Taking on America's Great Loop
A voyage of over 6,000 miles, the America's Great Loop runs up the East Coast of the United States on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, continues on the Hudson River to the Erie Canal and through the Great Lakes. From there, it travels down the Illinois River and the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Finally, the loop is completed along the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway. It is a trip of a lifetime!
Ron and Erin Rice checked the America’s Great Loop off their “bucket list” in 2011 on their Sea Ray 400 Aft Cabin Motor Yacht aptly named “Running Erins.” They traveled the entire loop in two hundred and twelve days, less than seven months, including a month layover in Chicago visiting with family and friends. They enjoyed the Chicago Air Show, their hometown high school football season opener and a Chicago Bears’ pre-season game.
Before commencing their journey Ron and Erin joined the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA). The AGLCA officially sanctions and documents trips “Loopers,” as they fondly call each other, complete. The AGLCA issues official burgees so Loopers can receive instant recognition from the boating community and other AGLCA members. The burgees depict a stylized map of Eastern North America with America’s Great Loop highlighted. The burgees feature three different colored backgrounds. A white background is flown by those that are in the process of completing the Loop, a yellow background lets everyone know you have completed the Loop and a platinum background shows that those who are flying it have multiple loop completions.
After planning and preparing for months, Ron and Erin, along with their daughter Sheri, raised their AGLCA burgee with the white background at the Landings Yacht Club in Fort Myers. They headed to Fort Jefferson National Park in the Dry Tortugas via Naples and Marco Island where they took time to fish, shop and dine.
After arriving at Fort Jefferson’s protected harbor, they anchored and enjoyed steaks on the grill and an “awesome” sunset. They had a visit from a goliath grouper they named Spot as he made himself comfortable under Running Erins for their two-night stay on the historical island.
Part of the fun of doing the loop for Ron and Erin was the cultural, historic and culinary experiences. There were many wonder-filled experiences including exploring historic sites and enjoying fabulous dockside meals from pizza in New York City and Chicago, to prime rib at the Coinjock Marina and Restaurant famous for its 32-ounce prime rib in North Carolina.
Throughout the trip Captain Ron and Erin would host family and friends while meeting new friends including fellow Loopers. Instant bonds were created from their shared experiences.
Daughter Sheri left as Ron and Erin continued their voyage in Key West only to meet up with their son Kyle and friend Katie in Fort Lauderdale. Ron and Erin Later made new friends with a couple from London in Titusville and spent quality time with old friends in Virginia Beach. This pattern would be the same throughout the journey - traveling with and meeting friends and family all along the way. On one of their last legs they met up with old friends from MarineMax Lake Ozark, Collin Heimensen, who is now Business and Sales Manager at MarineMax Clearwater and Abbey Heimensen, Director of Marketing for MarineMax.
Along the way Ron and Erin learned that boaters, especially Loopers, are special people - always lending a hand or helping out in a sort of “pass-it-forward” style, since you may not encounter the person(s) who did you a good turn and be able to return the favor.
Ron and Erin documented their journey on a blog that they created, www.runningerins.wordpress.com. On their blog, “Captain Ron" displays a wry wit with an amusing sense of self-deprecation. A typical entry reads, “...off tomorrow for Annapolis. Unfortunately, we missed the parade of midshipmen (Monday) and the Blue Angles were cancelled this year because they flew too low at a recent air show and were all sent to their room.”
Although there were a few challenges, there were fabulous experiences and opportunities as they traversed between historic and beautiful port towns. In a recent interview Ron was asked to describe his favorite experience on the trip. “I have to say, heading into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I felt like one the millions of immigrants that had passed by this amazing statue celebrating freedom and liberty at the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers southwest of Manhattan.”
Captain Ron summed up the journey of exploration and discovery perfectly in his last blog entry with the trip's final score:
6253 miles / 5000+ gallons of diesel fuel / 525 engine hours / 212 days cruising
4 props / 2 drive shafts / 1 windshield / 75 postcards / 150 boat cards
2 baseball games / 4 football games / 4 rental cars / 50+ marinas / 100 + locks
8 major bodies of water: Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, Lake Ontario, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Mobile Bay
7 major rivers: Delaware, Hudson, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Tombigbee
We were shot once and robbed once
Threatened by a gang who spits
Saw tons of wildlife: sharks, goliath grouper, bass, catfish, sturgeon, dolphins, herons, terns, alligators, barracuda, manatee, eagles, dogs, cats, snakes, gulls, gopher tortoise, a trained parrot and an elephant
Visited over 25 friends and family
Made over 100 new boat friends from as far away as South Africa
Experienced temperatures from 35 to 105 degrees
Grew my hair and beard to homeless person levels
Lost 25% of my left hand ring finger
THE GRAND TOTAL OF THE ENTIRE TRIP: PRICELESS
Tips for Checking the Great Loop Off Your Bucket List
If you decide to join Captain Ron and Erin by checking off America’s Great Loop on your personal bucket list, here are some tips for your trip. Loopers often complete the journey in ten to twelve months, planning to spend the winter on the most southern legs, spring on the Atlantic Coast, summer on the Great Lakes and fall on rivers heading south. However, many complete the route over several years leaving their boat for months at a time, returning after some time off. The trip is best run counter clockwise to avoid the costs and difficulty of running upstream on the southerly flowing inland rivers.
There is much contention on what is an ideal boat for the journey. The height of the boat is one of the most important factors, the taller the boat the more bridges you will need to have opened. Comparing the Sea Ray 400 Sundancer and the 400 Fly, the flybridge boat will need to call more bridges, however an upper helm has many advantages. Most Loopers are not in a hurry and choose a trawler-style boat. However, an ideal boat for some is a boat that can outrun weather systems comfortably like a Boston Whaler 345 Conquest or 345 Conquest Pilothouse.
Another consideration is how many people will be on board. With more than 100 locks to passage, it is possible to single-hand the trip. However, it is much simpler to have at least two or more onboard to manage getting through the locks.
When you head out on your adventure, don’t forget that MarineMax has the largest service network and mobile fleet in the business with factory trained technicians throughout the United States. There are twenty-six MarineMax stores along the main route, including nine MarineMax marinas, ready to assist you.
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