic waterfront a first-class destination for cruisers.
We then cruised down the Tennessee River to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway at Pickwick Lake, Mississippi. Nicknamed the Tenn-Tom, this 450-milewaterway ends at the Gulf Coast and is actually comprised of two man-made river systems. Some Loopers think of the Tenn-Tom as the quiet segment of the Loop, with the exception of the excitement experienced while descending through Tenn-Tom’s twelve locks.
We stopped in Demopolis, Ala., and while strolling its well-groomed streets we found the sidewalks and yards strewn with pecans from the hundreds of beautiful pecan trees. A nearby antiques shop was nice enough to give us some plastic bags so we could gather up these unclaimed gems. An elderly gentleman who spotted us picking up pecans in front of his neighbor’s house insisted that the pecans from the trees in his yard were much better, and invited us to gather all we could carry! A parishioner came out of the local church and encouraged us to follow her to her backyard because her pecans were “the best in the city.”
Since the 218 miles below Demopolis are void of marinas, anchoring skills are a must. The floating dock along the shoreline at Bobby’s Fish Camp allows visitors the chance to stop and enjoy a fresh cat sh dinner and some genuine rustic charm. The restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday, but many Loopers have been gratefully surprised when Bobby’s daughter, who lives a half-mile up the road, opens up the restaurant and cooks them a catfish meal with all the trimmings on the off days. Now that’s Southern hospitality!
The view of Mobile’s downtown skyline is a welcome sight after the long journey down the Tenn-Tom. With several boat yards in the area, it’s also an excellent place to get maintenance issues resolved. We docked at Dog River Marina, a full-service facility right at the mouth of the Tenn-Tom. Passing through Orange Beach after leaving Mobile you’ll find marinas loaded with local character and scenic, isolated anchorages. The 250 miles of Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that traverse the coasts of Alabama and Northwest Florida are the least worrisome sections of the entire ICW system.
Pensacola, Florida, has also gone to great lengths to make its waterfront an attractive cruising destination and there are excellent restaurants downtown. During the tourist off-season, you’ll be able to walk along deserted beaches and watch the sun slowly melt into the Gulf.
After leaving Panama City, the ICW returns to river-like landscapes and placid waters as it continues eastward. Gold Loopers (those who have completed the Loop) know that the charming towns of Port St. Joe, Apalachicola and Carrabelle serve as staging points for the Loop’s greatest challenge: the Gulf Crossing. By now, the cooler air is signaling the arrival of fall’s final days and summoning a southbound change of course. Only a twenty-hour boat ride to Tarpon Springs separates you from temperatures that make it possible to continue wearing shorts!
I always try to remind Loopers that their “job” while on the Loop is to simply enjoy the journey. We made the mistake of planning to share anksgiving dinner with friends in Tarpon Springs. The stress of this commitment made us determined to cross the Gulf by mid-November. Gold Loopers preach to the neophytes that the most dangerous thing to have on the Loop is a schedule. However, we did have a wonderful Thanksgiving in Tarpon Springs and a marvelous Christmas in neighboring Dunedin.