The Great Loop: Couple Completes Adventure Around East Coast

January 11, 2019 12:37 pm

Think of the eastern half of the United States as an island, one that’s circumnavigable by water as you head north along the shores of the Atlantic, across the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s the essence of the Great Loop, a sort of sacred adventure hundreds of boaters endeavor each year as they depart from any point along the way and ultimately cross their own wakes roughly 6,000 miles later.

47' Grand Banks Voyager 47′ Grand Banks Europa [VOYAGER]

Maureen and Mike Sabbagh bought their 47′ Grand Banks Europa known as VOYAGER specifically for the trip, joining this growing legion of Loopers (as they sometimes call themselves) when the couple left the docks in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year and cruised north with longtime friends Ken and Carol Schryver, as well as the Sabbagh’s Minature Schnauzer, Fonzie.

“He was part of the crew,” Mike said proudly during a recent phone call from his home in North Carolina. Made up of mostly retirees traveling as couples, on board boats affectionately given names like LIVING LIFE and LAST CHANCE, the culture coalesces around the A.G.L.C.A. — America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association — a club and online forum for all things Great Loop.

“We’ve been up and down the East Coast a number of times,” Mike continued. “And we decided to do the whole thing again.”

Great Loop Cruise Adventure Atlantic City

Mike and company wanted to savor the trek this time around, so they decided to take it easy, stretching their journey out over the course of seven months while enjoying the sights along the way. 

The group definitely hit many of the popular spots, traveling through the Chesapeake Bay, along the Jersey Shore and Atlantic Ocean to New York Harbor, up the Hudson River (featuring a stellar view of the Big Apple), on to the Erie Canal headed for Lake Ontario, with a stop in the unique Thousand Island area of the Saint Lawrence River, before rounding the mitten at Mackinac Island and cruising south to Lake Michigan, which carried them into Chicago. From there, they passed through a chute of widening waters, including the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

In this day and age, it’s a different kind of travel or even living, an inching gently forward without the typical hassles of a rigorous schedule. Indeed, there’s something appealing about condensing your life into a space in which you can see everything at once: your bed, the sun, your spouse, your next meal, your route marked on the map, the fuel left in the tank. Speaking of fuel, the VOYAGER burned through 4,800 gallons of diesel during the trek, adding 610 hours to her engines.

Great Loop Cruise Adventure Mackinac Island

But like most extended passages, this one wasn’t void of a hairy situation here and there. In addition to encountering rough seas on the Chesapeake Bay, they found themselves staring down the force of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, the strongest storm on record to have ever hit the region. Months later, portions of the Panhandle are still scrambling to recover. 

“When you think about the 70-80 boats that were completely lost, we were just so fortunate,” Mike remembered. “All we had were a couple of scratches and, well, we lost our Bimini top.”

Great Loop Cruise Adventure Chicago River

Besides unpredictable weather, the array of challenges along the Great Loop includes busy ports, heavy commercial traffic, especially in the Mississippi, changing seasons, scheduled bridge/canal openings and inevitable equipment failure. On the whole, however, the Sabbaghs, Schryvers + Fonzie managed the trip in fine form, tackling 50 miles a day at roughly 16 knots and navigating their way through golden marshlands, lush riverside forests, vast lakes and bays, storied rivers and dazzling city centers.

It’s often referred to as a “journey of a lifetime.” Mike seemed to agree, recalling the sights, the sounds, the entire experience and summing it up into a single yet enduring reflection. 

“We don’t regret doing it,” he said. “It’s a bucket list item.”

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