The Great Loop has grown in popularity over the years because it offers a challenging but relatively protected cruising experience. The American Great Loop Cruising Association (AGLCA) started in 1999 as a sign-up sheet for a simple newsletter for members interested in cruising the Great Loop. Today, the AGLCA is a membership-driven organization for veteran loopers, first-timers, and those who dream of some day embarking on such an adventure.
Kim Russo is the Executive Director of the AGLCA and often presents on the Great Loop at TrawlerFest events. We asked her some questions about the Great Loop for those who might be pondering the journey.
Over the past several years, the Great Loop has started to get more attention from boaters. What do you think makes the Great Loop particularly attractive?
The Great Loop has been called “North America’s last great adventure.” I think it’s attractive to boaters because it involves cruising in new and different places each day, yet still offers the familiarity of being close to home. Since the route is mostly done on inland waterways, you’re never out there alone and you can stop at any time for a trip home. For many, it’s an achievable adventure and a challenge, but not a risk.
What is the most frequently asked question from first-timer Loopers?
By far, the most frequently asked question is, “What’s the best boat for the Great Loop?” Unfortunately, there’s no specific answer because the ideal boat for the Great Loop is a very personal choice. The route has been done on everything from a dinghy to a 70-foot yacht and just about everything in between that floats. Traditionally, many have opted to do the Great Loop on the smallest boat they can be comfortable aboard so they can explore all the nooks and crannies on the waterways and handle the boat more easily in unfamiliar waters. But I’ve seen a recent trend toward bigger boats on the Loop. I think people are opting for a higher level of comfort while “Looping” than they did in the past. While each person’s ideal boat is different, there are some restrictions on the boat you choose. You have to have an air draft lower than 19’ to clear the bridges along the Great Loop route. It’s also best to have a draft of 5’ or less so that you can navigate some of the shallower waters along the Loop. And, your boat will need to have a range of at least 200 miles.
What is the best piece of advice you have for people planning to embark on the Great Loop?
There is no right or wrong way to do the Great Loop, so my advice is to make it your own adventure. Don’t let someone tell you that you must do it aboard a trawler, in one year, and with a significant other. We’re seeing more families doing the Loop, more people single-handing, more twenty-somethings. We’re seeing people do this in as quickly as a few months and as slowly as several years. There are more variations of boats on the Loop, including more motoryachts, more trailerable boats, and even some kayaks and paddleboards. It can be done on a tight budget with a fuel-efficient boat and lots of anchoring out. Or it can be done staying at high-end marinas most nights aboard your dream boat. We encourage everyone to do the Great Loop in a way that they find comfortable and enjoyable.
There are many ways to complete the Loop. Which is most popular? What are the differences between the options?
There are a few areas where you have a choice of routes. The biggest choice you’ll have to make along the way is how you’ll enter the Great Lakes. The decision point is at Waterford, New York, at the start of the Erie Canal. You can take the Erie Canal to the Oswego Canal into Lake Ontario and continue toward Canada that way, often arriving at Kingston, Ontario. However, if you can clear 15’ (air draft), you can alternatively take the Erie Canal all the way to Lake Erie. This route is popular if you’re staying in the U.S. From Lake Erie, you can continue past Detroit and cruise Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Finally, if you can clear 17’, a third option is to continue on the Hudson River, cruise through Lake Champlain, and enter Canada via the Richelieu Canal, which connects to the St. Lawrence River. From there you can head to Lake Ontario to continue the trip. This route takes you through some of Canada’s historic cities like Montreal, and, depending on the route you choose to get back to Lake Ontario, Ottawa is a possibility.
I know that those who complete the Great Loop can get a burgee to mark their accomplishment, with the Platinum Burgee reserved for those who have completed multiple loops. How many “Multi-Loopers” does the Great Loop Cruisers Association have? Who has completed the most number of loops?
All Loopers can fly a white burgee. Those who have crossed their wake (completed the route) have earned the Gold Burgee and are known as Gold Loopers. And yes, those who have completed the route more than once earn the Platinum Burgee. We’ve had 58 boats report completing multiple Loops. One Looper couple is nearing 30 completed Loops!
Do you have any record-setters for number of Loop trips completed?
Yes! Ted and Sarah Pongracz are working on completing their 28th Great Loop aboard their 36’ Kadey-Krogen, Manatee. They are from Michigan but spend winters in Florida, so each trip back and forth completes another Great Loop passage.