Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Gold Loopers"

We are under way upbound on the Ohio River, en route to Olmstead Lock and Dam, and, beyond it, Paducah, Kentucky. This morning, shortly after 8am, Vector "crossed her wake" to complete The Great Loop voyage.

Because other boaters doing the loop have great interest in such matters, this entire post will concern the details and stats from our Great Loop, at least insofar as I can piece them together. I will return to our regular travelogue in my next post.

For those joining us here for the first time, a little background is in order. While we did purchase our boat "along the loop," in Savannah, Georgia, the Loop was not our goal. We don't identify as "loopers" nor is Vector a great choice for a "loop boat." In fact, quite the opposite, with a draft of over 6' in fresh water, ruling out the Canadian canals, and a fixed bridge clearance of 19'8", ruling out the Champlain and western Erie canals.

We purchased this boat for her seaworthiness and transoceanic capabilities, knowing that it would rule out some inland voyages (and some nice remote anchorages). And while the Loop had been on our radar, so to speak, as a nice trip to do if we could, much the same way as any other cruising ground such as New England, or the Caribbean, loop-capable was not on our "mandatory" list of check-boxes.

In fact, when we bought her, Vector could not complete the loop at all. While she was built with an open flybridge and a folding mast, by the time we came along, a fixed-frame canvas top had been fitted and the mast had been fixed in place as a wiring chase. Ironically, the boat had already done most of the Loop before then, having been built in Nova Scotia, moved to Sturgeon Bay, and then brought down the rivers and around Florida to Savannah.

Not being able to do the Loop, but still very much wanting to cruise the Western Rivers, back in 2016 we ran the southern half of the Loop "backwards," working our way all the way to the west coast of Florida from New England, and then cruising around to Mobile Bay, where we went north up the Mobile, Black Warrior, and Tombigbee rivers and the Tenn-Tom Waterway to the Tennessee.

From there we did the side trip all the way to the headwaters, upriver of Knoxville, before continuing north downriver on the Tennessee to the Ohio via the Cumberland, then down the Ohio to its confluence with the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. From there we ran the Lower Mississippi all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana. After a side trip along the Gulf ICW all the way to South Padre Island, Texas, we returned to New Orleans and closed our western loop by returning to Mobile Bay along the ICW.

On this last segment, Tropical Storm Cindy caught up with us in Biloxi, Mississippi and ripped our soft top in half. Repairing that soft top a few months later in Charleston meant disconnecting all the wiring that was running through the mast, and that was enough incentive for me to reroute it all when I reconnected it so that the mast could, once again, be lowered. We did not do that for completing the Loop, but rather simply to increase the number of places accessible to us by bringing our clearance down below 20' (from 25').

That opened the possibility of completing the loop if we could get comfortable with the idea of bringing a 19.7' tall boat under a 19.7' high bridge. Earlier this year while contemplating our cruising plans in Fort Lauderdale, I did the research that would give us that comfort, and we decided to do the northern section of the Loop this season.

All of that was a rather long-winded way of saying: if you ask where and when we started the loop, our answer is "it's complicated." Did we start it in Savannah when we bought the boat? Most of our travel on the AICW was in that first year; since then we normally pass GA, SC, and part of NC offshore. Did we start it in Charleston when we fixed the mast issue? Did we start in Fort Lauderdale when we made the decision to finish it? Or did we start it somewhere here along the Western Rivers, traveled by few cruisers, most of whom are Loopers?

Since the full, traditional Loop route needs to be pieced together from our travels over the last seven years and 26,000 nautical miles, we are opting for the topological answer: Vector, with us aboard, physically "closed the loop" in Cairo, and so we count our last pass through Cairo to be our official start. The boat itself (without us) closed the Loop somewhere in the Thousand Islands region, when we intersected with its original delivery route from Nova Scotia to Sturgeon Bay.

Vector's actual tracks as recorded by GPS. Some early AICW pieces, from before we had this software, are missing.

Bearing all that in mind, here are the "stats":

Calendar time: 1,058 days (2 years, 10 months, 24 days)
Engine hours: 2,062
Distance traveled: 12,865 nautical miles

Those statistics include the Lower Mississippi route option (but not the Tenn-Tom), side trips to South Padre Island, Jacksonville, the South Florida Loop, the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos, and up to Maine then back down to Fort Lauderdale by way of Washington, DC before finally heading north to the canals. Along the northern section we made side trips to the Thousand Islands and Lake Superior, and, of course, we were limited to the Erie/Oswego/Welland/Lakes route to the Cal-Sag.

It's been quite the ride, and, of course, we're still "on the loop," with Cairo receding behind us and the Tenn-Tom route still ahead of us. We'll be with the "class of 2019" all the way to Mobile (after a brief side trip up the Cumberland), after which my crystal ball is cloudy.

Every single dock and anchorage along the way, along with most of our mechanical problems and a fair amount of ranting on my part, is documented in this blog. The blog is searchable, or you can follow along by date. I'll do my best to answer any questions if you post them in the comments.


  1. That was quite a journey! Congratulations on completing the loop. Time to get that gold burgee!

  2. Congratulations on your bold adventure, completed with considerable competence and minimal fuss. I've enjoyed vicarious participation through your interesting and informative blog posts.

    I look forward to reading about future voyages.

  3. I've crossed the Tennessee River twice this week on I-40, and although I knew you two were north of me, looked that way anyway!


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