After years sailing the Caribbean we traded our Tayana 37 for an Island Gypsy to explore The Loop

America's Great Loop

24 July 2020 | A most incredible journey
Janice Nagle
Everyone's loop is different. This was our loop and we did it our way. Each person that takes on the challenge of America's Great Loop has many choices to make. Some are based on preferences while others might be based on time or financial constraints. Most everyone starts at the boat buying phase unless they are lucky enough to already own a boat suitable for the loop. Our journey started in late winter of 2016 when we traveled around Florida for several months in our RV looking at potential boats. We found and fell in love with an Island Gypsy 32. We had wanted to purchase the smallest boat that we could live comfortably on that would allow us to take in side trips that had height and draft restrictions. Features of this boat included sedan style with lots of windows and walk around deck for easy locking. DeeO'gee approved this purchase and the work started.

By winter all work had been completed and our IG32 was renamed Nomadic Spirit. We were ready to start our adventure! Another choice that we had made is that we would do our version of the loop in sections and continue to motorhome through National Parks the other months of the year. This would allow us to take our time and not be worried about keeping ahead of the seasons. We did have the advantage already being cruisers having had spent several years sailing the Caribbean so we had a bit less to learn. And so we loaded on charts, food and wine and set our course to do the Florida Mini Loop. From Stuart we crossed the Okeechobee to Ft Meyers. This was a favorite stop for us with wonderful dining, shopping and entertainment options, all within walking distance. DeeO'gee enjoyed all the walks through town and checking out the metal sculptures.

From there we followed the gulf coast to Marco Island. Our plan was to continue to the Everglades before crossing over to Key West but a prudent cruiser knows a weather forcasted has the last word. We love Key West and spent a month in or near the Bight. We were walking distance to everything we could want. Happy hours, oh the happy hours. As a bonus our dock was in the perfect location to watch the Christmas lighted boat parade.

We finally left Key West traveling up the Florida Bay side which we could not do before in our 6' draft sailboat. We enjoyed fabulous anchorages, a delightful stop at Bahia Honda, the typical stop in Marathon, Biscayne Bay with it's lovely Boca Chita Key and the nighttime skyline of Miami just to name a few. It was hard to say a temporary goodby but three month after we started we put Nomadic Spirit back on the hard at Stuart. We had managed to stretch 590 miles into a three month journey.

Season two was full of new and exciting places for us and lots of history. After a month in the Abacos we traveled north to new favorite places. Historic St Augustine, Cumberland Island with its wild horses, Beaufort - which is another on our favorite small town list, and to Charleston for the 4th of July. Here we met the AGLCA Home Team and several new loopers. Onward to the darling towns of Georgetown, New Bern and into the Albermarle Loop. This was a worthy side trip of welcoming communities with free docks begging us to come and lighten our wallets a bit, Edenton being another favorite stop with its numerous houses from the1700s. We also visited Okrakoke on the outer banks for more wonderful fresh seafood. We had heard that the Neuse River, and the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds could be less than pleasant but they were dead calm for us.

We had decided on the Dismal Swamp route and it was a wonderful experience, a narrow canal that made you think you were on a Disney nature ride. Portsmouth was alive with history, cobblestone streets and a fabulous free dock. We never passed up a free dock or a chance to walk small and not so small towns along the way. All this while meeting wonderful folks and ever so helpful harbor hosts. We had sampled marvelous food along the way but were still anticipating the infamous Butter Tarts we were hearing about.

In the Chesapeake Bay it was hurricane season and Florence was causing mandatory evacuations along the east coast. We had planned another few weeks of cruising but Cape Charles was a perfect spot at the perfect time. This small charming tourist town drew us in immediately. So in just under 5 months we were hauling our boat out again for the winter. As we packed up to leave we were sure that this world remain our favorite section of the loop, oh but there was so much more to come.

The third season was as close to perfect as one could hope for. The Chesapeake in May was inviting. The weather was perfect for our stops at Tangier Island, St Michaels and many more. Annapolis during Commissioning Week was spectacular with performances of the Blue Angles flying right over the marina. Many small towns and idyllic anchorages begged us to stay longer but it was time to head north once again.

Chesapeake City is an adorable town on the C&D Canal. Once again impromptu Looper docktails put to rest a pleasant day. The last body of water we kept hearing about that could be downright angry was the Delaware Bay. It did not dissapoint, it was a truly memorable passage and not in a good way.
Cape May soothed our wounds, yes more docktails, and when we left we took the ICW again heading towards New York, a very pleasant alternative to traveling along the Atlantic shoreline. All along we would meet and continue to see loopers at the regular stops and friendships were being forged.

The Statue of Liberty was a major highlight of the entire loop. Having 'that' picture and anchoring behind her was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Hudson River is more beautiful than we had imagined and Looper boats were gathering along its shores. Once at Waterford Loopers make the decision to go through the Erie Canal or continue on to Lake Champlain, our route. This is where we discovered we were not taking the longer route alone and had a wonderful buddy boat for the next few months.

Almost immediately after Lake Champlain is the Canadian check in. Our experience in Quebec Province was amazing. The canal systems in Canada are run by the National Park Service. All locks are for recreational boats only and most are hand cranked by college students. Many had bike paths along the side and most every lock had an alluring town to visit. When we entered the Richelieu Canal System we purchased a lock and a mooring pass that allowed us through all locks and to tie up to the walls for overnight. Sometimes electricity was available for a small additional fee. Most canals are narrow and few marinas exist.

St Jean Richelieu made our favorite small town list. It is a picture perfect town with welcoming people. The language barrier was evident but we were rewarded for our efforts. Montréal was added to favorite big towns and the yacht club gave us access to bikes for exploring the city. It's hard to only pick a few highlights and not make this article too long but I cannot skip Sainte Anne de Bellevue. This not only made our favorites but was placed at the very top. Farmers market, Waterside bistros and strolling violinist. Yes, our experience in Quebec Province was truly amazing.

Ottawa and the Parliament buildings were the reward for stepping up through the Flight of Eight locks. Such a grand entrance to the Rideau Canal! Here we finally found butter tarts, they were like little pecan pies, or some just had raisins. They were ok but I knew there had to be better ones out there with all the fuss and all. Every town and city was hard to leave and this was no exception but after we did all we could for the economy we set off in search of better butter tarts.

There are 45 locks on the Rideau alone. Once we left Ottowa we were once again visiting quaint small towns. We would often pass through 8 stress free locks in a day picking a place to stop for lunch or the evening. At a tiny bakery in a small town I did find a butter tart I could embrace! An award winning tart from one of the many festival /contests. The Rideau is a combination of narrow canals and open lakes and rivers with numerous anchorages begging one to drop the hook and dive into refreshing waters. We both agree we would not have wanted to miss these two canal systems on this portion of the loop and are glad we decided to go the Lake Champlain Route.

Almost all loopers take in the Trent Severn, Georgian Bay and the North Channel. Here we picked up many more Looper boats and docktail participants quadrupled. By this time we were certainly no stranger to locks but the Trent Severn has a few that are especially noteworthy. The Peterborough Lift Lock is not like any other. Instead of driving your boat into a chamber that is then flooded or drained you drive into a chamber that is lifted or lowered to the appropriate height. Much like an elevator really. It is the largest hydrolic lock in the world. The Big Chute is a totally different experience. One drives the boat onto a submerged railroad car that takes you up over the road to the other side. It sounds scary, and I wouldn't have wanted to be the first boat ever doing it, but the Chute crew was well seasoned and all went smoothly.

The Georgian Bay small craft route is an incredibly narrow, shallow, and rocky channel through cottages built on massive boulders. These cottages range from actual small cottages to million dollar estates that are all are only accessible by boat. Amazing beauty and unlimited anchorages make this area one to slow down and smell the roses in.

We all but left civilization behind when we entered the North Channel, the northern portion of Lake Huron. At Baie Fine docktails became rocktails as loopers gathered on the shore. One or two small towns on some of the larger islands provided us with interesting tourists stops but this was basically nature at its best.

Mackinac Island is an ice cream and fudge lovers dream with horse drawn carriages and historic homes. It has been on my bucket list for a while and I certainly loved every moment. Sadly this is where we said goodbye to our buddy boat as they were traveling the east side of Lake Michigan and we were crossing over to the west side. Door County, Sheboygan and Milwaukee were attractive alternatives on the way to Chicago. In Milwaukee visits with friends and family were too short but some of the Illinois locks are scheduled to close for maintenance so we pressed on.

Though I have visited Chicago often, aproaching by water was quite spectacular. Passing through the city on an early foggy morning was a real treat. Numerous boats were all heading through the Illinois River with us and locking went incredibly well. The Mississippi wasn't as bad as we had feared and before we knew it we were at Kentucky Lake where we hauled our boat for the winter once more. Launch, Loop, Leave the boat somewhere new, Repeat!

All in all this was the best 5 months of our looping journey. We would happily do the Canadian canals annually and are actually considering a different boat for just that purpose.

The final portion of our loop was uneventful in that there was nothing new or different to see. It was pleasant, the locks were easy although we wished we had just kept going the previous season. We made the usual stops but Docktails were elusive as few boats were heading south in late spring. Things were more difficult with places being shutdown due to covid. We were happy to have dolphin escorts again one we reached Florida and enjoyed anchoring at sandbars where we could play in the water. In quick time we crossed our wake in St Petersburg on July 4th with friends and champagne. This is where we had started our aquatic lifestyle 10 years before. Our boat is already sold and will be going for platinum as the new owners are going for the gold.

People often ask if I enjoyed the sailboat more, or the motorhome or trawler. I say they are all wonderful, that I wouldn't have missed sailing the Caribbean and anchoring off lovely remote sandy beaches. But I add that the National Parks we have visited are no less dramatic and awe inspiring. Lastly our adventures on the Great American Loop took us from historical harbor towns to some of America's largest cities. A varied cultural and gastronomic experience covering 17 states, the Bahamas and 2 Canadian Provinces.

We truly appreciate this nomadic lifestyle.

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The final leg of an incredible journey

10 July 2020
Janice Nagle
Transitioning yet again, this time from Trailer Trash to Trawler Trash.

Leaving Texas in our motorhome we managed to take another crooked path that allowed us to visit several friends along the way. We always go out of our way for a visit as friends are one of life's greatest gifts.

Our final leg of America's Great Loop started in Kentucky Lake. Nomadic Spirit weathered the winter just fine and after a few days of cleaning and unpacking we were in the water again. Traveling the Tennessee River and Tombigbee Waterway was change of pace from the previous season. We seldom saw another Looper as we were heading south in the spring instead of the fall. There were no crowded anchorages or issues with slips in marinas. We stopped at all the usual places but docktails were elusive this time of year. One exception was Pickwick Lake where Harbor Host Charlie and Robin McVey went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Seldom slowed down by commercial traffic, we made great time through the locks. When we left Columbus after 2 weeks we were sporting some additional newly striped teak, including the transom. We had planned to sell the boat when we completed the loop and the prospective new owners drove down from Wisconsin for a visit and to check out how Nomadic Spirit weathered the trip.

Once back in Florida we were instantly greeted by dolphins and enjoyed the beautiful shades of the gulf waters. We stopped to visit cruising friends in Pensacola for several days then pushed hard to get to Treasure Island by July 4th. Several places on our list were passed up due to very hot weather and full marinas, it was the opening of scallop season! Not a slip to be found. One memorable night on the way was spent at the Anclote Key Sandbar and another was spent at Caladesi Island State Park.

Dear friends that just purchased a place on Treasure Island joined us for the last day of Our Loop. We stopped in front of our old condo and saw a few old friends, broke out the champagne and posed for pictures. Then we backtracked a mile to Rick and Renee's dock and let Nomadic Spirit have a well deserved rest. It's been wonderful to spend time getting the boat ready for its survey but having the comfort of an air conditioned house to recover in.

A recap of our Great Loop experience will be a seperate blog.
Vessel Name: Nomadic Spirit
Vessel Make/Model: 32' Island Gypsy & 36' Monaco
Crew: Janice & Steve
This adventure began in October of 2007 when Steve came to look at a boat that Janice had for sale on Craig's List. Steve wanted to learn how to sail and Janice needed a new kitchen. [...]
FAVORITE QUOTES: 'Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do then by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.' Mark Twain 'We went cruising not to [...]
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'You're lucky if YOUR LOVE loves what you love the best' Eileen Quinn