For 35 years, we spent portions of each summer cruising aboard our Bristol sailboats Adventuress and Temptress. From our home on Barnegat Bay in New Jersey, we extensively explored the coastal waters from Nantucket to Norfolk as well as Long Island Sound and the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. On one of our trips in 2007, Pat came across an article in a boating magazine that discussed the possibility of circling the mostly inland waterways of the eastern portion of the United States and Canada on your own boat. This adventure is now known as America’s Great Loop, and it really peaked her interest. We were retired and finally had the time to undertake such a journey, which would encompass traveling at least 5,500 miles over many months. After some investigation, we realized that though doing it in a sailboat was possible, we would have to have the mast taken down because of bridge height restrictions in certain areas. So reluctantly, George agreed to put our 30-foot sailboat up for sale, and we searched for a power boat that would fit the height and draft parameters for doing the Loop.
We found a 48-foot Symbol Motor Yacht in Florida in 2008 and named her Reflection. In 2009-2010, we completed our first Great Loop adventure, and in December 2015, we will finish our second loop. It is hard to believe, but over the years we have traveled almost 40,000 miles together on the water. On these trips we have also had the good fortune to make many new friends and have found the Great Loop to be a truly unique way to view the world and its wonders.
We began our first Great Loop journey in June of 2009 from our home in Brick, N.J., and by mid-July we were in the town of Little Current, Ontario, on the majestic North Channel in Canada. Little Current is located on the tip of Manitoulin Island, where the waters of the North Channel funnel through a narrow passage into Georgian Bay. On the morning we were set to depart for the Benjamin Islands, we had an early breakfast at the Anchor Inn, an old hotel located one block from the docks. Upstairs there was a room that is the “studio” of Roy Eaton, the host of the Little Current Cruisers’ Network, a radio show broadcast every day promptly at 9 a.m. in July and August on VHF Channel 71.
Roy is a retired high school principal who began this service in 2004, and the project has grown beyond his wildest dreams. He provides the latest marine and MAFOR weather forecasts, world news, sports scores, business reports and North Channel events, and he takes call-ins from boaters traveling the area. Some have messages to transmit to other boats, but most just announce where they are presently and what their next destination will be. Roy’s service is now registered with the Canadian Coast Guard and Air Search and Rescue, and it has helped find many distressed boaters. This particular morning, we were privileged to sit in on his broadcast and see what goes on behind the scenes. We had a great time at the “studio,” and it was a pleasure to meet Roy, a wonderful man who volunteers his time and talent to help so many people.
We finally left the dock for the lovely Benjamin Islands, a favorite anchoring area in the North Channel. We rode around for a while among the islands’ pink granite rock formations to evaluate what would be the best location for our boat and eventually found a spot in a beautiful open area, where we anchored in 41 feet of water! We weren’t alone, however, since 22 other smaller boats were also anchored in the more shallow waters nearby.
Many of the trees on these islands permanently lean toward the southeast and have few branches on their northwest sides because of the fierce winter winds that blasted into them from that direction. We kept our eyes open for bears, which had been spotted on the shores eating blueberries in previous years, but didn’t spot any. Speaking of wildlife, on our travels in Canada the only wildlife we have seen was a bunch of party-goers in Picton, Ontario. We had not spotted a single bear, moose or eagle since arriving in the country. It was cool and rainy throughout the Canadian portion of our trip, so maybe the weather kept the animals in hiding.
The forecast for that evening in the Benjamin Islands was an unusual one: clear skies! We woke up at 2 a.m. to see if we could spot the Northern Lights, having been told by other Loopers that it was visible at these latitudes. And yes, indeed, there it was, the Aurora Borealis. At that latitude, it appeared as a false sunrise in the northern sky, with a beautiful bright blue-green glow. I then awakened Pat, so that she, too, would not miss viewing this wondrous sight. We both stood there almost spellbound for quite some time, staring at this marvel.
Pat eventually returned to bed, and I stayed up for a while longer, looking up at the heavens and thinking about what an amazing journey it had been so far, despite the fact that we had experienced less-than-perfect weather. Together, we had traveled up the magnificent Hudson River, passed through the historic Erie Canal, crossed vast Lake Ontario, followed the beautiful Trent-Severn Waterway, cruised glorious Georgian Bay, and now we had seen the Aurora Borealis — and we had not even reached the half-way point of our Great Loop trip yet! It was at this moment that I recognized and acknowledged that I am truly one lucky man and that life is very good indeed.
Preparation Tips for a Great Loop Journey
There are many things to do in advance, as well as things to bring along, when preparing for your Great Loop adventure. U.S. residents: You should have at least a six-week supply of prescription medications. Non-U.S. residents: Make sure that you can get your prescriptions refilled and sent to a U.S. address. Here are just a few:
- Motor vehicle licenses
- Captain’s license (if applicable)
- Boat registration
- Boat documentation papers (if applicable)
- All boat/home/flood/auto/personal
- umbrella/and health insurance papers
- Pet vaccination records (if applicable)
- Living will/medical directive
- Important addresses and phone numbers
- Stamps and postal envelopes
- Printer supplies and printer for your computer
- Desk supplies – yellow paper pads,
- paper clips, pens, pencils, stapler, etc.
- Set up online banking and bill paying
- Notify credit card companies that you
- are traveling
- Bring checks and checkbooks
- Ask a trusted neighbor or family member to collect and forward your mail.
- Use a mail forwarding service such as St. Brendan’s Isle Mail Service – (sbimailservice.com or other mail services).
- Contact marinas at which you will be stopping to see if they will receive mail for you.
- A PFD (some come with a water alarm should your pet fall overboard)
- A leash
- For larger pets: a ramp or a lifting device for assistance at certain venues
- A first-aid kit specific for the pet
- Call marinas ahead of time to see if they welcome pets
- Stomach meds
- Sunscreen products
- Insect repellants
- Topical analgesics
- Bandages for sprains
- A first-aid kit
- Dental emergency kit
- Eyeglasses and sunglasses
- Eyeglass prescription
- Eye drops