Is there a better boating adventure than the Great Loop?
There’s something about the end of the year that conjures dreams of The Great Loop. In a complete coincidence both Bill Prince and Mike Smith use their columns this month to discuss this nautical endeavor. Bill addresses boaters that wait until retirement to tackle the loop and what the best boat to buy for that trip might be. Mike investigates how best to prepare the boat you already own for such an adventure.
A couple days after reading these stories, I was listening to my colleague Jeff Moser’s conversation with a young couple who went from being stuck in a cramped apartment in India during the onset of the pandemic (no thank you!) to tackling the loop while working. That one provided some serious day-dream fuel (if you’re a podcast fan, check it out on TrawlerTalk).
A few days later, Jeff and I were at the Connecticut Fall Boat Show where we met a reader who was researching the best boat to buy for his retirement—he’s partial to Nordhavns. He asked an interesting question. He wanted to know if he was “missing anything” if he skipped the Mississippi River portion of the loop. He liked the idea of visiting the Great Lakes but Middle America was not speaking to him.
To be honest, I’ve pondered that same question myself over the years. Navigating the middle of our country comes with navigation challenges and a significant cost; is the juice worth the squeeze?
I got closer to answering that question recently on a 100-mile jaunt aboard the new Tiara EX 60 from Holland, Michigan to Chicago. First, let me confess, I’ve always heard midwesterners say, “the Great Lakes are no joke, they’re like an ocean.” Growing up on the ocean I would smile and think, sure they are.
Well, when the forecast on our departure date called for stacked 15- to 20-foot seas on Lake Michigan; I quickly tipped my hat with a newfound respect. I told five salty colleagues about the forecast and five for five (it was uncanny), they all referenced the historic sinking of the 729-foot freighter, the Edmond Fitzgerald, on Lake Superior in 1975. It’s a tragic story that makes for fascinating (if not dark) reading. I don’t recommend digging into that Wikipedia page the night before a Great Lake crossing—don’t ask why I know.
The morning of our trip we were only in 3- to 5-foot seas but it was pitch black when we departed, which made the sudden drop off a wave feel that much more unsettling. When the first rays of light crested the tall dunes to port, it was clear to see, cruising in this part of the world is different, and different in the best way possible.
Something about country/rural living has always appealed to me. Combine that with the built-in kindness of the people living in Middle America and I always enjoy visiting.
After half a day running through choppy water, we spotted the Windy City off our bow. While I’ve flown in and out of Chicago a hundred times, I never stopped to explore the city. I would get my chance—kind of—when we nosed the 60 into downtown Chicago for an impromptu photo shoot. Tiara’s Marketing and Sales Specialist Alex Slikkers and I jumped from the boat and up the sea wall to snag photos and video. It was an unseasonably warm October afternoon. Tourists and residents alike swarmed the clean streets beneath towering skyscrapers.
I spotted theaters, restaurants and the offices of the Chicago Tribune. In total, we were on land for less than an hour, but I was hooked. I started looking into flights for Karen, Connor and I to come give this city a proper shakedown.
When I was fresh out of college, Karen and I joined my parents and family friends on a cruise up the Erie Canal, a trip that today lives in a special place in my heart. On that trip we experienced some great destinations and more than a few towns that had fallen on hard times. That trip taught me that it’s the unplanned mis-adventures that are the most interesting and it’s the people, not the places, that produce the strongest memories.
As I write this column here in Connecticut, I have a fire going and it’s raining sideways. The boat is safely tucked in and winterized in the driveway and my dreams are running wild. It’s a great feeling. I hope this issue fills you with inspiration as well.
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