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America's Great Loop

by Lynn Seldon, Boating Writer

Map used with permission Raven Cove Publishing.
Map used with permission Raven Cove Publishing.

Quite simply, "America's Great Loop" just may be one of the world's great boat trips. Whether planning the trip of a lifetime encompassing the entire route (up to 6,300 miles) or just boating a portion of this classic combination of waterways (and side trips), the Great Loop provides a great way to see eastern North America from the water.

Also known as the "Great Circle Route," the Great Loop is a 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 considered one of the safest long distance cruising routes in the world. To travel all or a portion of the Great Loop, and any of its magnificent side trips, is truly an adventure of a lifetime.

The saga for most "loopers" begins in the early spring in southeastern Florida. The journey north follows the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway along the southeastern seaboard of the United States all the way up to the Chesapeake Bay — discovering charming barrier islands along the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas — with most loopers using bicycles to explore state parks and cities.

From the crab-rich Chesapeake, loopers head to Montreal by way of the historic Hudson River, exploring historic towns of immense charm and cruising by sights such as the Statue of Liberty. The St. Lawrence River carries them into the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes, although sometimes uncertain and treacherous, are a dreamland of vacation cottages, picturesque waterways, granite islands, farmland, and woods.

Once boaters reach Chicago, boating turns down south again via the Mississippi River and Tenn-Tom Waterway, then eventually into Mobile, Alabama and then into the rich, warm Gulf of Mexico. To close the Great Loop, cruisers go around the southern tip of Florida back to the same point where most of them started. Many choose to spend warm winter months exploring the amazing Okeechobee River and huge Okeechobee Lake, as well as tropical Key West and the Florida Keys. They complete the Loop somewhere on the east coast of the Sunshine State.

Those considering tackling all or part of the Great Loop absolutely need to join America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association (AGLCA). It's an organization of people who share a sense of adventure and a curiosity about America's Great Loop. It was started in 1999 by Ron and Eva Stob (authors of the great book Honey, Let's Get a Boat). It's now owned and operated by Charleston, South Carolina-based Steve and Janice Kromer.

The association's primary purpose is to disseminate information and enhance the overall experience for those who are learning about, dreaming of, and exploring America's Great Loop. AGLCA's members range from experienced Loop cruisers to boaters in the midst of looping, those planning on some day cruising the Great Loop, and some who are just simply dreaming about it.

Navigating the Great Loop, or even parts of it, requires a lot of knowledge and support. Loopers have an opportunity to attend three annual AGLCA "Rendezvous and Reunions," which are held throughout the year at destinations along the Great Loop route. The events are designed to allow mixing and mingling with old friends and new members, and sharing stories while learning valuable cruising information for the remainder of the journey.

Camaraderie among loopers and knowledge of the Great Loop are strengthened at seminars and presentations about safety and vessel safety checks. Useful looping tips and information about the waterways ahead also provide the foundation for these three-day events. AGLCA members look forward to these social gatherings for months, making plans to be at the right location at the right time. Loopers know how to have fun; especially popular is the "Looper Crawl" that takes place on members' boats during the Reunions. There are three Rendezvous and Reunions. The spring event takes place in Charleston, South Carolina and in the summer, members meet in the Canadian Great Lakes. The most popular and largest rendezvous traditionally takes place at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, Alabama.

Any time while cruising the Great Loop, AGLCA members can meet up with friends using AGLCA's new "Looper Locator" feature supported by Google Earth. The special map layers allow members to locate fellow loopers all over the Great Loop as well as businesses that provide services for boaters, including marinas, boat dealers, boat repair shops, restaurants, and hotels.

For information, visit www.greatloop.org.

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