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This means that your vessel’s super-structure; all that part of your boat left over after you take down your mast, antennas, Bimini top, radar arch,
etc., must be able to cruise under this 19.6’ fixed bridge. While there are many other lower bridges, this is the lowest fixed bridge every Looper must
go under. In other words, all routes lead here and there is no alternative waterway route around this bridge.
This bridge is located at Mile 300.6 on the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal and it is our only waterway link from the Great Lakes to the Illinois, Mississippi
and Inland rivers. If you can’t clear this bridge, your Great Loop becomes a Great U-turn.
Assuming you can clear 19’ 6” you are good to go anywhere on the Great Loop’s most popular routes with only two (2) exceptions.
2. 17-feet 0-inches – If you can clear 17’, you can cruise through downtown Chicago.
3. 15-feet 6-inches – In order to cruise the full-length (western half) of the Erie Canal, you must be able to clear a 15’ 6” fixed bridge.
If you wish to remain strictly on the “American Side” of this voyage – or if you simply desire to cruise the full-length of the Erie Canal from the
Hudson River to Buffalo, NY and into Lake Erie - you must have a vertical clearance of 15’ 6”. This will be also be the route to take if you do not have
a Passport, or do not wish to cruise Canada. There are two 15’ 6” fixed bridges on the Erie Canal just beyond the Three-Rivers Junction to the
Oswego Canal. The Oswego Canal has a 21’ vertical clearance and this is your route to Lake Ontario and on to Canada.
For Sailboats: There are several locations where you will have to un-step your mast. They will be on the Hudson River before you reach Federal
Lock 1 and enter the New York State Canal System.
From there, you can have your mast stepped in either Oswego, NY if going to Canada, or in Tonawanda, NY, if cruising the Erie Canal to Buffalo
and Lake Erie. If you are cruising Canada’s popular Trent-Severn Canal, you must un-step your mast again before entering the Trent-Severn and
you can have it re-stepped after existing the Trent Severn into Georgian Bay.
If you take the full-length of the Erie Canal, you can sail from Buffalo, NY to Chicago, where you will have to have your mast un-stepped in the
Chicago area before leaving Lake Michigan. Afterwards, if you have a mast height of 52' or less, you can have your mast stepped at Staved Rock
Marina on the Illinois river. From there, you can cruise all the way to the Okeechobee Waterway where there is a 49’ fixed bridge at Port Mayaca, or
you can cruise around the Florida Keys.
If you take the inside route on the NJ-ICW, there are several 35’ fixed bridges. Most sailors will go outside as draft may also be a problem. Those
that go outside and leave their mast up can leave it up until just before reaching Federal Lock 1 and the NY State Canal System.
All total, if staying on the Great Loop’s most popular routes, a Looper in a sailboat can expect to sail about 25% of the total Great Loop distance.
BOAT DRAFT RESTRICTIONS:
A draft of 5-feet or less is highly recommended. A draft of 4' or less will be much better!
If you plan on cruising an of Canada’s Heritage Canals, including the very popular Trent-Severn Waterway, you must have a fully-loaded draft of 5’ or
less. Any more makes you subject to either not being allowed in, having to sign a damage waiver or having to wait for rainfall and deeper waters.
While we know a few “Loopers” that have cruised ‘the American side” of this voyage as well as the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes via the
Welland Canal with 6’ drafts. We just don’t recommend it. In fact, to cruise through all the most protected waterways including the New Jersey ICW, we
favor a draft much closer to 4-feet or less.
Most vessels including the popular Trawlers up to about the 42-foot range will have a draft of 5’ or less. Typically, only the larger sailboats will have
drafts that exceed 5-feet. Simply put, while a 5’ draft is good to go. The less draft you have, the less stressful your voyage will be and the less risk you
have of running aground.
BOAT BEAM or WIDTH RESTRICTIONS:
Any beam or width less than 23-feet maximum will give you complete access to all Great Loop main routes and most popular detours and side-trips.
For cruising Canada’s Heritage Canals including the Trent-Severn Canal your vessel must have a beam of 23’ or less.
For access to the best Marinas we suggest a beam of 16-feet or less. Most Marinas are unable to accommodate wide catamarans with 18’ beams or
wider. To accommodate vessels with more wide beams, many marinas will charge double because your vessel will be taking up the space normally
used to accommodate two vessels. Larger vessels and most catamarans, will also often be placed ‘out on the T’ or at the end of the fuel dock
because they are unable to fit in a slip.
BOAT LENGTH RESTRICTIONS:
How does 90-feet sound? The length of your boat is more of a matter of safety, common sense and affordability than a physical restriction. Physical
length restrictions include a maximum of 90-feet on the Trent-Severn Canal and Canada’s Heritage canals, and 300-feet in the US.
The average Looper's boat is very near 36-feet in length. Very few Looper’s boats exceed 46-feet.
Aside from safe handling, lots of things happen once a vessel exceeds 42-feet in length. Fact is, one should consider the entire Great Loop route.
With a few exceptions, especially on the Inland rivers, many marinas along the Great Loop cannot accommodate a vessel over 42-feet in length. In
fact, not all Marinas provide slips for vessels over 36-feet. Larger boats often end up docked ‘out on the T’ or at the end of the fuel dock. Once a boat
exceeds 42-feet, most everything on or about it becomes exponentially more expensive the longer it gets. For a couple cruising long distance, a 28’ to
38’ vessel can be very comfortable and affordable indeed. Solo voyagers can be very safe and comfortable in a vessel between 24’ to 28’. We know
solo Loopers that have made this voyage in 16’ to 25’ vessels and couples that have made this voyage in 25’ vessels. So, you're the captain, you're
in command, and the choice is yours.
BOAT FUEL RANGE REQUIREMENTS:
The “no reserve” bottom line is: Your vessel must have a minimum fuel range of 208-miles on the most popular Tennessee-Tombigbee route to the
Gulf. It will also be imperative that you know your fuel burn rate ‘per hour’ (gph) as well as your mpg.
Sailboats will have to run under power on this leg of the voyage and smaller powerboats with outboard motors and small fuel tanks, must be able
to cruise 208-miles. So, additional fuel tanks or jerry cans may be required.
This 208-miles is from Hoppies Marina on the Upper Mississippi River to Paducah. The voyage consists of cruising a precise 208-miles with the
first 152-miles at normal cruising speed with a light current. The last 48-miles however re slow hard miles against a very strong (2- to 3-mph) current.
In a sailboat or full-displacement hull vessel with a 6-knot maximum hull speed, this can the 48-miles can be a 12-hour voyage. Therefore, it is
mandatory you know your GPH (gallons per hour) fuel burn rate at cruise speed as well as your MPG (miles per gallon). While there are safe
anchorages along the way, this 208-miles is the maximum distance between fuel stops on the entire Great Loop.
Note: It should be noted that if Hoppies Marina, Mile 158.5 on the Upper Mississippi River is unable to provide fuel, is forced to close, or
unavailable for any reason; your fuel range will increase 44-miles to 252-miles. This is the distance from Alton Marina to Paducah. As regrettable as it
is, Hoppies has had more than its fair share of problems with both the weather and the waterway. Exposed as it is on the Mississippi, Hoppies ability to
withstand the troubles it has had over the past decade simply puts its future in jeopardy.
YOUR GREAT LOOP BOAT:
It can be sail or power. It can run on gasoline or diesel. It can have one engine or two. Most importantly, it must be safe, suitable, seaworthy and
comfortable. Anyway, you go, your Great Loop capable vessel must meet the following basic requirements:
1. Sailboats must have dependable auxiliary power and fuel storage.
2. All vessels sail or power must have a minimum safe fuel range of 208-miles.
3. All vessels must be able to clear a 19’ 6” fixed bridge.
4. All vessels should have a draft of 5-feet or less. We recommend near 4' and less is better!
5. You must be able to clear 17’ to cruise through downtown Chicago.
6. You must be able to clear 15’ 6” to cruise the full length of the Erie Canal.
7. Your vessel must have a beam of 23-feet or less - if cruising Canada's Trent Severn Waterway.
8. Your vessel cannot be longer than 90-feet - if cruising Canada’s Trent Severn or Heritage Canals.
9. Your vessel must have a draft of 5-feet or less if cruising the Trent Severn.
10. Your vessel must have a good working depth finder.
11. Your vessel must have a VHF radio.
12. Your vessel must have all USCG required safety equipment.
13. Your vessel must have a good anchoring system.
14. You will need a good GPS-chartplotter with complete coverage for the entire route.
The perfect Great Loop boat - will of course, be the one you complete the Great Loop in. Since we all have our own likes, dislikes, lifestyles,
comfort zones, and budgets, we all have our own vision of the perfect Great Loop boat. Since we know there is not one perfect boat for all of us; we’ve
included the following to help you decide on the best boat for you, and how best to equip your boat.
Our most fervent suggestion regarding your choice of boat, is to keep it and everything on it as simple as possible. We know from personal
experience, as well as the experience of others, the very most complicated aspect of cruising the Great Loop will be your boat as well as the
equipment & amenities you install on it. Actually "cruising" the Great Loop route itself is very simple, safe and easy. In almost every case, with every
Looper, complications arise as a result of one’s choice of boat and/or the equipment on it. A simple humble boat will result in the very most stress free,
care-free and fun voyage.
There are some absolute boat size limits, restrictions and requirements that every Great Loop capable boat must meet.
BOAT HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS:
1. 19-feet 6-inches – For every Looper regardless of route, in order to cruise the entire Great Loop, the maximum overhead clearance that
limits the height of your boat above the water is 19’ 6”. While this bridge is officially charted at 19.7-feet at MLW, to cruise the Great Loop your vessel
MUST be able to cruise under this (normally) 19’ 6” fixed bridge.
Yes! I'm living the dream. . . But, I'm certainly not living it the way I dreamed it. No, not by a long shot.
Plan A - The Dream Boat - had me cruising in a yacht. It was my "Dream Boat" complete with a crewed staff and waitresses in bikinis serving me
umbrella drinks. Obviously, that never happened!
Plan B - The "Big Boat" Mistake - Well, lets just say anchoring out all the time & eating PB&J because my big twin engine fuel burning dragon
sucked up about 5 x more fuel than I ever thought possible, and staying in a marina was as expensive as a hotel. I was having to pour all my "fun
money" down my fuel tank(s).
Plan C - The Voyage - Once I realized my dream was "the voyage" and not "the boat". My dream became an instantly affordable reality.
Plan D - Success at last! I now cruise the Loop in a humble, comfortable 36' sailboat with the mast cut off. I motor around the entire Loop, burning
right at 1-gph of fuel at a top 6-knot (7-mph) cruising speed. On my 2018 voyage, my 5,429-mile Great Loop, cost me less than $2,500 in fuel. That,
combined with all my other marina & canal fees, resulted in $12,569 in total "boat related" expenses. Friends. . . That's the equivalent of $37.63 per day
in "transportation & lodging" expenses for a year spent cruising 5,429-miles around America's Great Loop.
I love my "Plan D".
|Plan "D" works great for me!
|Make cruising Americ'a Great Loop your plan!
| Often, my Dad would give me advice over one thing or another. Sometimes I took his advice and sometimes I didn't. Usually, when I didn't, I ended
up regretting it. Right now, I'm feeling like someone's Dad. I'm about to give you advice knowing some of you will take it, and some will not.
While I have no idea what your income, savings, or budget is for cruising America's Great Loop, and it will certainly makes a huge difference; my
strongest, most fervent suggestion is:
"DON'T STRETCH ANYTHING ON THIS VOYAGE TO THE LIMIT."
That pertains to everything. Your boat size, your cruising speed, your schedule and timing, your vessel's maintenance, your maintenance, and
especially, your budget!
Fact is, when we say your vessel must clear a 19' 6" fixed bridge, it will never be a good idea to just barely fit beneath that bridge. Pushing your
vessel's height to 19' is even a stretch, as a little bit of rain and the wake from another boat can result in a collision with the bridge. Likewise, when we
say your vessel has a 90' length limit, we don't know of a vessel that long, that can clear a 19' 6" bridge. Same is true with a maximum width or beam
of 23-feet and a draft of 5-feet. Given a choice, we just can't recommend anyone stretch things to the limit.
In our opinion (and that's all it is), the "perfect boat" for cruising the Loop would be 36-feet (or less) in length, have a 4-foot (or less) draft, and
have an air height of 15-feet or less. It would also provide a very comfortable ride at near an 8-mph cruising speed with a fuel burn rate of 2-gph or
less. It would also have an inside (or at least well protected) helm station, and provide the skipper & crew with plenty of shade. Obviously, comfort is
the key to success both inside, outside and with handling, docking and locking. In other words, we suggest "think transportation & lodging" vs "a home
on the water".
Same is true with your budget. Don't stretch it to the limit either. Much of the pleasure on this voyage has to do with being comfortable with your
budget and expenses. Unexpected surprises on this voyage come in two flavors. Most will be "daily delicious" surprises found in destinations along
the way where you will want to stop, shop, stay, linger and spend money. The other kind of unexpected surprises will be in the form of problems. Such
things as engine failure, running aground, busting a prop, or other emergency.
So, our advice? Don't stretch your boat or budget to the limit. Make sure your budget is as comfortable as your boat.