About four years ago, I was reading one of the umpteen boating magazines that I subscribe to and came across a two or three page article about a couple who had just completed a 6,500 mile cruise around the east coast of the United States. I was stunned. I had no idea such a thing could be done. Of course, I had heard of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) along the Atlantic seaboard, but considered travel on it confined to aging “Snowbirds” who took their boats from New York to Florida each winter and back each summer, paralleling their counterparts in motorhomes along the highway. It never really peaked my interest…until I read that magazine piece.
Carrie became as excited as I about the loop as soon as she read the article. We went to a website recommended in the article, www.greatloop.org (link posted). This is the home of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGCLA). It opened up a world of information and support to us. We purchased a couple of books on the loop from their ship’s store, and it was on! We began talking, thinking, dreaming and generally driving our kids and others nuts with our desire to someday do this cruise. I got tired of drawing maps on napkins and took to carrying a little miniature route map in my wallet to show anyone who would look and listen. What a nerd! Most people looked at us as if we had lost our marbles. We didn’t care.
Finally last year, we attended an AGLCA four day gathering in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We walked into a room full of a couple of hundred like-minded crazies who had either done, were doing, or like us were planning to do the loop. It was awesome. We packed information in all day and lay awake at night until the wee hours talking excitedly about what we had learned. We also made fast friends with a couple from Seattle, Bob and Debbie, and another from Wisconsin (and Florida), Doug and Judy, who were also in the planning stages and hoping to be looping by 2011.
There are several variations of the Great Loop, but generally it includes the ICW on the Atlantic, then up the Hudson River and into the New York State canal systems into the Great Lakes all the way to Chicago on Lake Michigan. You then head south down the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers. Eventually the Tennessee-Tombigbee water way leads you to Mobile, Alabama and the Gulf ICW. Most loopers cross the Gulf and then cut across Florida at Lake Okeechobee, although going around Florida is another option. There are many variations and even more side trips if time permits.
Some loopers take years to complete the loop. For us, it is a one year plan. Taking a year allows us time in each quadrant of the country to get the best possible weather and avoid the worst…hopefully. So, the plan is the east coast in spring, the Hudson and New York canals and Great Lakes in the summer, the inland rivers in the fall, and the gulf coast, Florida and the south in winter. Of course, the weather is not always predictable and lots can go awry. Also, boats are machines, and machines break, so keeping to your schedule can become a challenge. There needs to be some “float” in your timing, pun intended. Now, all we needed to do was sell our boat, buy another anywhere on the loop and, oh yeah, take a year off.
We had a few ideas about personal and business issues which had to be settled before we would feel comfortable about leaving. Most of them have been. However, we now realize that there is never a perfect time and you can always find a reason to postpone. Also, a little medical scare in December made me realize how fragile life can be. We agreed that the worst possible thing was to keep postponing so long that one day we looked back and find ourselves saying, “We should have gone when we had the chance”. So, what the hell, we’re just gonna go for it.
We hope to start our trip in May at the AGLCA Rendezvous in Norfolk, Virginia. First we have to buy and outfit a boat suitable for this trip, a process we started this week. Then we need to make arrangements for everything to be taken care of when we’re gone. My three kids and Chris, a rent-a-kid, are going to be a big help in that regard. My business partner and good friend Bobby totally supports it, and my two best friends, Robbie and John along with many others, have been urging us on.
There are still those that think we are a little whacko…and I agree!