Capt. John along with his friend and Army co-pilot completed their first voyage around America’s Great Loop in 1972. This was almost immediately after returning home from Vietnam with about a years back pay in their pockets. Capt. John and his friend Terry made this voyage even before America’s Great Loop had a name. It was before GPS, Radar, Internet, Cellphones, and even before the Tennessee-Tombigbee route to the Gulf was complete. Their “technology” on the boat was limited to a depth finder and a Marine VHS Radio. There were no books, blogs, or Websites about cruising “the Loop”. During the past 52-years, Capt. John has made this voyage a dozen times and has enjoyed making this voyage the past five times cruising with or beside his adult son. They have done it together in the same boat as well as cruising along together in their own boats. Capt. John’s first book about the Great Loop was published in 2001 and “The Looper’s Companion Guide” was published in 2016. It has been the #1 Best-Selling Great Loop book on the market ever since. Updated in 2021 and again in 2023, it has not only been the Best-Selling Great Loop book on the market, and also received the “Book of the Year” Award 3-years in a row. With a dozen Loops under his keel is six different boats both sail & power ranging from 44′ to 26′, no one knows more about what a Looper wants & needs better than Capt. John.
“Without the benefit of a previous Looper’s experience, Capt. John and his friend Terry set out on this voyage not knowing for sure it could be done. Their first and mistake was cruising the Loop in a ‘free’ boat that was given to them by Capt. John’s uncle. It was a beautiful old wooden Chris Craft. They thought a ‘free boat’ was a real blessing. Although they were thankful for it, according to Capt. John, it turned out to be a curse. It was a 44′ twin engine vessel that ended up being a real fuel breathing dragon. It required so much fuel, it robbed them of all their ‘fun money’. After the first 1,000-miles, they determined they would have to pour all our ‘Cruising Kitty’ down our fuel tank. It left them with no money at all to stay in a marina or enjoy the countless attractions on shore. According to Capt. John, that first time around the Loop, involved lots of major mistakes. they ran aground, made some wrong turns, got lost, anchored in places that weren’t safe, were attracted by swarms of bugs and mosquitos without any cockpit netting or canvas protection. As it was, their first journey turned out to be a long journey eating beans & bread with the fish they caught. They could only go shore for an hour or so when buying fuel or they would have had to pay for staying in a marina, when we needed every last dollar for fuel.
In the end, when they ‘crossed their wake’ and made it home safely, their only thoughts were to do it again. Only next time, they promised each other, to do it in a much smaller more frugal and fuel-efficient boat, so they could enjoy all the fun they missed the first time around. Since that first voyage, Capt. John has downsized his vessel six-times, claiming every voyage has been better and more fun than the one before.
Locks, Lift Bridges, Swing Bridges, Anchoring out, Tidal depths & current changes, narrow canals, long no wake zones, Manatee zones, Speed Limits, for most everyone, cruising the Great Loop will be loaded with brand new experiences. It’s one of the reasons it might seem that we downplay an overload of “experience”. It’s not that experience isn’t needed or important, it is, and the more the better. However, we know from experience, no one can gain all the experience of cruising the Loop until they’ve done it.
The saddest of all is that we’ve known too many safe boaters that had the dream, had the boat, the time, money, plenty of experience, and the desire, but lacked the confidence to untie those lines and shove off.
Fact is, most of the experience you think you need to make this voyage, can only be obtained by cruising it. Thousands have completed this voyage safely. Hundreds more are cruising it every year. Many of whom, had no experience and bought their very first boat just to cruise the Loop!
In 2018, Capt. John’s son John sold his Veteran Looper boat to a couple that never owned a boat. They purchased it for the sole purpose of cruising the Loop. John spent 3-days teaching them all about the boat and how to handle it. A month later, they were cruising the Loop. A year later they thanked him and informed him they had such a great time they were getting ready to do it again.
Cruising long-distance and living on a boat is an exceptional experience. Great in many ways, not so great in others, a miserable experience for some, and a terrible experience in the wrong boat. Living on a boat requires a major change in one’s habits, expectations and in one’s attitude. It’s the simple things we take for granted on shore that simply don’t exist on a boat. Fresh water, especially fresh ‘hot’ water, for example is unlimited on shore. Where, according to USGS, a couple uses 160-200 gallons of water per day. We don’t know of any recreational vessel under 40-feet that holds that much fresh water. As a result, you will be stopping more often for water than fuel, even after you will learn to use your fresh water very sparingly. Instead of running water in the sink for the two or three minutes to brush your teeth, you will learn to us 4oz in a cup to do the same. In addition, space is a premium. You will never have enough space, no, not for clothes, not for anything. While many first timers look for a 40′ plus size boat with 2-staterooms and 2-heads, because they are expecting guests that never arrive, both eventually become storage. We’ve often thought that the people that design live aboard size boats should have to live on one for six months first. Two heads on a boat smaller than 40 feet makes no sense at all. One larger head with an enclosed shower would be a much smarter choice.
For example: West Marina offers a “Marine Washer Dryer Combo” for $1,519.99. Installation including electric water in and a drain might cost you at least another $600 or more. So, for $2,200 bill, you can wash & dry your clothes on the boat. What a deal! Or is it? Most every Marina you stop at along the way will have a laundry room for you to wash your clothes. All it takes is a handful of quarters and detergent. If you put a pencil to it, on a 330-day voyage around the Loop, if you do laundry every single one of your 47 weekends, each load of laundry would cost you $47.00 a week plus the cost of your detergent. You might be better off just throwing your dirty clothes away and buying new ones. The real issue however, are the problems these unnecessary amenities create. Salt & Brackish water eats everything including electrical wiring & components, and even tools. At almost every marina we stop at along the way, there is usually a Looper at the marina trying to get something repaired on his boat. What’s alarming about it, is the fact that 9 times out of 10, whatever they are in need of fixing or replacing shouldn’t have been on their boat in the first place. There are many other ‘costly mistakes’ a lot of first time Loopers make when preparing for this voyage. For some, amenities such as Radar, AIS, FLS, and even Stabilizers, can be costly mistakes. We’ve tried them all, and no longer have them. Radar is fine if you use it, but we found it to be a detracting nuisance. But we never leave one safe location for another unless the weather says “go”. We also never cruise at night or in the fog. AIS is great, but it’s not foolproof and won’t be until every single boater has it and right now very few do. FLS (Forward Looking Sonar), is a good idea, but we tried it, and unless you are going about 3-mph with your foot on the brakes, (What brakes?), you are still going to hit whatever it shows in front of you under the water. Stabilizers are worthless. Furthermore, they create problems instead of solving them. No one we know that had them, still uses them. Our advice? For the least amount of stress, and the most fun and carefree voyage, “Keep your vessel and everything on it as simple as possible.”
While we seriously believe this voyage can be affordable by most anyone, nothing about this voyage is cheap! While most 1st time Loopers concentrate their Looping Budget on the boat, fuel and marina expenses; for many if not most Loopers, ‘fun money’ is their #1 biggest expense. It is also the reason for our “More Fun than Fuel” Looping philosophy which allows us to spend more money on ourselves having fun, instead of having to pour the bulk of our Cruising Kitty down our fuel tank and giving a Lion’s share of it to the marinas.
We’re serious about this. No one we know of has ever anticipated the amount of ‘on shore’ destinations and attractions they will want to visit along the way. Our #1 Looping expense is for on shore ‘fun money’. That includes such things as eating out, seeing the sights, being a tourist, a very few Uber rides, a car rental, buying a few souvenirs, visiting some Tiki Bars, Ice cream Parlors, Pastry Shops, museums and tourist attractions.
Aside from safety, our single most important recommendation for everyone, is to prepare yourself for an amazing yearlong “vacation”. It is one that will take you to a hundred incredible destinations most of which will tempt you off your boat to stop, shop, eat out, stay and spend money. The destinations, 50 of which are listed on Condé Nast’s top places to visit in North America, and many will be those you certainly don’t want to miss. You may never be so close to them again. These are the places that will create your most cherished memories.
One of the important things you will discover about this voyage, is that ‘time’ will be your most indulgent luxury. We encourage everyone to go slow and take your time! Don’t rush, don’t get in a hurry. If you do, you will miss out on what this voyage is really all about. Fact is, “not taking more time” is one of the most mentioned regrets by previous Loopers.
Not only is taking your time and going slow the safest way to cruise the Loop, but it is also best to cruise it in a counterclockwise direction. This requires cruising, and remaining, in each geographical area during its preferred weather & boating season. While many first timers rush their way up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, fact is, the New York State Canal System normally doesn’t open until mid-May, and you don’t want to be the early bird for this opening. You want to give it time to drain out all that nasty Winter collection of trees, stumps, and debris. In addition, you don’t need to be off Lake Michigan until mid to late October depending on the weather. As a result, you will discover that time on this voyage is your friend. We time our voyage to be North in the cooler Summer where temperatures average in the 70s, and South in the warmer Winter where the southern half of Florida’s temperature averages in the 70s. With this method, we are not only cruising the entire way in the best of weather, we also avoid the peak Atlantic Hurricane Season as well as the peak Tornado Season in Tornado Alley along the inland rivers of America’s Heartland. It also puts us cruising Kentucky Lake, Barkley Lake and the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers during the peak Fall Foliage. This also puts us cruising with the current for the majority of our voyage.
If you follow the main route as outlined and suggested in “The Looper’s Companion Guide”:
* Only 1 day must you cruise 78-miles or an optional 178-miles.
* Only 10 days will your voyage exceed 60-miles.
* Only 23 days will your voyage exceed 50-miles.
* For 95 days, you will average near 40-miles.
* On 11 days, you will cruise near 20 miles.
* You will have to anchor out in fewer than 10 locations.
* You will need a minimum fuel range of 204-miles.
* Only once, (crossing the Gulf), will you need to depart one destination before daylight to arrive at your next safe destination before dark.