Member story: Never too old to try a new adventure
RACQ members Colin and Dawn Warrington share their experience tackling American’s Great Loop.
Did you know that the eastern quarter of USA is an island? It can be travelled around by water.
It's called the Great Loop and is formed by the intra-coastal waterways (ICW) on the east coast. The loop includes the Hudson River, Erie Canal, Great Lakes, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, Tentom and Black Warrior River, Gulf of Mexico, the waterways on the west coast of Florida and Lake Okeechobee which cuts across the Florida peninsula - all navigable by boat.
We passed through 16 states and did approximately 11,265 kilometres (7000 miles). Most people go in an anti-clockwise direction to make use of currents, tides and the seasons. They also time it to pass through Canada and the lakes in summer, and Florida in the cooler months.
The boats, usually powered, are between 32-50ft long and must tackle narrow canals, low bridges, and locks. Going slow is preferable; knots to time bridge and lock openings, pass large tows (tugs moving 15-30 barges) and to see everything.
Approximately 75 boats complete the loop each year. It takes from one to two years to complete, although we met many who were in their fourth year and had still not finished. We also saw canoes and kayaks doing the loop. We passed under 380 bridges and through 115 locks. There are many side trips to include such as the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay and Tennessee Lakes.
We began in May 2015 after buying our own boat (38ft trawler style) in St Petersburg, Florida. Our six-month Visas forced us to do the trip in two parts. We came home to Australia in Dec/Jan 2016 (America's winter) and returned to complete the trip in March 2016.
You had to contend with bad weather, flooded rivers, deadheads (partially sub merged logs), coral heads, reefs, granite boulders, weekend speed boaters, immoveable fisherman and huge inflexible tows. There was also tugs pushing huge barges, anywhere between 15-30 of them. It was like football fields coming towards you around a blind river bend. At times it was hard work and we were often in bed by 9pm most nights (known as boater's midnight).
It was an adventure every day bringing something new. We are holding the gold burgee for crossing our wake (completing the loop). The AGLCA (American Great Loop Cruisers Association) is an association of boating people who give advice, share stories and hold rendezvous about travelling the loop.
It is not an organised, touring, cruising boat holiday. The boaters travel quite independently but often they join up and form small groups after arriving in marinas and discovering their travel plans and time frames are similar.
The greatest enjoyment were the boaters you met on the way. We met for 'docktails' at 5pm after tying up in the marinas or together at anchor at the end of the day. Many became boat buddies who travelled together for many weeks before going separate ways.
We found that all Americans whom we met in very small towns and the large cities were friendly, hospitable and generous often loaning us a car to go grocery shopping. Just before leaving the boat we did a side trip down to the Florida Keys and across to the Bahamas. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't great but the water was as blue, warm and as clear as shown in all the travel brochures.
We kept a blog to record the trip, including many of our photos. If you want to read more about our adventure, visit auskiwiloop.blogspot.com.