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LIVING ABOARD & CRUISING

     Living aboard & cruising is a marvelous way of life, for most of us anyway! It does however, require a serious amount of adjustment
and compromises compared to living in a 3,000-square foot home. Many Loopers that set out to make this voyage the first time, never imagined they
would love it so much, they would do it again. Some, have even made it a permanent way of life. We know of one couple that have made all or part of
this voyage 38-times. We are not exactly sure just how many Loopers love it so much they can't stop "Looping", but you don't have to spend a whole
lot of time on America's Great Loop Association's "Forum" to get a good idea there are many doing this on a full-time basis.
     One thing to note here is there is a huge difference between those of us that live on their boat for the purpose of 'travel & adventure' vs those
that live on their boat for a other reasons. Many Americans (over 110,000, according to the US Census) list their boat as their primary residence.
Most of them don't go anywhere. Which, with a paid for boat in the right location, can be an extremely frugal yet envied lifestyle. It just goes to show
you that some of us view our vessel as our "home on the water", while others seeking travel & adventure, view our boat as "transportation &
lodging". The difference between the two, is substantial in terms of size, comfort, amenities, and the ongoing and forever cost of cruising and
ownership. It makes a big difference in the type & size boat we should select.
     Believe us, cruising long-distance, and living aboard, are not the same. They are totally two different things. They require totally two different
boats. What is good for one is detrimental to the other. No matter what boat you buy in your attempt to do both, the result will be, you will end up with
the very best of neither. Many of us have been through that exercise already.

FREEDOM & COMFORT:
    Like it or not, "money" plays a huge role in our freedom as well as our comfort. When cruising America's Great Loop, your comfort level must be
both physical as well as financial. Your freedom includes how you want to spend your money. It also includes the freedom to chose the places you
want to go and the things you want to do when you get there. Other than safety, the biggest single difference between cruising the Great Loop vs
crossing an ocean, is the Great Loop presents you with delicious daily temptations to stop, shop, stay and linger. So much so, many Loopers report
food, beverages, eating out, and being a tourist are their #1 expense item of their total cost of cruising the Loop. It certainly is mine, and if there is a
financial warning to Loopers, this is it.
     Of course, how you 'want' to spend your money is a personal preference. My "More Fun than Fuel" philosophy is based on being able to spend
the bulk of my "Cruising Kitty" on myself, having fun, eating out, and being a tourist along the way, rather than pouring it down my fuel tank(s) and
giving the Lion's share of it to stay overnight at Marinas. In my case, I simply cannot afford to do both.
     If you are one that can afford to do both, great for you! If on the other hand, you don't have $75,000 or more left over after you purchase your
boat to cruise the Loop, you should consider a smaller, slower, more fuel efficient vessel, so that you too can spend the bulk of your "Cruising Kitty"
doing the things that make you a happy camper.
     Just assume for a moment, you are a couple cruising together with a "Cruising Kitty" budget of $50,000 for spending an entire year cruising
America's Great Loop. Now, question is, how do you want to spend it? According to the USDA, a couple on a 'liberal' food budget will spend $610 a
month on groceries. So, let's factor that off the budget right away. We all have to eat. Now ($50,000 - $610 for 12 months = $42,680
If you cruise the Loop on my "More Fun than Fuel" philosophy, chances are your total "boat, fuel & boat related" expenses will be something near or
less than $15-to $20,000. That of course, leaves us with $25-$30,000 to spend on ourselves having fun, eating out and being a tourist all along the
way.
     A few Loopers are cruising the Loop in what many of us would think is their "dream boat". Those with 45-foot plus size 'go fast' vessels will spend
$25,000 in fuel and another $25,000 to stay in a marina most every night. That's great, but it is also a great expense. One that frequently results in
the couple drastically curtailing their expenses ashore. Some of them no doubt would rather remain on their boat and are quite happy to do so.
That's great as well.
    It's not that one is right and one is wrong, it is simply a matter of how you want and chose to spend your money.   
     We spend a great deal more money having fun ashore along the way than we do on our "boat & boat related" expenses. We have complete
freedom to choose what we want to do and where we want to go all along the way. And that's the whole point. . .
     As incredible and amazing as this voyage is, it is far more than a boat ride. It is much like taking Route 66 from one end to the other. It is filled
with tempting places and destinations where you will want to stop, shop, stay and linger. . . And of course, spend money. So, be prepared!     
CAUTION - DON'T PUSH THINGS TO THE LIMIT:

     We caution everyone not to push things to the limit. That not only goes for your budget, it also pertains to your vessel. Pushing everything to the
limit often creates more problems than it is worth.
     Let's take for example, that 19' 6" bridge south of Chicago we ALL must go under. We have seen large trawlers with very nice custom built Bimini
Tops on the Fly Bridge, that left themselves with only a few inches clearance. Only to discover then they get there, the water levels are a few inches
higher than the charted normal MLW levels. The result? Having to dismantle it or wait until the water recedes. We also seen more than one have their
Bimini top and Radar masts ripped off. One common cause for this when your clearance is pushed to the maximum is that even a small wave or wake
from another boat can raise your boat a few inches. We seen the results of vessels while under the bridge, being pushed up just enough for the
Bimini to snag the bridge. When that happens, normally in a matter of seconds, not only is the Bimini top been ripped off, it takes the frame as well as
the radar and antenna mast with it.
     Similar potential disasters await those that push their finances for this voyage to the limit. It simply has a way of taking the fun and enjoyment out
of the entire experience. You want to make sure you leave plenty of play room for any and all unexpected daily delights.
Marinas:
     Not all Marinas are alike. We have “Looping Standards”. As such, experience has taught us to always look for and stay in the safest, cleanest
marinas when possible and our selected route takes full advantage of this. In some cases, we don’t always have a choice but to anchor out or stay
in the only marina in the area. However, when a choice is available, you can rest assured we always stay in the best marina with the best facilities
and amenities for the money. We look for Marinas based on the following:
WiFi & Internet Connection:
     We always stay in marinas offering free WiFi where available.
Shore Power Plug-ins:
     One of the big advantages of staying in a marina is your boat can be plugged in to shore power. Most every marina offers 30-amp and 50-amp
service. Some offer 100-amp service. With very few exceptions, it will come with an additional fee. Typically, in addition to your per length foot slip
or dock fee, 30-amp service will run $5 per night, 50-amp service will be $10 a night and 100-amp service will be $20 or $25 a night. Water in the
US & Canada is free.
Laundry Facilities:
     Most every single marina that accepts transient boaters, (meaning Loopers and others just traveling through), will have laundry facilities. Most
all of them will be coin operated. Only a very few will be free. So, you will need laundry soap & dryer sheets and lots of quarters.
Nice, clean, safe Bathrooms/Showers:
     Our Looping standards demand nice, clean, safe Bathrooms and Showers. While we mention the tiny all in one bathroom/showers on most
boats, fact is, most of us will wait to use the Showers at a Marina. Why? Because unlike your boat, a Marina will have unlimited hot water, and
nothing beats feeling clean than a long hot shower. So, in fact, that “all in one tiny head/shower combo on your otherwise perfect boat, may not be
such a big issue after all. We seldom use the shower on our boat.
Walking Distance:
This is a big one. We always select marinas with restaurants and interesting sights to see and things to do within walking distance over those that
don’t.
Courtesy Cars & Free Shuttles:
     We love marinas that offer this service and they always get our business.
Good Docks & Dock carts:
      We always prefer marinas with good docks and floating docks in tidal waters, over rundown or unsafe docks. Now and then, we all need to
replenish our provisions and a marina with good docks and carts to carry our provisions out to the boat is always welcome.
Picnic areas & BBQ grills:
     They always get a thumbs up as well. Not only is it nice to get off the boat and meet other Loopers and a few natives; it is a great chance to
stretch your legs and cook without making a mess on your boat. Lots of marinas provide nice covered picnic areas with tables and barbeque grills.
Security:
     While a few “Yacht Clubs” have armed guards, we seldom stay in a "Yacht Club". Some Marina's however come very near being a Yacht Club
at half the price. We love them. We look for fenced and well-lit marinas and prefer marinas with 24/7 staff on site.
Fuel Docks:
     Not all marinas sell both gasoline & diesel. As confusing as it may be, a few marinas will only sell gasoline, while a few others will only sell diesel.
So you want to make sure the marina you are headed to sells the type fuel you need.
Pump-Out Service:
     Cruising America’s Great Loop, living on board your boat and using the toilet, you are not allowed to flush your waste overboard anywhere!
Instead, the boat will have a special “holding tank” that will store your waste until you can have it pumped out. Most marinas have “pump-out
stations” that are often located near the fuel dock. Some marinas will have pump-out equipment that they can bring directly to the boat. Either way,
you will need to keep your waste water holding tank pumped out.
Fresh (potable) water:
     Every live aboard size boat will have a fresh water holding tank. It will never be large enough, and if you are not extremely conservative, you will
be stopping more often for water than you will for fuel. To make sure your water is fresh, clean and doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth or
coffee, we suggest you clean it out with the appropriate safe disinfectant solution made for doing so. We also strongly suggest you install a water
filter. We have three water filters. One in the fill line, one exiting our holding tank and one at the sink.
     Your vessel will have a “Water” fill cap on deck. For this, we strongly recommend you purchase an O-ring seal to fit on your filler cap. Most
boats don’t have one as most vessels rely on the threads to keep water out. The threads alone, don’t always prevent bad, brackish or salt water
out of your fresh water tank. Furthermore, you should always use “your own” hose to fill up your fresh water tank. You just never know when the
last person to use the Marina’s hose shoved it all the way down his waste water fill line to rinse out his waste water holding tank. Ugh!

MARINA FEES
    Some Loopers choose to stay in marinas every night they possibly can. Some choose to anchor out every night they possibly can. With few
exceptions such as buying provisions, using marina facilities for showers and laundry, and taking time off the boat for being a tourist, you will almost
always have a choice.
     Some of us simply ‘budget’ our Marina expenses to set a fixed number of times we stay in a marina. I always stay at free docks and lock walls at
about 40 locations along the way. I also budget 50% of my nights on the Loop in Marinas. I anchor out the rest of the time. Weekends are the best
time to plan being in a marina, as that’s when all the ‘crazies’ are out on the water.  
     Those Loopers with dogs, will end up staying in a marina most every night they possibly can. In many places (alligators, location, etc.) it simply
will not be easy or safe to get your dog on shore when anchoring out.
So, when planning your budget, keep in mind, Marina fees can make a really huge difference in your Looping expenses.

DINGHY
     There are FREE Dinghy docks all around the Great Loop. Cities, Municipalities, Restaurants, Parks, and most Marinas offer free dinghy docks.
Most likely, if you buy a dinghy and use it, especially if you are anchoring out a lot, what you save using free Dinghy docks will more than pay for
your dinghy. If you are taking your pet dog along for this ride, a hard bottom dinghy is almost mandatory.

LARGE BIMINI
     The #1 reason we love our ‘large strong Bimini top’ is NOT for staying dry when it rains, but to stay cool and out of the sun. We suggest as
large and strong a Bimini top with both canvass and netting for full & complete enclosure to protect you at the helm and any crew in the cockpit.
This is an absolute must if your vessel is not equipped with an inside helm. You will need to protect yourself from all the elements – and all the
elements include; the very hot sun, which indeed will bake you like a potato.
     If you only have one helm, and that helm is outside (as in a sailboat) – you will want and need a full Bimini top and enclosure. It needs to be
strong and your enclosure should include both canvass and netting. The netting needs to be “No See-Um” proof. Before your voyage is over –
chances are, you and your vessel will be attacked by various types of flying, swarming critters that include the meanest most ferocious mosquitoes,
No See-Ums, and  black flies. Be prepared!
There is more to see in this picture then you think.
Take a good long look!
     More than half your total adventure around America's Great Loop will look similar to this. Whether you take the Trent Severn through Canada or
the full length of the Erie Canal much of your journey will be this close to shore. We also have the Tennessee Tombigbee, the Dismal Swamp Canal,
and the Inland Rivers. Additionally we have the Gulf & Atlantic ICW. While some of the rivers are much wider and some of the Bays, Sounds and
Lakes are huge, only in a few locations are we ever very far from shore, other people, safe anchorages or marinas, and in fact, great destinations
where you will want to stop, shop, stay and linger.
The life continued:
How much safer can this voyage be?