Post # 57: SO OUR JOURNEY HAS ENDED….Day 409, June 13, 2015: On Board: Tom McNichol, Hank Koningisor, Paul Coates, Pat Coates, Jenny Koningisor, Dave Luciano, Jake Mycofsky, Red Southerton, Bill Burke, Jack Kelly, Mary Chevalier, Bob Hall, Louise Bombardieri, Jim K.
So our journey has ended. What did it all mean? What did I learn? Undoubtedly those questions can only be answered when the trip can be viewed through the prism of time. But here are a few random thoughts:
First, my faith in people has been re-nourished. Virtually everyone we met, both on and off the water, was friendly, went out of their way to help us if we needed it, and added positively to our experience. I wondered how we might be received in areas stereotyped as “Deliverance country” – Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi – especially since my hair and beard were out of control by that time. The people could not have been friendlier, even when we stopped in local “redneck” bars for a meal or a beer.
Second, rural America is unique and more than worthy of exploration. In order to have a balanced perspective on this diverse country of ours, one must venture out of the urban areas and into the truly rural outposts that make up the vast geographic majority of our land mass. There is no better way to do it than via the huge system of navigable waterways – doing so takes you to places you would never otherwise go – river towns, farm towns, and some of the forgotten backwaters of our country – all have their own unique story to tell.
Third, our country is astoundingly beautiful. I rode a bicycle across the country with my daughter Jenny about 10 years ago, and we experienced incredible scenery which included mountains, deserts, plains, and forests. However, the scenery along the oceans, bays, estuaries, lakes, rivers, and canals is incomparable. The sunsets and sunrises reflecting of the water and the marshlands are like no other.
Lastly, boating is a unique, fun, exhilarating, and challenging pastime. The water can be unforgiving and must be respected every minute, but the rewards make it more than worthwhile. Except for bluewater sailing, the Great Loop includes every type of boating environment imaginable – open oceans, bays, estuaries, rivers, lakes, canals, locks. It also includes virtually every type of boating challenge imaginable – navigation, wind, river currents, tidal currents, fog, narrow channels, shallow water, shoals, obstructions, debris, docking, undocking, anchoring, tight maneuvering. However, in part, that’s what makes the Great Loop so alluring and exciting. Most of it is in protected waters, and it is quite manageable by taking one day at a time and making smart decisions regarding weather and local conditions.
So – on to some statistics regarding our Great Loop voyage:
We passed through 20 states and two other countries – (three if you count Key West, which at times felt like another world…).
A total of 45 friends and family rode on the Joint Adventure for a portion of the trip – of those, 15 people were on for multiple segments, including Paul who was on for 2/3 of the voyage and was a wonderful shipmate – I couldn’t have done the trip without him. Four other people joined the trip 4 different times. While managing the trip in this way added to the complexity and required us to maintain somewhat of a schedule, the rewards of sharing the experience and of having so many close friends on board with us enriched the experience immeasurably. Surprisingly, we never missed a rendezvous point during the entire trip.
We traveled well over 7,000 miles – 7,427 to be exact. Incredibly, we averaged just shy of 5 miles per gallon of diesel fuel – amazing mileage for a 34′ cruiser with twin diesels. We used a total of 1544 gallons of fuel, which cost a total of $6,520 – not bad for 13 1/2 months of cruising, especially when the cost is divided among those on board at any given time. The highest price we paid was $6.06 per US gallon in Canada, while the lowest was $2.80/gallon in Norfolk, Va.
We navigated through a total of 144 locks of all sizes and shapes – these included two “lift locks” (in which the entire chamber of water – like a giant aquarium with the boat in it – is raised or lowered), one marine railway (in which the boat is lifted out of the water and travels up or down on a platform on rails), commercial locks built for oceangoing vessels (such as on the St. Lawrence Seaway), and tiny, historic locks built in the 1800’s in which the Joint Adventure barely fit. The change in elevation by each lock ranged from 2 feet to 7 stories.
Various people have asked what area we liked best, and what were our scariest times. The first question is very hard – certainly there is no place like the Bahamas, so I would have to rate that first. A close second would be Canada – the Chambly Canal, the Tent Severn Waterway, the Rideau Canal, Georgian Bay, and the North Channel are all recognized as some of the best cruising areas in the world. The eastern shore of Lake Michigan – with its enormous sand dunes, wonderful freshwater beaches, and unique harbors and towns – was especially interesting and fun. The “Big Bend” of Florida (the curved part that transitions from the panhandle to the Peninsula) was also really interesting, with its rural towns, wild rivers, and wildlife – swimming with manatees in the wild in Crystal River was certainly a highlight. The Florida Keys are also fun and unique, and of course Key West is in a class by itself.
Unquestionably our scariest moments were the 250 miles we traveled on the Mississippi, when the water had just risen 20 feet above normal due to heavy rains 150 miles upriver. We literally ran a slalom course dodging debris including entire trees rushing down the river in 5-6 knot currents. The scariest moment was when a red buoy up ahead of us suddenly disappeared, sucked under by the current, only to pop back up violently as we passed by it. A 600′ long commercial tow that we were passing at the time hailed me on the radio to warn me. For a variety of reasons, we chose to start down the Mississippi the day the river peaked. The next day, a tugboat got turned sideways in the river, swamped, and sank. The tree crewmen were rescued, but the river was closed for a day or so while they tried to locate the sunken tug in the opaque, muddy water.
Other moments that grabbed our full attention were shoals and shallow areas, often unmarked, particularly in the ICW in the Low Country of Georgia and South Carolina and in the New Jersey ICW. However, whenever it seemed prudent, we planned our transit through shallow areas or areas prone to shoaling during high tide cycles. We did not run aground the entire trip, in part due to our choice of a shallow-draft boat for this trip (it is still fairly easy to run aground – you just have to work a little harder at it…). The shallow draft allowed us to go places where other boats couldn’t or wouldn’t go.
So here are some pictures from our final run from Hull, Ma. through Boston Harbor and to our permanent dockage on the Charles River in Cambridge:
So our journey has ended, and along with it the Great Loop Adventure blog. My goal was to try to share the experience as best I could with those who might be interested in following the voyage. My challenge now is to transition back to real life – YIKES!!!