Cruising
America's Great Loop
      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 frugal and easier to handle it will be. The larger your vessel, the more comfortable yet 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 Trawler, Tugboat or other 'powered' cruising vessel might
be in your future. They are also easier (and safer) 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 400 or more times on your voyage around America's Great Loop. So getting safely from bow to stern is
an important feature of a '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, 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 power) vessel will be the ticket. Sailboats are great, even when
motored around they will be your most economical choice. However, they also have rigging that can make getting around on deck a bit more
cumbersome. Therefore choose your vessel wisely. Look to maximize clear and uncluttered deck space.
      A good
Anchor Windless System is highly recommended for both singles and retired couples. This will make your anchoring safer and easier.
Comfort & Safety inside & out is the key to being a happy voyager.

      Electric: For Safety reasons you will want and need plenty of electric capabilities. One of the biggest problems for sailboats as well as 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 five 12v batteries on my sailboat. One is for starting the motor, the other four 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.
      
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. I suggest you don't turn it into one. If you do, you will
miss out on what the voyage is really all about. True, there are some that have made this voyage a rather fast & furious
journey and if you are out for just a fast boating adventure, it is a great one indeed. If however, you want to get the very most
you possibly can out of this voyage, taking the time to research all the wonderful sights along the way will bless you with some
truly magnificent and memorable 'on shore' experiences.
      Having spent the best part of the last 20 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.
       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.  
On the next few pages, you will learn all about what to expect when
cruising America's Great Loop. We show & tell you about the routes you can
take and the boat you need. In doing so, we separate the truths from the
myths, and show you how to make this dream come true, by fitting it into your
lifestyle, philosophy, and your pocketbook.
So let's get started. For the "Scoop on the Loop" . . .  click NEXT
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HERE ARE A FEW TIPS & SUGGESTIONS
You will also learn about boat requirements, fuel requirements, distances between fuel stops,
and what you will need to make this wonderful journey - a safe, comfortable and most enjoyable adventure -
even on a very frugal budget.
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