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The Great Loop is the continuous waterway that encompasses the eastern portion of North America including the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America’s heartland. It is a 6,000-mile journey.
People traveling the Great Loop are known as “Loopers”. The number of people attempting this voyage is growing as the adventure is attracting a younger demographic in addition to retirees. America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA) estimates that approximately 100 boats complete the Great Loop each year, making it a feat more unique than swimming the English Channel or climbing Mount Everest.
Loopers have used everything from kayaks and dinghys to sailboats and powerboats to complete the Loop but some factors have to be considered when purchasing a vessel for the Great Loop. For instance, there is limited water draft in some locations and a fixed bridge near Chicago charted at 19.6’, so a thorough understanding of the route and its limitations is necessary to make an informed decision on what vessel to use.
Since the journey is a complete loop, it can be started anywhere along the route, and there are several route choices within some of the segments. Cruisers travel the Loop counterclockwise taking advantage of the downstream currents on the inland river systems.
To avoid summer hurricanes and winter ice, Loopers travel the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW) in the spring months with a goal of reaching New York Harbor during the end of May or early June to ensure that the Erie Canal is open. It usually opens in May but can be delayed by winter weather conditions. The summer months are ideal for enjoying Canada’s Trent Severn Waterway and the Great Lakes before reaching Chicago. Around Labor Day, Loopers are leaving Chicago for the inland river system—Illinois River, Upper Mississippi River, Ohio River, Cumberland River, Tennessee River, Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway—to enjoy fall foliage before reaching Mobile Bay. Loopers then head to the Florida panhandle to wait for a weather window to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Some boats make the 170-mile crossing from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs mid-November to early December in an overnight crossing when winds are light and the seas are somewhat calm. After arriving in Tarpon Springs, FL, Loopers cruise to Ft. Myers where they will enter the Okeechobee Waterway to cross to Stuart, FL on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway or follow the Gulf south to Naples and then onto the Florida Keys for the winter before taking the AICW north.
Some Loopers are life-long boaters whereas others are new to boating tackling a bucket list item. Many Loopers sell their homes or downsize their lifestyles to complete the Loop. Done as a continuous trip, the Loop usually takes about a year depending on number of stops and length of stays, but some people choose to do the Loop in segments and return home for work or other matters in between them. Many spend the winters in the Bahamas on their boats and some make the Loop a true family affair by taking their children and home-schooling them onboard. Upon completing the Loop, some Loopers return home to set off on other adventures while others choose to begin the Loop again.
Loopers who are members of the AGLCA meet two times a year in diﬀerent locations along the Great Loop. The ﬁrst Rendezvous is on the east coast in the spring, and has been in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Norfolk in previous years. Currently, it is hosted in New Bern, NC. The second Rendezvous is traditionally in October at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, AL. Both events are very popular with Loopers currently on the Loop and those planning a Great Loop adventure. AGLCA organizes these events and they are designed to allow members to mix and mingle with old friends and new members creating a unique camaraderie based upon a passion for the Great Loop. They attend seminars gaining valuable, in-depth information about the route segments and general information about boat buying and insurance, boat technology, anchoring, weather, galley organization, etc. Looper Crawls are a highlight at each Rendezvous. Loopers open their boats for touring so other attendees can learn about the Looper lifestyle onboard different types of boats.
The AGLCA assists Great Loop cruisers by sharing safety and navigational and cruising information, while providing a networking platform for Loopers through its members-only discussion forum. Boaters can exchange information about topics such as marinas, locking through, water depth, hazards, repairs, fuel prices or dinner reservations and sight seeing.
Above information provided by America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association