Nov 13, 2017

The Truth About The Great Loop

The Great Loop has become hugely popular among boaters in recent years. When we first traveled down the US East Coast in 2007 we didn't hear the terms "Great Loop", "Looping", or "Loopers" a single time. These days it seems every boater we meet is flying the AGLCA (America's Great Loop Cruising Association) flag.

I can understand why. The Great Loop sounds like a great idea. Traveling America's waterways, seeing America by boat, most of it via protected waterways.

When I meet Loopers who are nearing the completion of their loop, I like to ask "ready to start again?" to which most of them hastily shake their head and say "oh no, not doing it again."

Why? And if it isn't enjoyable, why don't we hear more about the negatives? One theory is that Loopers don't want to admit to others or themselves that the trip sucked. Or maybe Loopers feel embarrassed that they aren't the intrepid travelers the thought they were.

If it's the latter, then it's really too bad, because in my opinion, "Looping" is going about "cruising" all wrong. Which brings me to another point. Loopers are not cruisers. Many cruisers will make a distinct point of that. When asked "are you looping?" The cruiser will reply "cruising, not looping." When I hear this reply, I become so excited that someone else "gets it!"

So here is the truth about The Great Loop:

1. It's toxic.

This actually might be a good reason to do the loop, because if more people were aware of how widespread our toxic waters are, perhaps there would be change. According to this study, Chesapeake Bay is dirtier than an unflushed toilet bowl. Deleware Bay struggles with pollution. In the Hudson River, our fun game was to count condoms. Erie canal water, gross. Chicago Sanitation canal? The name says enough, Illinois river? nope. The sad truth is that for the vast majority of the loop, going swimming means risking getting sick.

2. It's not very scenic.

This is not to say there aren't gloriously beautiful parts. Kentucky Lake is amazing. Traveling through downtown Chicago is a one of a kind experience. The North Channel in the Great Lakes is exceptional, as are the clear waters and dunes of Lake Michigan. All parts of the Loop have their beauty, but the vast majority of it is just one long boring slog. Sitting at the wheel watching mile after mile of boring, low lying shoreline go by. When you come to a pretty section where you'd like to stay awhile, the weight of distance still to go or cold weather pushes you on.
A typical ICW Shoreline
A typical Chicago-Mobile Shoreline.




3. There is no destination.

The Great Loop takes water highways and turns them into the destination. It's equivalent to saying: 'My wife and I are going to buy an RV and drive I-75 round trip. We are going to spend each night in a parking lot just off the expressway. We will visit roadside attractions and small towns along the way. No one does this because it sounds horrible. And yet, that's exactly what the Great Loop is. A road trip with no destination.

4. It burns people out.

Nearly every looper we meet is on their first "cruise". Many of them have even bought their boat specifically for doing the loop. In other words, Loopers are generally inexperienced cruisers. This is not always the case. Some people go around and around the loop. Some people are just made to move. But the rest of them get burnt out, decide boat life isn't for them, sell their boat and move into an RV. Why?

"Cruising" implies traveling, but I've found the reality to be the exact opposite. My best cruising experiences have been when we hardly travel at all. This is what people mean when they say "cruising grounds" it's an area you hang around in. Traveling on a boat is hard work. The loop is day after day of hard work. It causes wear and tear on the boat which then needs to be repaired. Those repairs are in addition to grocery shopping, laundry, and any other things you want to do while stopped. By the time it's all done, you've been in a marina for a week, have had no time to relax, and it's time to start it all over again.

How it should be done:

I'm not saying to avoid America's waterways, I'm saying to use them for what they are, water highways to awesome destinations. Pick a place you want to go and go there. I personally love the Bahamas. Perhaps you've always wanted to visit New England or the North Channel. Go for it. Use the waterways as needed. Break from the crowd, set your own course, plot your own route.














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