Some people dream about it. Others seize the wheel and do it. America’s Great Loop is a unique venue that encompasses the eastern third of the United States, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. Experiencing all or part of the Loop is a bucket-list goal for numerous power cruising enthusiasts. Passagemaker found several families for whom the Loop has played a central role in their boating lives. They’ve done, or are in the process of doing, the Loop in different iterations on different types of boats. Here, they share the joys, challenges and tribulations they encountered along the track. We hope their experiences and insights inspire you to cast off on a Great Loop adventure of your own.
The Gubler Family: Room To Move
Crew: Rene Gubler and Rosmarie Gubler-Schaub
Ages: Rene 74, Rosmarie 67
Home Port: Pfäffikon, Schwyz in Switzerland and Cape Coral in Florida
Boat: 2003 Marlow Explorer 65C Blue Rosy V (bought in 2010)
Cruising experience prior to Loop
Fifty-five years of boating and sailing in the Mediterranean and in the Caribbean; down the Rhine River and over to London and back; down the Rhone River to France, Barcelona and further to Marbella in Spain; from Mallorca to Valencia; up the Moselle river in Germany; Croatia; St. Martin, St. Barths, Martinique and St. Lucia.
Stämpfli waterski boat, then a Princess 32, afterwards a steel De Groot 40, then, since 1998, an Altena 55, all of them in Switzerland. We have Sea Ray 270 SLX in Florida in front of our house, and then the Marlow.
Length of Loop trip in months and miles
We spent three to four months each year during three years on the Loop, traveling back and forth between the United States and Canada, and Switzerland. Total cruising miles in life are about 25,000 or more, including the Loop, which was about 10,000 miles including the Bahamas.
The Great Loop took us around Florida to the Bahamas, back to the Atlantic coast of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, up to New York, the Hudson River to Waterford, New York, and to the Trent-Severn Waterway, Georgian Bay in Canada, Lake Huron, Sault Ste. Marie and Cheboygan in Michigan, Lake Michigan’s east side, Chicago, the Calumet River in Illinois, the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, New Orleans, Mobile in Alabama, Carrabelle in Florida, Government Cut in Miami (almost too narrow for us at night), and then in Florida, Clearwater, Tampa, Sarasota and back to Cape Coral.
How did you decide to do the Loop?
I’m reading about five different boating magazines and was always interested in traveling. A report in the Marlow magazine about the Loop showed me that it would be possible to do it with our big boat. Sales manager Bill Thomas of Marlow gave us a lot of tips. Through the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, I got a lot of further information about the Loop, so we decided to do it.
How long did the idea gestate?
About three years.
What made you choose the boat you did the trip on?
We have a Dutch trawler here in Switzerland, the Altena. She has a lot of space on three decks. We wanted a boat even a bit bigger for a long trip and ended at over 60 feet. We checked many boats on the market, but I always said the Marlow is better. After three years, Rosmarie told me, “Either you stop looking at boats and buy a Marlow, or I will not join you any more looking at boats to buy.” We especially like the two keels of the Marlow that protect the running gear. And as the Marlow has a foam core, she’s never had a blister. Normally, she stays at the River Forest Yachting Center in LaBelle, Florida, during summer, and on the Loop she stayed in the Atlantic Yacht Basin, Chesapeake and at Walstrom Marine in Cheboygan during winter (very good places and a third of the prices of Florida). The Marlow 65 is a very spacious boat, and with the two CATs and the bow and stern thrusters, she is very easy to handle by the two of us. We normally travel at 9 knots. The boat is very stable, which is important to us. We still have our Blue Rosy; she is waiting for us at the River Forest Yachting Center in LaBelle.
You and Rosmarie did the Loop in a boat larger than most. What accommodations did you have to make for the tight spots? Were there places you couldn’t access?
With our beam of 18 feet, 4 inches and an LOA of 65 feet, 10 inches (in fact it’s 72 feet, what the marinas in Key West, Florida, detected for her bill), we sometimes had to stay on the T-dock, but we didn’t have a lot of problems in the marinas. There were some bridges that were more frightening; we often asked ourselves if we could pass them. With bridge clearance of 19 feet, we could not travel further up the Hudson River to Lake Champlain and to Montreal, and we unfortunately had to stay outside of the city of Chicago. The size of the boat needed some extra planning, which is doable, like looking at the water height, and checking the locks and conditions. A smaller boat would have some advantages, but as we still are working, we like to have enough space. And besides, we could master all the critical situations due to good conditions and good luck.
What modifications did you make to your boat for the Loop?
Marlow changed the radar to a good-looking support so we can lower it. We left the two radomes at home. Next time, we would leave the stabilizers at home as well. We did not really need them and have been afraid to lose them on some critical shallow passages. Fortunately, we never hit anything with them. Then we enclosed the flybridge and added some shade on the aft deck.
How did you plan your route?
There was a report on the Loop in the Marlow magazine, and Bill Thomas helped us a lot. Then of course I read all the reports on the website of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, and during the travel we spoke to a lot of other Loopers and emailed each other. We had three different chart systems. The Navionics (the best, a lot of details), then Garmin on the plotter and C-Map on a laptop.
Did you follow your plan?
The only plan we had was to go around and do the Loop. We never had a target for the day. We normally traveled six to eight hours a day and then went to a marina or anchored. We like to stay outside, but with our dog, it was always a big thing to lower the dinghy and go ashore with him. Besides, there was the danger of bears and other animals. We stayed almost three months in Midland and found a lot of friends there and on the islands around. The Great Lakes are very impressive.
What would you recommend to anyone considering the trip?
Do it. It is a big and great adventure. At the end of your life, you will have a lot of wonderful memories. But take your time and do some research, speak to Loopers and try to get some knowledge.
What were the most valuable lessons you learned?
You can do the Loop with almost every boat. If you have a seaworthy boat, your travel will be easier. It is important to prepare your trip, have a good eye on the weather forecast and not to try to get too far in one day, as you want to be able to take your time to find a good anchor spot or a marina with space. As for the crew, you get to know each other very well and you realize on whom you can rely.
Is the Loop a one-time deal, or will you do the whole thing or parts of it again?
I would like to do it again and again and again. The life on the Loop is completely different from the life we have at home. It’s easier and has more great impressions and friends from all over the world with one word: freedom.
What would you tell people to avoid?
Be careful with repair orders in marinas. They can cost you a lot of money, and you risk that the work is not done well. Our hydraulic crane was repaired three times, and only after the last repair in the Chesapeake was it working. Also, don’t risk anything. Work like an airline captain. Always have a plan B. Check the weather, check the dock in the marina, know when bad weather is coming. In the Roberta Bondar marina in Sault Ste. Marie (on the Canadian side), I had to fix the steel dock with several lines at 3 o’clock in the morning because the 40-plus-knot wind moved the boat and pier around. There were rocks behind. I will never stay at a dock like this again.
Trawler Talk Podcast: The Great Loop
In this episode, special guest Kim Russo (AGLCA) shares her “local knowledge” about the Great Loop and how to make this bucket-list item a reality. LISTEN NOW!