We get the question on a regular basis as to when we are going to start out on "The Loop". For those who don't know it, "The Great Loop" is an approximately 6000 mile cruise of the Eastern United States, usually done in a counter-clockwise direction, that starts anywhere on the route and ends again at the starting point, months or years later, depending on how fast you want to do it. The route takes you down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River, up the Ohio River to the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile Bay. Either by hugging the Florida coast, or crossing the Gulf of Mexico, you make your way around the state and head up the east coast and into the Great Lakes and back over to the Illinois River again. There are variations, but some parts of the trip are not optional. More information can be found on The America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association (also known as the AGLCA) website.
I want to be very clear on one thing; We have never said that we were going to do the Great Loop, and we never said we wouldn't. Yes, we do belong to the AGLCA, and we do fly the AGLCA burgee on the bow of Swing Set, but that is a far as we have committed to the "Loop". We have a good reason to fly the burgee, however, as the following will reveal.
I'd known about the Great Loop for years, as stories about fellow cruisers in our area doing the Loop became known. One particular story was from a well known radio personality, Jim White on KMOX radio, who occasionally spoke about his experience on the Loop on his late night radio program. I'd met Jim at Alton Marina shortly after we had acquired Swing Set, and over a couple of beers, had a nice conversation about boating in general. After we had owned Swing Set for a few years, I entered a conversation with some friends who had lived and cruised aboard their sailboat in the Bahamas for over a year. I had asked them whether or not Swing Set had "the stuff" for travel to the Bahamas and living aboard. Their enthusiastic response to the affirmative planted the seed, and I began to consider the possibilities of our future life with Swing Set. But it was after a trip to southern Florida to visit our friends Gary and Judy Meinershagen in Cape Coral, that our plans started to gel.
Initially, we thought that once we retired, we could sell our condo in St. Louis and buy a condo in southern Florida and take Swing Set down with us and either keep it at a marina, or at our own dock at a condo. We spent a good deal of time with Gary and Judy looking at properties, and inquiring at marinas, just gathering some information. One underlying sentiment that I kept hearing was "No live aboards allowed". We viewed some awesome properties, one was a condo in Cape Coral that if I had a way to do it, I would have put a deposit on it right then. During our plane ride home, the wheels of my brain worked overtime thinking of ways to finance a condo in Florida without selling our condo at home. I crunched the numbers seven ways from Sunday and finances were just not going to add up with our retirement income. That's when Rosie uttered the fateful phrase, "Why don't we just sell our condo here, take our boat to Florida, and just live on it?" I hadn't even considered this to be an option.
One fact about myself that I did know, was during our various boating trips over the years, was that our best experiences were those when we had no particular agenda or destination. We would just anchor out when we found a desirable spot, and the anticipation about what we would encounter on the next day, or where we would go, was the highlight of our trips. The prospect of having a condo anywhere, and then heading out on a cruise, only to turn around at some point just to get back to a condo and all of "our stuff", really became unappealing to us, so cruising and living aboard full time became our focus.
As I began reading stories about living aboard boats and cruising full time, the nagging thought was that the general sentiment against live aboards among marina owners and property owners was a legitimate one. I have seen my share of vessels up here in Missouri and in Florida that were nothing more than floating shanties, whose owners were not much more than squatters living off the fat of the land. Although not an unappealing concept, I could see why this practice may not be desirable to some people, and sparked my decision to fly the AGLCA burgee on the bow of Swing Set.
Belonging to the AGLCA provides a network to it's members to access for information regarding a myriad of things involving boating and cruising, and the cost is very reasonable. My idea was that wherever we traveled, if we let it be known that we belonged to the AGLCA, it would be assumed that we were just travelers and had no intention of staying anywhere for a long period of time, and we could present this information to anyone without saying much at all. Marina owners and people near popular anchorages are glad to have you passing by and are glad to accept your money for goods and services if they know that you aren't there to just suck up the local resources and not provide much in return. Can this practice be called dishonest on our part? While it could be labeled as misleading in some ways, we really don't have any intention of staying in any one place indefinitely, and flying the AGLCA burgee is just an easy way to convey that information.
So will we do "The Great Loop"? I have no idea, but it's not ruled out, but it's not a priority either. We have a rough plan in place currently. Our condo is for sale. We are developing a "plan B" for if the condo doesn't sell, and is a viable one, so our tentative departure day of May 8th, 2012 is a reasonable one. Our plan is to head down the Mississippi to the Ohio River and enter the Cumberland River and Lake Barkley and the Kentucky Lake area and spend some time with friends we have there. We plan to then explore the navigable length of the Cumberland River, retrace our path back to Kentucky Lake, and then explore the navigable length of the Tennessee River and retrace that route back to the Tombigbee Waterway and take it to the Gulf of Mexico by late summer or early fall. We'd like to be on the western coast of Florida by late summer. Weather will be one of the greatest factors in determining where we will be at any one time, as it will still be hurricane season, as will our health and mechanical issues on Swing Set. Eventual cruising to Key West and the Bahamas is part of our rough plan, but that's as far as I am able to extend the dream, as extenuating circumstances will play a part in our plan when the time comes.
We have a desire to "live for the day". If we like a certain area, we'll stay for a bit. I know that wherever we are, my natural inclination for wanderlust will present itself and we will move on, if for nothing but the variety of scenery.
So for all of you skippers out there, what's the one thing you would most like to ever hear uttered from your boat mate's lips? For me, it was "Why don't we just sell our home and live on the boat?"