The Start of The Great Adventure
Ever since we were down in the Keys, I've had this desire to get back on the water. My fun on the water started when I was 7 years old and continued through high school. My dad had been a fighter pilot in the Air Force and weather was an important thing to know when flying. So when he put me in charge of keeping track of the weather, I handled that job until I left for college. We went through three boats before I went off to college and missed the rest of the fun, but during the time I was there, we traveled up and down the Cumberland River to Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, and brought his third boat down from Holland Michigan, where it was made (Chris Craft), all the way back to Nashville. My love for the water was solidly entrenched in me and despite all of these years being on dry land, it's something that doesn't ever really go away.
Boat #1 - No Name - 17 foot Chris Craft
I was probably in the 3nd or 4th grade when this picture was taken. I lived in Paris Tennessee when I was in the 2nd through 4th grade and my dad kept this boat at the Paris Landing Marina on Kentucky Lake. I don't remember a lot about this boat except for the time me and my dad took it out to drain some water out that had accumulated after some rain. To do that you had to get up on plane and then open a plug that was located near the lower rear of the boat. Easy enough. Except that the lake was REALLY rough (the lake is almost two miles across at that point) and I was driving while my dad pulled the plug. I was pretty young to be doing that and I remember that it scared the crap out of me. 🙂 But I did get to spend 2-3 years on Kentucky Lake as a kid, and that was the start to my boating fun.
Boat #2 - BobaRue - 32 foot Burns Craft
We moved back to Nashville and we had the first boat there for a short time before my dad bought this boat. It was a 32 foot Burns Craft houseboat and he spec'd out everything on the boat. I remember going to the factory and looking at all the boats they were building, and listening to my parents go over all the options etc. It was a boat that I spent a lot of years on. We kept this boat at Old Hickory Marina and ran it up and down the Cumberland River to Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. To do that you end up going through several locks, and being a kid, I loved the adventure!
The boat was pretty nice. It used twin Mercruiser 302 cubic inch gas engines that made 215 hp each, and the boat would get up and go! It was great traveling around in all kinds of weather, and we even took it out when it was snowing! Awesome experience! My sister and I slept in the forward cabin, and that cabin had the little window that you see on the side of the hull.
Boat #3 - Moonraker - 41 Foot Chris Craft
This was a step up from the house boat and was a much more capable boat in rougher water. My dad bought this boat brand new (he had it built) from Chris Craft in Holland Michigan. My dad, the owner of the marina that we were going to keep it at, and myself, flew from Nashville to Michigan to pick it up and sail it back to the home marina. The plan was to bring the boat down lake Michigan to Chicago, and then through the locks to the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal where we passed directly through downtown Chicago, At some point past Chicago it becomes the Illinois River, so you continue south to the Mississippi River. Head downstream until you get to the Ohio River and hang a left to head toward Paducah Kentucky. At that point you have two choices to get back to Nashville, get on the Tennessee River and go through the locks at Kentucky Dam, or continue a few miles further and get on the Cumberland River and go through the locks at Barkley Dam. Either way will get you back to Nashville since Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake are connected by a narrow canal. Kentucky Lake is fed by the Tennessee River and Barkley Lake is fed by the Cumberland River. Once you're on the Cumberland River you pass through the locks at Cheatham Dam before arriving in Nashville. We continued past the downtown area toward Old Hickory Lake where the boat would be docked. The last lock is at Old Hickory Dam where you make a 60 foot rise to get to the lake.
The trip was fairly uneventful except for the first 3 days. Lake Michigan is always full of surprises and on this trip that was no exception. We headed south toward Chicago from Holland which is on the east side of the lake. After traveling about an hour or so under pretty nice conditions, the weather took a turn for the worse and the waves got larger and larger. They ended up being so large, that when you were in the trough of the wave, you couldn't see over the top of the next wave. Look at the picture above and you can see how high I am off the water and you start to get an idea of what we were facing. The other issue with waves on Lake Michigan is that the wave period is very short meaning not a lot of distance from crest to crest. Combine the short wave period with the wave height, and we ended up getting the props out of the water when we crested the wave peaks. We finally got close enough to find a place to take shelter, and it ended up being the docks for the ore carriers. They allowed us to stay until the lake calmed down, but that took three days. In the meantime, they were not letting any of the ore carriers leave either.
Once we passed through most of the Chicago area, we stopped to spent the night at a small dock on the Illinois River. At some point someone from the other side of the river started taking pot shots at us using a pellet gun. Chicago is NOT my favorite place and I don't care if I ever see it again. But I will have to do it one more time.... and I will talk about that soon.
Boat #4 - Eastwind - 53 Foot Chris Craft
I don't know much about this boat as I was off in college and working. I don't think my dad had this one for long, and I don't have many pictures. I believe this was taken before they bought it.
Boat #4 - Silver Cloud - 65 Foot Hatteras
I never got to spend much time on this boat either. I was living about 8-9 hours away (they lived in Venice Florida) and was working, so I couldn't come down as often as I would have liked. My parents took this boat on part of the "Great Loop", leaving from Venice Florida and travelled all the way to Maryland and Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, I wasn't on that trip but sure would have loved to have been there. All of these boats don't mean a lot to most people, and you probably wonder why I have shared this with you.
When we were down in Key West and we took that sunset cruise, I walked up to the bow of the boat and stood for a while. The sound of the water, the warm wind, and the feeling of freedom flowed all over me and brought back all of the of memories of being on boats. There is just something magical about it that I can't even describe.
A few months ago I discovered a site that was discussing a boat trip called the "Great Loop", so I started reading about what that was all about.
"Loopers cruise the 6,000-mile Great Loop route aboard their own boats completing a circumnavigation of the eastern U.S. and part of Canada via mostly protected inland waterways. The Great Loop route follows the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the Chesapeake Bay, and the New York Canals northwards, goes across the Great Lakes, south on the Inland Rivers, and then east Gulf Coast to complete the Loop."
Here's a basic map of the loop. There are alternate routes in some areas, and lots of places to enjoy side trips along the way.
The loop has been done in as little as 6 weeks and as long as 12 years, but generally it takes people a year or so to complete the entire route. There is no timeframe for completion. However, there are certain times of the year when you need to be on specific sections of the loop. During the winter, you need to be down south as most of the marinas and facilities are closed on the northern part of the loop. So you do the northern part during the summer and the southern part during the winter. People generally do the loop counterclockwise as that direction keeps you from having to sail upstream against the strongest currents, so you're doing the downhill portion from Chicago to the Gulf in the spring and up the east coast in the fall. Maybe... Weather, side trips, trips back to the house for a little break, all dictate the timing of where you will be at any specific time.
Some people take extended side trips off of the main route. For example if you are in Florida during the winter, you might as well head over to the Bahamas to spend a little time there, or around the Tennessee area, I would explore the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers as far as they go. Once you get up to New York, some people head up to the seaport towns of New England. It's all about what you want out of the trip.
So.... Amy and I have decided to start looking for a boat so we can participate in this big adventure! There are some size restrictions for boats that want to make the loop, and it all comes down to the draft of the boat, both water draft and air draft. A lot of the time you'll be traveling on the intercoastal waterway as well as some shallow offshore areas and canals. A boat for the loop needs to have 5 feet or less of draft in order to keep from hitting the bottom and/or tearing up props. The out of water height (air draft) is just as important, as there are some fixed bridges that are pretty low, so you generally want a boat that is less than 17 feet high out of water, although there are alternate routes that allow you to go a little higher. Many boats have mast and antennas that fold down for those situations, but it's critical to know the exact height of the boat for this trip. The boat will probably be int he 40-50 foot range.
Otherwise, get whatever boat you'll feel comfortable in for an extended amount of time. The boat doesn't have to be fast since in most areas you can't go fast anyway. It needs to have at least 250 mile range since there is a stretch or two with no place to stop for fuel, and with diesel engines that is not a problem. Diesel engines are a must as well as the latest electronics (navigation, radar, radios, beacons, auto pilot). A good solid dinghy is a must as well as bow and stern thrusters, the capability of enclosing the fly bridge and aft deck, walk around beds in the main cabin, cat walks down the side of the boat, as well as other miscellaneous things that I'm sure I'll have to add. I would love to have a Great Harbor 37 or 47, so I may start my search with that in mind. Can't wait to get started!
I now belong to the Great Loop Association, and they have a ton of resources for making this journey. This site will answer any questions you might have about the loop.
AGLCA | Homepage
Here is an article from some loopers about traveling through the "Dismal Swamp" that I thought was pretty cool.