Capt John's
Great Loop
Boats
(we've seen along the way)
© 1993 - 2012 CaptainJohn.org
Cruising the Great Loop in a sailboat:
Even if you don't know how to sail and never learn, an auxiliary powered (live a-board size)
sailboat offers the most economical long-distance voyaging available.

Most Sailors don't think they can cruise the Great Loop. Fact is however, they can. If your
mast is less than 65' above the water, and your draft is less than 6' the trip around is possible.
We strongly suggest a draft less than 5' (ours is less than 3' 6").

Of course, sailboats must have their mast removed before entering the Erie Canal, and before
entering Chicago or the Cal-Sag. There are facilities to raise and lower your mast near the
locations where it is needed.  

What you may not know is that the design of the sailboat's displacement hull makes it the very
most economical vessel on the water. Think about it! Sailboats are designed to move easily
through the water in the slightest breeze. As a result, it requires a very minimum amount of
horse power to move these vessels through the water.

For example:
    A 32' to 36' (live a-board size) Sailboat might be rated for a 10 to 25hp engine and have
    a 10 mph fuel burn rate of 0.4 to 0.8 gallons per hour.

    A 32' to 36' Trawler might be rated for a minimum 350hp single engine and have a 10
    mph fuel burn rate of 4 to 5 gallons an hour (or more). Twin engines might have a fuel
    burn rate of 5 to 6 gallons (or more).

For this reason, you can not obtain a more economical live a-board vessel to cruise the Great
Loop even if you take off the mast or never raise the sails. We, met two such "Loopers" on our
last voyage that had removed their mast and left them at home. We met another couple that
had inherited an old 50 foot Ketch. They didn't know how to sail and simply cut the old wooden
masts off at a height about 8 feet above their deck. From that, they mounted their antennas,
and rigged a great Bimini top.

Learning to sail of course, is easy and fun. Surprisingly to many beginners, it comes natural
once they realize there really isn't anything hard or difficult about it. With a few lessons, a
sailboat will also open your "side trip" options to include a greater range of boating capabilities
- such as the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
:: Cruising the Great Loop in a Sailboat ::
At $4.50 (or more) per gallon for marine fuel. . .
It may be time to rethink "the perfect Looper Boat".
:: Capt John's America's Great Loop ::
1.) Length - between 28 to 36 feet is as good as it gets for couples on a frugal budget.  
This is big enough for comfort, but not too big to be unsafe or excessively expensive. Singles
or "back packer" types can do it in smaller boats, and those that have the money can do it in
bigger. Your boat's over-all size limitation are a matter of comfort and control.  

2.) Height (above the water line) - you must be able to clear a 19' 1" fixed RR bridge in
order to avoid turning the Great Loop into a Great U-turn. If you can clear 17 feet you can
cruise right through downtown Chicago. If you can clear 15' 6" you will have totally
unrestricted cruising on the Great Loop, both in the USA and Canada's Champlain Route
and Heritage Canals.

3.) Draft - a 6 feet draft "they" say is doable, (though I wouldn't). 5 feet is OK, 4 feet or less
is better.  I ran aground twice with a 3' draft in 2011.  Your draft must be less than 5 feet on
the Champlain Route and to cruise the Canada's Heritage Canals. Other than that, the less
draft you have, the better and more relaxed you will be.

4.) Beam - For pleasure boats in the USA,  this is never a problem. You must have a beam
of 23 feet and under to cruise the Canadian Heritage Canals.

5.) Fresh Water capacity - It depend on how often you want to stop and get water.
Usually, 2 or 3 days worth will last until your next fuel stop. For Lower Mississippi, you'll have
to stretch your water to last 8 or 10 days.

6) Holding Tank capacity - guys need 9 gallons, girls need 900 gallons. (lol)
Note: Both fresh water capacity and holding tank capacity will depend much on your
lifestyle, type of boat, and individuals aboard. If your boat has a shower, couples will need a
300 gallon water tank. Your holding tank should be at least 30 gallons.

7.) Electrical Power - depends on your amenities aboard. We recommend two - 30 amp
versus one 50 amp. In addition, you will need a 30 amp female to 15 amp male reducer).

8.) Top-side and Deck - Need to be clear, with easy access from Bow to Stern. The
flatter and wider the walkways, the better.

9.) Anchors - a two bow anchor system with both a Danforth and a Plow /Bruce anchor is
ideal for the varying bottom types and/or for a twin 60 degree anchor placement. At least
one anchor rode should have heavy chain the length of your boat.

10.) Fresh water filter - We don't drink the water in our fresh water tank. If you do, we
recommend a good water filter system.

11.) TV - If TV is important, you will need a digital unidirectional TV antenna.

12.) Bimini top - you will need one. The more shade it provides, the better.

13.) Your boat's engine(s) - Remember. . . It will NOT matter how fast your boat is
capable of going. On America's Great Loop, your speed is very limited over most of your
entire voyage. If you truly need or want to make this voyage on a frugal budget it will be
imperative to select a boat or an engine based on a minimum hourly fuel burn rate.
:: Your boat's overall size ::
Your comfort is the key to how small your boat can possibly be. For sure, living a-board
and cruising long distance over an extended period of time demands a boat that you and
your mate or crew can live on comfortably and safely.
How large should your boat be?
It should be absolutely no larger than one person can safely handle alone. Now, if your first
thought was either "the bigger the better" or the skies the limit"; shame on you. Frugal or not,
this is an important safety feature when it comes to cruising. Accidents happen. We all get
sick. Some of us have been known to bruise, bust or break a toe or finger. When it comes to
on-board accidents most anything can happen. Certainly if someone falls over-board, it will
not be the first time.
Boat size:  In our experience with both power and sail sailboats, and with cruisers and
trawlers. . . We have found a vessel in the 32' to 36' range whether power of sail is about as
good as it gets. After 36' it gets much more expensive and difficult to handle.
Trawlers:  Are very popular (if not the most popular) vessels for cruising the Great Loop.
The main reason for this is they provide the most living a-board space and comfort of any
boat of comparable size. If you are cruising on a semi-frugal budget, a small (full
displacement hull) Trawler with a small single engine offers the very best in comfort and
amenities, as well as economy.
Cruisers:  Live a-board size powerboats such as Cruisers and semi-displacement hull
Trawlers (and any other vessels capable of planning) will be your very most expensive type
vessel to take around the Great Loop. These vessels simply were not designed for fuel
economy, nor were they designed for slow speed. For an example, years ago, a cruise down
the Erie Canal (at 10mph) in my twin-engine 32' Chris Craft Cruiser, cost me $300 a day in
fuel, and that was long before gas reached $4.00 a gallon.
Sailboats:  For the voyager on a very frugal budget, a sailboat (even if you never sail and
only power your way around the Loop) is for sure the way to go. No other affordable vessel
on a frugal budget, will give you the economy of a sailboat under power, and of course, being
able to sail it as much as possible, is an even greater advantage. Powering the entire way
around the Great Loop in a sail boat, will require 1/4 the fuel (or less) of a small single engine
Trawler.  

Our boating philosophy is "go small, go now, and stay out longer". With this in mind, the
kind of boat you have, or choose, for making this voyage, must be no smaller than one you
can live comfortable on for an extended period of time. It should also be no larger than one
you (and your crew mate) can safely handle solo.   
Your Great Loop Boat
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