Size of your boat: Both Safety & Comfort is the key to being a happy Looper!
I am a frugal voyager. As such, I choose to cruise in a frugal boat - but you don't have to! I have made this voyage in vessels (both sail & power)
ranging in size from 25' to 42'. Without doubt, the larger your boat the more comfortable you will be. SO DON'T DO AS I DO - DO WHAT IS BEST FOR
YOU & YOUR 1ST MATE or CREW.
The smaller your vessel the more economical and easier to handle it will be. The larger your vessel, more expensive and difficult to handle it will be.
Larger vessels (for couples) in the area of 32 to 42 feet are about as good as it gets (at least on a reasonable budget). For retired couples who really
want to maximize their cruising comfort along the way, I suggest a recreational Trawler or Tugboat. They are easy and safe for crew to move around
both inside and on deck. This is important to keep in mind as you will (depending on the route you take) pass through over 100 Locks and dock or
anchor your vessel at least once a day. That's most likely going to result in Locking, Docking and Anchoring your vessel 500 or more times on your
voyage around America's Great Loop. So safely from bow to stern is an important feature of any 'Great Loop' vessel.
Only you know what you and your 1st Mate or capable of physically - so choose a boat that fits your best and safest capability. Vessels less than 30
feet are best for solo voyagers, backpacker types and couples that are physically fit and have good balance and are a bit more agile than the rest of
us. If any crew member has a difficult time with stairs or balance, the larger trawler or tug will be the ticket. Sailboats are great, even when motored
around. In fact, the sailboat, motored around is the most economical choice - and it is my choice - but they are not for everyone. Therefore choose
your vessel wisely.
A good Anchor System is mandatory. This will make your anchoring safer and easier. Comfort & Safety inside & out is the key to being a happy
Electric: For Safety reasons you will want and need plenty of electric capabilities. One of the biggest problems for boats with outboard motors will be
keeping your batteries properly charged in order to keep all your navigation and anchor lights burning brightly night after night, all night long. This is
easy and rather inexpensively accomplished with a properly configured system consisting of battery banks and solar panels. I have seven 12v
batteries on my sailboat. One is for starting the motor, the other six, (2 banks of 3 batteries each) are 'house batteries' used for cabin lights, navigation
lights, anchor lights, VHS, GPS, and a small 110v inverter. The solar panel keeps my batteries fully charged and all my electric amenities in good
working order. You will need to charge your phones, hand held radio & GPS as well as rechargeable laptops, etc. Don't overlook these items when
determining your electric requirements.
Obviously, power vessels with inboard engines, alternators and auxiliary generators don't require the extra help that sailboats and outboard motors
require, but whatever your type vessel, you don't want to short yourself when it comes to your electrical needs - especially if you plan to anchor out a
lot, and anchoring out is the best option you have to save thousands of dollars on this journey.
Electric with OUTBOARD MOTORS: If you are cruising in a vessel using an outboard motor, you will need extra help keeping your batteries charged.
Outboards, even the ones with a 'charge back' connection to charge your battery, simply will not be able to keep up with charging multiple batteries
and keeping your electrical systems running in good order. Note: Most GPS navigation systems will fail if not getting enough amps to keep them
running properly. So a bank of batteries with ample solar charging capability is important. Wind generators are also an option, but they can also make
considerable noise; and like anything with moving parts, can break. Solar panels have no moving parts.
Anchoring Out: We anchor out a lot. It's free and it simply saves an awful lot of money. Part of my 'frugal voyaging philosophy' is that I would rather
spend my money on more fun vs fuel. That also extends to my preference of eating out at a great restaurant vs paying $50 to dock my boat at a
marina overnight. All along the Great Loop you will find many good safe anchorages. (Skipper Bob's Anchorage Guidebooks are a great tool for this.)
You will also find fisherman that speed around all the bends, curves, anchorages and waterways as if they were in the Indy 500 - so you will want to
make sure your vessel's anchor lights are burning bright every night, night after night.
For all boats, especially sailboats, take note that the USCG required 'anchor light' can prove very inadequate in some locations when anchoring out.
Their requirement is, (in my opinion), an absolute minimum. My vessel's anchor lights (notice - lights plural) light up all four sides of my white vessel to
a point it almost glows in the dark. The anchor lights on sailboats are a single 360 degree light bulb atop a mast that typically puts them near 50 feet
above the water. They often appear as a star in the night sky to a fast approaching speed boat or fisherman whose vantage point is low on the water.
So on a dark moonless night, believe me, you will want to make sure your vessel is clearly visible.
Most Loopers will cruise at a leisurely 6 to 12 knots and will average about 50 miles a day, often stopping to see the local sights, visit a museum,
enjoy an ice cream or take a stroll along the beach or window shop their way through an attractive village. There is simply so much to see and do on
this adventure, most Loopers take a year to complete this voyage even though they will have only cruised 'on route' about 110 days. The rest of the
time, will be split between enjoying a peaceful paradise cove and visiting all the local sites and attractions.
TAKE YOUR TIME & TAKE DAYS OFF FROM CRUISING - I know, it sounds odd to say you want to take days off from boating when we are all
accustom to taking days off work to go cruising. Fact is however, cruising 7 days a week will cause fatigue, stress, and if you keep it up long enough
those manatees will start looking like mermaids. Plan on taking days off from cruising! I very seldom cruise more than 5 days a week. I plan my voyage
to be safely docked in a Marina on weekends at a location where I can take care of provisions and laundry, as well as visit interesting local places and
sights. I've stayed in some places an entire week, I've stayed in many others for a long weekend. The point is, plan your cruise to take advantage of
the places you want to visit. Also plan on stumbling across some places you didn't know existed - where when you get there, you will for sure want to
stay awhile. You need a schedule. . . but you also need to keep it about as firm as butter in the Tropics!
All is not bliss! Careful planning ahead is a must for a wonderful cruise. Not only should you plan your entire route and voyage in advance, but you
need to plan each day's voyage in advance. Channel Markers are all along the way. They not only show up on your GPS, they are on the waterways.
These Markers indicate channels, waterways, and will most often indicate the deepest safest entrances into Marinas and other services. Often,
especially on the Gulf & Atlantic ICWs, it is not a safe or good idea to vary from the marked channel as the water can be very shallow. For example,
this past year we crossed Lake Okeechobee when it was down to 6 feet. While that was fine for us with a 30" draft, fact is, this is a massive lake
(largest in USA after the Great Lakes), and looking at it, one would never believe it to be so shallow. Same is true with Albemarle Sound - this is also a
vast open waterway that appears deep, but is so shallow one can really get in trouble fast by not following the marked channel.
The above is reason why you always need to plan your day, along with an emergency plan and knowing your options. It is illegal to anchor in marked
navigational channel. Additionally, one can't simply decide to turn off the channel and anchor just anywhere. In many cases, the water depth just a few
feet away from the channel may only be a foot or two deep. If you anchor (as example) in 4 feet of water at high tide where there is a 3 foot tidal
change in the water's depth, you will find yourself hard aground and leaning over. (Which can result in a real costly disaster as well as a fuel spill.) So,
it is imperative you plan each day's run with your next stop firmly, safely in mind and know what your options are along the way. This is one voyage
where you don't ever want to run out of daylight without first being safely docked or anchored.
YOU WILL NEED MORE THAN JUST A BOAT. . .
Without doubt, one of the most frequent comments made by first time 'Loopers' is they wished they had planned more time, stopped more places, taken
more detours and seen more sights. In fact many first time Loopers are discussing what they would do different and where they would go and linger
longer on their 2nd voyage long before their first voyage is half over.
Cruising America's Great Loop is much more than just a boat ride.
If you want to get the very most you possibly can out of this voyage, take time to review all the wonderful destinations and sights along the way. This will
bless you with some truly magnificent and memorable 'on shore' experiences.
Having spent the best part of the last 25 years cruising America's Great Loop, the following are some of my sincerest, and I believe most important,
things you should know and be aware of to make your voyage around the Loop the safest most comfortable and enjoyable experience it can be.
Note however, our suggestions are just that - "suggestions" - food for thought, things to consider. In order to be a happy Looper, you must be safe and
comfortable. You also must maintain your lifestyle and remain in your comfort zone. That means it must be your boat, your voyage, your adventure and
accomplished your way.
SHADE: Shade falls hand in hand with cool and comfort in the cockpit when cruising. I simply can not emphasize enough the importance of a good
strong large Bimini top. You will want one that provides as much shade as you can possibly get. For the most part, if you cruise the Loop by the
recommended seasons, you will be cruising in about 95% good weather. It will be the sun much more than the rain that can make your stay at the helm
absolutely miserable. When cruising, the breeze in the shade under a good Bimini will be quite comfortable.
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