I always enjoy meeting cruising people and hearing of their experiences. Every couple is different and every adventure unique. And when discussing the Great Loop, and its many variations, there are some great stories to tell.

I wrote about one fellow doing his solo 4,500-mile Loop in a most unique way. Dave Pike chose to modify a 14-foot Walker Bay RIB, powered by a Honda 60 outboard. I first met Dave at a boat show in Seattle, when he was cruising the Pacific Northwest on his Krogen 42. Now retired in Grand Haven, Michigan, he chose the Walker Bay to do his Loop. Passionate about his other love, pickle ball, he arranged to meet players at every place he stopped to play pickle ball most days along his grand adventure. His was an adventure that kept him in shape as he made his way around the country. (Read: What Kind Of Cruiser Are You?)

(Seen below: Dave Pike's Walker Bay RIB that completed the Great Loop.)

The Great Loop By RIB 

Seattle Yacht’s broker Dan Bacot recently introduced me to his mother, Jan, who did the Great Loop in a more traditional way. Along with her late husband, Dan, the couple did it on their Grand Banks 49, a classic trawler with lots of room for living aboard. The family owned a boatyard and marina for many years in Virginia, so the couple were not only fully experienced in all things nautical, but they knew hundreds of cruisers from their years in the business.

I wanted to hear her story, as Dan shared that his parents’ philosophy was to maximize the fun factor when they did their Great Loop. After speaking with her, Jan gave me a lot to think about.

One key element that made the trip more enjoyable was they teamed up with friends to do the Loop together, buddy boating. Ted and Audrey Stehle owned a Grand Banks 46, so the boats were closely matched for the trip. Traveling in company with friends on their own boat seems a terrific idea in every way.

Jan told me that Audrey, at the time the food editor for Southern Boating magazine, would share cooking responsibilities during the trip. Jan would cook dinner one night, Audrey would cook the next night, then the two couples would dine at a restaurant the next day, and on the fourth day everyone was on their own. Then they repeated the cycle. It worked gloriously well, and she highly recommended it to keep cooking from being a chore.

Both couples took lots of food and other provisions, but soon found that most weeks there were farmers markets on Wednesday and Saturday, which provided fresh produce and other goodies. One negative of the Grand Banks was that it had holding plate refrigeration and would freeze whatever produce they bought. Even so, they used extraordinarily little of their onboard stores.

Jan told me the Grand Banks was an ideal boat for the Great Loop, and as the majority of Loop boats are trawlers, most agree that is the perfect platform for the trip.

When I asked her to elaborate about the fun factor, her comments were similar to what I’ve heard many times before. Do not make it a delivery, and don’t follow a tight schedule. Coming up Chesapeake Bay, for instance, they would wander off the magenta line and cruised way up the Rappahannock River and the beautiful scenery of Virginia’s Northern Neck. Such side trips greatly added to the experience and kept things slow and easy. (I’ve met Loopers who blasted up Chesapeake Bay in two or three days, for example, not seeing much of anything. That seems such a waste to me, and that is true along most portions of the Loop.)

(Seen below: Boating down Virginia's Northern Neck offers some exceptional views.)

virginia northern neck boating great loop 

Dan and Jan’s Grand Banks, DAJA, would lead the way one day, switching with Good Time the next. That also eased the tension of traveling new waters where one must be focus on safe navigation.

While stopped at Liberty Landing Marina across the Hudson from New York City, both boats were hit by lightning, and lost their electronics. They were forced to continue up the Hudson River on basic navigation and paper charts until they reached a proper boat yard where repairs could be made.

While replacing damaged electronics, they learned a secret from a couple on a sailboat. When transiting the upcoming canals of the trip, with the Erie Canal not far away, it is always best to be first in line in the locks, often crowded with fellow Loopers. This means there will be much less turbulence than being in the wakes of the boats in front of you, and who wants to spend endless days looking at the transom of other boats?

(Seen below: Lock #5 on the Erie Canal outside of Waterford, NY.)

Erie Canal Lock - Great Loop Trip 

The secret was to put a beer on the lock wall for the lock master. No words were exchanged, and the beer would disappear during the locking. It is best to put the beer in a paper bag, however, as the many tourists who frequent canal locks should not see the lock master getting booze from cruisers.

As many lock masters manage more than one lock, and drive ahead to the next lock, when the parade of boats gets to the next lock and tie up waiting for the next opening, the lock master will announce on the VHF for DAJA and Good Times to enter first. It worked great, although Jan said that when they arrived in the Canadian lock system, they had to buy Canadian beer as it was much preferred by the Canadian lock personnel because it was stronger.

While discussing transiting the canal systems, Jan said they used a big ball fender at the stern of the Grand Banks, and her husband used it to kick out the stern when it was time to get underway. Their trawler had no bow or stern thruster, and the ball fender did its job. (In general, ball fenders are best for locking in canals.) She also said gloves are absolutely required for transiting the Erie’s Canal, as she worked the stern while Dan handled the bow lines.

They washed off the fenders after every lock, which did a lot to keep the boat clean.

I asked what her favorite part of the trip was. No question, it was the time in Canada, especially the Big Chute Marine Railway at the Trent-Severn Waterway Lock 44 in Ontario. It was great fun. Another highlight on that waterway was just north of Kirkfield at Lock 36. It is a lift lock with essentially two bathtubs (called caissons) that moved the boats.

(Seen below: Trent River Lock 36, the Lift Lock.)

example of a lift lock on great loop 

They did not care much for the big river systems on the Loop, as the commercial traffic was heavy and has right of way. One time they came upon a large commercial vessel named Miss Audrey. Audrey Stehle called the boat on the radio. “Miss Audrey, this is Audrey. Miss Audrey, this is Audrey.” The captain returned the call and Audrey asked if they could raft up to Miss Audrey to get through the next lock. It was the easiest lock of the trip, tied to a vessel much larger than the two Grand Banks.

The two couples anchored out much of the time, but they didn’t avoid stopping at marinas if there was something interesting to see or do. They had to go to marinas to pump out and refill their water tanks, of course, and tried to really explore the places they did stop. They would end their daily travels by 3pm, which allowed time to wander ashore.

“Try to explore as much as possible,” Jan told me. “When you stay in a marina, you are often at the town’s back door. Get out of the marina and go into town.”

In contrast to many Loopers who seem driven no matter what, it is way more enjoyable not to follow a schedule beyond the basic key dates, such as out of Chicago by September 1st, or not entering Florida before November 1 and the end of hurricane season.

Again, a major part of the fun factor is to purposely not follow a straight line. And, given the many boaters the couple got to know over the years who stayed at their marina, they occasionally stopped to visit friends that lived along the way. They traveled up the Cumberland River to Nashville, for example, and got free tickets to a country western concert that happened to be that evening. Another place to seek out is the Green Turtle Bay Resort and Marina in Grand Rivers, Kentucky.

(Seen below: Green Turtle Bay Resort & Marina.)

green turtle bay resort and marina 

Maintaining a sense of spontaneity provides its own rewards, and when they visited Charlevoix, Michigan, they were invited to a blues concert. They were having so much fun that when the skies opened up, the cruisers just sat in the rain and enjoyed every minute. Such is the freedom of the cruising life!

Be flexible. Are we enjoying being here? Should we stay another day or two? Often, they would.

Whether to bring bikes and dinghies are common questions for those planning a Loop. I asked her about that. DAJA did have bicycles, and when they arrived in Mackinac Island, they decided to stay a week, and biked all over the island (There are no cars.) She also said they used their dinghy, because when they anchored out, they would often zip off to explore nearby creeks and smaller waterways that would not allow the big boat.

When clearing customs in Canada, Jan said that it is important to answer all questions honestly. Did they have tobacco on the boat? What about alcohol? There was another boat clearing in at the same time and apparently, they set off a red flag by saying no to every question. How likely is it that a boat would not have one beer on the boat? No tobacco, no liquor, nothing. Canadian customs knew they were lying because every cruiser carries something. And that did not sit well with them.

So, officers spent several hours searching the boat, opening every locker, moving cushions and looking into every nook and cranny. She doesn’t know if they found anything, but it is highly likely those folks had to pay a fine when an officer found at least a bottle of wine on the boat.

The only damage the two boats experienced was when Good Time hit a rock ledge and water started coming into the boat. The boats were well prepared, however, and by combining their supply of underwater epoxy, a diver was able to repair the damage sufficiently until they could find a yard to haul the GB and repair it properly.

I have talked to many hundreds of people who completed the Great Loop over the years, attended countless seminars, and done much of it in pieces myself, going all the way back when it was originally known as the Great Circle. Everyone has a different experience, and the stories are the same, only different, uniquely so. Some get it done asap to check it off their bucket list, while others take several years to savor the adventure in healthy chunks. Whether it is aboard a 14-foot dinghy or a 49-foot Grand Banks, the ingredients are there for a five-star experience and a lifetime of memories and new friends. I can see why so many go again for a second Loop, maybe taking it a little slowly in areas not fully explored.

I think the best way to do the Loop is to follow Jan Bacot’s advice. Stay flexible, don’t follow a schedule, and have as much fun as possible. It’s always preferable to shop at a farmers’ market than look through cans in one’s food locker. And enjoy all the free concerts one may encounter.

I trust there are some pearls of wisdom here for those planning their own Great Loop adventure. And remember, you may do the Loop a couple of times, but you only live once.

See you on the water.

 

Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles by Bill Parlatore: