Ever dreamed about cruising the 6,000 miles of America's Great Loop in your own boat. Sure you have. It's one of the greatest boating adventures in the world, circumnavigating eastern North America by water. Short of hitching a covered wagon to a team of horses and hitting the trail, there's no better way to see the country the way early explorers of this continent saw it. But that doesn't make it easy or altogether without risk. Speaking from personal experience, here are seven things that every Great Looper should know before setting out ...
Set a firm date for the start of your trip. Then, tell all of your friends and family this date. It's too easy to find some excuse to defer your departure if you don't do this. Once you tell everybody, you're committed. No backing down. Depending on where you live, there's a relatively narrow window on your departure date, so be sure to do your homework. If you live in Canada or the northern states, for example, you can't leave too late in the season or you could face the onset of winter weather.
Get towing insurance.You're bound to run aground somewhere.Towing insurance is very economical, and because you'll be in unfamiliar water most of the time, the probability of running aground will be much higher than in your home waters. The other reason for towing insurance is your engine. You could run out of gas, or your engines could quit for mysteri- ous reason. Towing services are available anywhere on the Loop and even in Canada. In the remote areas, like certain stretches of the Mississippi River, their captains will drive a rescue boat to a launch ramp and then come out to get you. Be sure you have an anchor and lots of rope, so you can anchor while waiting.
Have a set of up-to-date paper charts.You can't just rely on electronic charts or your smartphone. And don't use electronic charts that download over the Internet while you're under way. Electronic charts should be stored locally in the device. You just can't chance your safety on cell phone or WiFi service when you're potentially miles and miles away from the nearest city or marina.
Take a shakedown cruise. Don't leave on the boat you just prepped and/or purchased without getting to know it inside out. This was our first mistake on the Loop. We took possession of our boat, a 1981 Grand Banks trawler at Erie, Pa. A few hours out of Erie headed for Detroit, the wind kicked up 4 to 6-foot waves, and the single engine quit due to plugged fuel filters. It was too rough to change the filters, and we had to call the Coast Guard because no tow operators were open that early in the year. Not a great way to start the trip.
Learn how to blog before you leave. This is the best way to keep in touch with friends and family the postcard is long gone and it also provides a way to download your thoughts and de-stress during your journey. Blog sites like WordPress are user- friendly, free and let you add photos and maps. Best of all, people can register to be notified when- ever you make a new post and can respond right on the same Web page.
Leave the firearms at home.There are no pirates in Canada or the U.S., so don't carry guns unless you're prepared to stay out of Canada and miss the beautiful canals and the North Channel. Above all, don't lie to the Canadian border officials about a gun on board. We used the government phone at Rockport on the St. Lawrence River to check in and were given a number we displayed on our window. Subsequently, we were searched twice at Kingston and Little Current. If a gun is found, your boat will be seized on the spot and your trip ended. Flare guns are legal in Canada and can do as much to repel an intruder.
Take your time on the Loop. This could be a once-in- a-lifetime adventure. We did it in four legs over two years six months per leg. In hindsight, that was too fast. I'd like to do it again, but my First Mate would rather go in our 23-foot motorhome. We compromise by visiting the places we enjoyed on the Loop and staying in the driveways of the friends we made while we were completing our circuit.
This article first appeared in the September/October issue of HeartLand Boating. Find out more about this regional boating publication at heartlandboating.com
The beautiful island of Antigua was our destination for a short Caribbean getaway. Having visited many of the Caribbean islands, we were looking forward to exploring a new tropical locale and experiencing the wonderful local charm, culture, vistas and beaches. In fact, this Eastern Caribbean island boasts 365 beaches: one for every day of the year!
My travel companions for the week included my husband Jim, brother Anthony and sister-in-law, Amanda. Always a great group to travel with (our last adventure together led us to Greece, Italy and Croatia), so I knew a fun week filled with laughter was in store.
As we peered out the airplane window on the approach to Antigua, we were instantly mesmerized by the pure turquoise blue waters and rolling green hills, and eager to get out on the water.
For my brother, this trip was not just an ordinary vacation. While it was my first time visiting the island, my brother has incredibly fond memories of trips to Antigua during the 1970s as a child, traveling with his grandparents, affectionately known to us as Meemah and Deedah. This week was an opportunity to share with us one of his favorite places in the world.
Anthony decided the best way to explore the island was by land and by sea. The first part of our trip was spent touring the island with a local driver and tour guide named Elvis, who is a native Antiguan living in one of the six parishes on the island with his wife and children. When Anthony spotted him on the beach wearing a Yankee cap, he knew this was the tour guide for us. Anthony and Elvis instantly bonded (even discovering they shared a birthday) and together planned our extraordinary excursion.
Our tour of the island started with a visit to St. Johns, the capital city of Antigua. While part of the town is geared toward the large cruise ships that help support the local economy, St. Johns retains its charm, filled with farmers markets, stalls and local restaurants. Amanda was immediately enchanted by one of the young local shopkeepers selling souvenirs with his mom.
The next stop was Betty's Hope, one of the earliest sugar plantations dating back to 1651. The sugar mills are beautifully preserved, and we learned about the large role these sugar plantations played in Antigua's history. While enjoying the scenery at Betty's Hope, Elvis surprised us with homemade sandwiches and rum punch. A delightful snack to recharge us for the next stop -- Devil's Bridge in the Indian Town National Park.
Devil's Bridge is a natural stone arch that was carved from the rocky coast by the constant pounding of waves. Locals say its name comes from surges of water that snatch away people who stray too close to the edge. The area around the arch features several natural blowholes that shoot up water and spray powered by waves from the Atlantic Ocean.
While Jim and I stayed far from the edge, Anthony ventured out close to the bridge for a unique photo opportunity. Later in the week, we would have a chance to see this incredible rock formation from the ocean.
We continued to travel up the rolling hills to Shirley Heights Lookout, first used during the Revolutionary War as a signal station and lookout for approaches to English Harbor. It is truly one of the most spectacular vistas I have ever seen.
Having reached the highest point in Antigua, it was time to get back to sea level. Our next stop centered around Nelson's Dockyard, a working Georgian-era naval dockyard, designated as a world heritage site in 2016. We delighted in exploring the dockyard and gazing over the beautiful yachts and sailboats moored at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina.
Driving through the lush dense greenery of the rainforest led us to an Antigua delicacy the black pineapple. On the side of the road just outside the rain forest, we stopped at a local fruit stand and chatted with the proprietor while she carved us a fresh black pineapple, known as the sweetest in the world. It definitely lived up to its reputation.
The final stop on our island tour was my favorite -- a chance to taste the island cuisine! Elvis called ahead of our arrival and requested a platter of local foods for us to sample. We arrived at Darkwood Beach Bar & Restaurant and were immediately welcomed by the staff.
After selecting a table near the beach and ordering the national beer of Antigua, Wadidli (another name for the island itself), we had the privilege of hearing Elvis' story, learning more about his life and family, and even calling his wife to thank her for the yummy sandwiches. Then we feasted on fungee and pepperpot, a hearty meat stew with eggplant, pumpkin and squash, as well as local Caribbean lobster, curries and roti. All in all, an amazing way to end a spectacular day. We said goodbye to Elvis, exchanging addresses and knowing we had made a friend for life.
After exploring Antigua north to south and east to west, we opted for a catamaran tour to circumnavigate the island as our next adventure. The morning was spent pleasantly motoring in the calm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea around the north side of the island. Before we knew it, we were sailing along in the open Atlantic Ocean passing by Long Island, also known as Jumby Bay and a popular destination for celebrities.
After a wonderful morning on the water, we anchored in a protected cove for a stop to swim, snorkel and eat lunch near Green Island. It was a perfect destination for Amanda's first snorkeling excursion. After spotting a large sea turtle, magnificent coral reefs and exotic fish, we enjoyed a lazy swim near the beautiful powdery white sand of Green Island Beach.
Following a traditional lunch of jerk chicken, rice and plantains, we continued our journey around the island down to the southern tip to experience English Harbor and Devil's Bridge from the water. It was even more extraordinary from this vantage point.
As the sun started to dip low in the sky, we returned to the Caribbean Sea on the western side of the island watching a storm brewing in the distance. During the quiet sail back, each of us felt grateful for another magnificent day in paradise.
While traveling with your closest friends is always fun, my favorite memories of our time on this magical island were Anthony's reflections of his previous trips to Antigua with his grandparents, the excitement at sharing his favorite place with his new wife, and the joy that much of the island remained as he remembered it. We are already planning our next trip to Antigua!
STORY BY JEN LEROUX, CEO OF MARINALIFE; PHOTOS BY ANTHONY DESANTIS
"Might as well get going" said my dad as we stood on the dock, fresh out of things to prepare. I laughed to myself and replied, "Yeah, I guess we might as well." That conversation plays out in my head every time I set out on a boat a sign that all preparations are complete, and it's time to start the trip.
When my father asked me to help him deliver his Hatteras 40 from Charleston to Cape May via the ICW, I jumped at the chance to return to a special place in my life (I spent my summers in Cape May growing up) and spend bonding time with my dad. But I was not without apprehension. It would be my first trip on the ICW, his first in years, and the first on a new-to-him vessel. While I spend a lot of time on the water as a sailor, the twin diesels of the Hatteras were new to me.
As we were about to push off, dolphins showed up, easing the inevitable start-of-voyage jitters that accompany any trip. As we turned into Charleston Harbor and pointed toward the markers at the entrance to the first portion of the waterway heading north, our three dolphin friends escorted us through the channel markers. I took it as a good sign.
Starting Point: Charleston, SC
Estimated Mileage: 48 NM
We were warned that the first stretch of waterway was known for scattered shallow spots in the first few miles, but we found none. As waterfront homes of Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms slowly peeled away to reveal the quiet wilderness of the Santee Coastal Reserve, I thought, "This is the ICW I imagined. Pristine, undeveloped and peaceful."
In the coming days, I would learn this was only part of the story. We pulled into Georgetown for the evening, and our first day was behind us. With that came the simple lesson: the only way to get over the nervousness of a trip is to start the journey. We slept well that night knowing we had done so.
Leg 1: Georgetown, SC to Southport, NC
Estimated Mileage: 72 NM
Leaving Georgetown and heading north up the Waccamaw River, the previous afternoon's tranquility continued. The soft light over the marshlands showed that ours was the only wake in sight, save for a few passing southbound boats. It was an easy way to start the day. And then ... Myrtle Beach ... on a Saturday... in June. The morning peacefulness gave way to a bustling stretch of waterway filled with all sorts of people enjoying the day center consoles, water skiers, kayakers, stand-up paddlers, floating tiki bars. Mile after mile of developed waterfront checked our speed and changed our perspective.
Eventually, we cleared through the beautiful chaos of Myrtle Beach, crossed into North Carolina and preceded toward that night's destination, Southport, NC. This was our first time experiencing the wonderful ICW phenomenon of just pulling over to dock on the proverbial side of the road. We settled into the facing fuel dock at Southport Marina and marveled at how the ICW contains multitudes of experiences.
Leg 2: Southport to Beaufort, NC
Estimated Mileage: 83 NM
The weather was mostly settled with morning showers, and thunderstorms were predicted, but clear skies were forecasted for the afternoon. Only on Day 3, we still were under the misguided illusion that the schedule was ours to keep. We wanted to cover some ground today, so we ducked out of the well-marked and relatively easy Masonboro Inlet for an outside run up the Atlantic to Beaufort, NC.
As we approached the Inlet, a local Sunday morning sailing race was underway. Half the fleet made it out of the inlet with us before we heard on the radio that the race committee was recalling the fleet due to approaching thunderstorms. We debated staying inside, but the weather quickly passed us, and we rode the gentle swell up to Beaufort Inlet. It was good to get in the miles by going outside the ICW, but we realized that was not the point of this trip. Leaving the ICW, we missed the variety that the waterway provides. We stayed inside for the rest of the trip to enjoy the view.
Leg 3: Beaufort to Belhaven, NC
Estimated Mileage: 50 NM
On a trip up the ICW, you discover it's anything but a highway. Leaving Beaufort, we noted how the waterway that we experienced thus far was a straight-line narrow cut with land close by on either side, often called the proverbial ditch. But the ICW also provides moments of wide-open beauty.Heading out of Beaufort and north up Adams Creek, the ICW gives way to the relative vastness of the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. Navigation aids are more spaced out, and the wind waves have more room to gather up. We traveled a short stretch of the Sound, pulled into beautiful Belhaven Marina for the night and found the sleepy but utterly charming town was a great place to stop.
Leg 4: Belhaven to Coinjock, NC
Estimated Mileage: 58 NM
Years of boating taught me that you seldom go five days without seeing weather that you'd rather not see. The past four days were pretty good weather-wise, so we were due for something else. Pulling out of Belhaven in light sprinkles and overcast skies, we entered the famed Alligator-Pungo River Canal. This is truly the ditch 21 miles of a virtual straight line that connects the Pungo and Alligator Rivers. It is narrow and long, and it helps to see where you are going.Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and we navigated the canal with ease. But just as we emerged into the wide-open Alligator River, heavy rains and stiff squalls closed in around us. I'm always nervous with weather, but my dad has a measured demeanor, so he put me at ease. We picked our way from buoy to buoy and emerged from the storm just as we passed through Alligator River Swing Bridge and started across Albemarle Sound for the evening's destination, Coinjock Marina & Restaurant. Here I learned the real lesson of the day order the prime rib!
Leg 5: Coinjock, NC to Norfolk, VA
Estimated Mileage: 34 NM
On every trip, you reach a point where you've gone over the hump. With five days of ICW behind us, we hit that point and could sense a change coming. We left Coinjock and picked our way across the long, shallow Currituck Sound into Virginia. As we wound our way through the meandering and pristine North Landing River Natural Area Preserve, both of us were excited to make Norfolk that evening and enter the Chesapeake for our final stretch. Several bridges are on this stretch of the ICW, but our timing was good, and we passed each without much wait.
Sliding through the Great Bridge Locks, we approached Norfolk. The city and its surrounding waterways' bustle was an absolute eye-opener after the past few days. It made the pace of Myrtle Beach seem bucolic. We slept well, knowing that we had come to mile zero on the ICW safely.
Leg 6: Chesapeake Bay: Norfolk, VA to Chesapeake & Delaware Canal
Estimated Mileage: 200 NM
If approaching Norfolk from the south is eye-opening, then traveling into the Chesapeake past the heart of the Naval docks is something else entirely. Mile after mile of grey steel. More naval ships that I'd ever seen in one place. Amazing! And just like that, you pass over Hampton Roads Tunnels, enter the Chesapeake and you're back to wide-open beauty.
Our time in the Bay was a bit rushed. I had to return to commitments at home, so we had to get in some miles now. The plan: proceed to Solomons for a night and then reach the C&D Canal. However, our optimistic timetable did not stop the Chesapeake from dealing us a few lessons along the way.
The Chesapeake does not care about your schedule. The weather was too crummy in Solomons to leave, so we wisely decided to stay an extra day. When we finally poked out of the Patuxent River, we realized the residual effects of the rain was still evident. The Bay delivered a wild ride, with wind, rain, short chop and limited visibility for a few hours. We pondered cutting our day short, but the weather lifted quickly. By the time we passed Annapolis, blue skies and flat seas surrounded us all the way to the C&D Canal. It was amazing how quickly and dramatically conditions on the Bay changed for the better.
Leg 7: Chesapeake City to Cape May, NJ
Estimated Mileage: 54 NM
After transiting the C&D Canal and entering the Delaware Bay for the final stretch, we were truly in home waters. But despite the time I spent on the Bay growing up, I had never navigated a boat down this tricky body of water. The Delaware is busy, with a narrow channel and many big working boats. We hugged the channel's edge as we made our way down the Bay leaving ample room for others.
As the bay widened out, we plotted our approach to Cape May Harbor. Our entry took us through the Cape May Canal and into the harbor, then on to the boats' summer berth, not far from where I had spent my childhood summers. With the trip virtually complete, we experienced the bittersweet feeling of nearing our destination. And the final stretch provided perhaps the best lesson of all: When you get the opportunity to bring a boat from one place to another with your old man, take it.
SAILING ACROSS AN OCEAN IS OFTEN SEEN AS A MARINER's BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT. With 4,000 miles between America and Europe, the distance across the Atlantic means a four-week transit across a temperamental ocean. For this reason, a small collection of mid-Atlantic islands earned the name, The Blessed Isles. Officially called Macaronesia, these four island groups the Azores, Madeira, Canaries and Cape Verde have played a central role in trans-Atlantic trade since boats first started long-distance voyages.[caption id="attachment_324683" align="alignleft" width="300"]
Kia Koropp and John Daubeny with their children, Braca and Ayla in Los Lobos | John McCuen[/caption]Located west of Portugal, Spain and the north-African coast in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, they continue to offer a mid-passage respite for modern-day mariners keen for a short break in route between the two continents.The four island groups are often considered relatively similar. All are volcanic in origin with several of the islands still active (as illustrated by the recent eruption of Cumbre Vieja in Las Palmas, Canaries in September 2021).Isolation from the mainland allowed species of animal and fauna to flourish, and their exposure to strong trade winds means a harsh environment during the northern winter.During my family's voyage here, we wanted to cut our trans-Atlantic passage by adding a mid-Atlantic stop, so we used the Canaries as a break point. Our plan: A week transit from Europe to the Canaries and then a three-week sail to the Caribbean.The Canaries is an autonomous region of Spain that consists of 13 islands. Given the geographic similarity to the Macaronesia islands, I was expecting an extension of Madeira and the Azores, but I couldn't have been more misinformed. Instead, we saw vast diversity within an island group. Each of the 13 islands has its own unique environment with a fascinating heritage that is evident today. To see one island is certainly not to have seen the others.
Tenerife Cave Dwellings
The original settlers of the Canaries were the Guanches who arrived from Africa in the 1st or 2nd century. They settled in caves across the islands, concentrated in Tenerife. What fascinated me about this history is that people still live in these cave dwellings today. Excursions throughout the countryside revealed numerous dwellings spread across the island with drying laundry splayed out on lines, dogs lounging outside cave entrances, chairs perched aside a rock wall and chickens living in their coops all scattered evidence of human habitation.We found isolated valleys where large communities were dispersed across a mountainside with small footpaths winding their way up the slope. I was intrigued by this current cave culture, still alive and vibrant. I've travelled to many countries where old cave dwellings are protected as UNESCO Heritage Sites, but this was the first time I'd seen established villages in remote caves. I drove aimlessly throughout the island, trying to find as many cave dwellings as I could discover a surprisingly easy feat given the number of them spread out throughout the Canaries.
Cave settlements dot the hillsides across the Canaries. | Kia Koropp[/caption]Both the Azores and Canaries have developed a unique form of viticulture in a very inhospitable region. It's hard to imagine that someone can grow anything but the most rugged crop in the rocky, volcanic soil. Grape vines were the last thing I expected to crisscross the region. However, ingenious vintners have done just that they created an environment where grapes not only grow, but thrive.This form of deep-root horticulture called arenado is unique to Lanzarote. Small semi-circular walls called zoco are made from black lava stones that protect a single vine, providing a barrier against strong trade winds. It's a labor-intensive form of cultivation as each crater holds one vine, making hand-picked grapes the only option for harvesting. I did not anticipate a wine-tasting on our mid-Atlantic stop, but it was delicious and historically fascinating.
Lava Tubes & Subterranean Tunnels
Lava tubes and deep volcanic caverns riddle the Canary Islands. Several islands, such as Gran Canaria and Tenerife, have extensive pyroclastic fields and some display dramatic volcanic cones with impressive craters, such as Teide on Tenerife and Cumbre Vieja on La Palma.Given the range of erosional stages of the volcanic islands, each one offers a unique perspective. This means we could hike to the top of a volcanic rim that is covered in deep foliage (Gran Canaria), walk through volcanic moonscapes (Los Lobos), wander deep inside massive caverns (Lanzarote) and follow lava tubes deep inside (Tenerife).The different stages of each island display both the devastation and the beauty that volcanoes bring. As one explodes, another holds a breathtaking amphitheater and a species of blind crab that is indigenous to the island. While locals continue to deal with the aftermath of Cumbre Vieja's violent explosion on La Palma, Cueva de los Verdes, Lanzarote holds concerts for an audience of 500 in its expansive cavern and provides sanctuary to a species of blind albino cave crabs in its deep-turquoise underground freshwater lagoon.
Underwater Sculpture Garden
Equally unique to the Canaries is Europe's first underwater sculpture garden, a collection of 12 installations laid down by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor to raise social and environmental awareness. Museo AtlÃ¡ntico was made public in 2017 and holds 300 life-sized human figures performing everyday tasks: a couple holding hands, a man sitting on a swing, fishermen in their boats, someone taking a selfie. Four years on and the sculptures are starting to create a decent false reef. The effect is impressive ... and rather eerie. My dive at the site remains an unforgettable experience that should not be missed on a trip through Lanzarote.[caption id="attachment_324684" align="alignleft" width="225"]
Examples of individual exhibits in the Museo AtlÃ¡ntico underwater sculpture park, Lanzarote | Kia Koropp[/caption]Many sailors use the largest of the Canary Islands, Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, solely for provisioning and boat preparation before a trans-Atlantic passage. However, if you bypass the islands that surround the main island you'd miss out on interesting and diverse islands that should be a highlight destination in the Eastern Atlantic. The ones we visited on our sail through the island group were a continuous series of unfolding surprises.The villages hold their own quaint small-town European character, and each island offers an experience drastically different than its neighbor. From the bustle of Gran Canaries largest city, Las Palmas, to the silent cave dwellers of its outer communities; from the enormous sand dunes of Fuertaventura's ParqueNatural de las Dunas to the barren volcanic cone of Los Lobos to the lush laurel forest of Los Tilos de Moya in Gran Canaria; from sea to inland lake to crater rim to underground tunnels; from camel back to mountaintop to mid-city cafes. The Canaries' special diversity makes a hop-through in route from America to Europe a must-see adventure.