We finished the Great Loop.
It took us 8 months and 8 days, 6,202 miles, and 144 stops. We stayed at 81 marinas, 43 anchorages, and 20 free docks. We worked with 10 mechanics and made too many calls to Mike to count.
But these numbers fail to capture the journey because the Great Loop no longer was just a trip. It became our lifestyle. We woke up to an alarm to pull the anchor instead of making a morning meeting. Who pulled into the marina that night dictated our social calendar instead of texting a friend to make plans. Dolphins interrupted a conversation instead of a phone call. It’s hard to capture all these moments.
But we could reflect on how this experience changed us and what we learned. While we aren't finished cruising quite yet, we wanted to share some of our biggest takeaways (at least for now) from cruising the Great Loop.
Meeting people together for the first time was a new experience as a couple.
Rarely in our ten years together did Tim and I get the chance to meet others for the first time together. Like most couples, our friends were made because one of us usually met someone first—at work, from childhood, college, etc, before they became “our friends.” While cruising, nearly everyone we meet is a new acquaintance and we meet them together at the same time. It’s been a great exercise in learning how we present ourselves and interact with others as a couple. It’s been fun to create new friendships together, an experience we know is hard to come by as organically in other chapters of our life.
Our hair turned blond(ish).
We expected we would get a nice tan, but didn’t really think about how being in the sun would affect our hair color. Tim has nice frosted tips, and I have blond highlights that a hairstylist told me “would be very hard to recreate.” We know there will be a time when we will go back to paler skin and darker hair, but for now, we’re proud to bear our sun-kissed look as a badge of honor of our nautical lifestyle.
We loved spending every day outside.
We are in constant awe of the natural beauty in our country. From cruising through the Gulf’s blue waters to watching the sun hit the trees along the Tennessee River to admiring the sand dunes that line Lake Michigan–these moments and more never lost their awesomeness. We have a newfound appreciation for our national and state parks, as well as efforts to protect and preserve our natural environment. We only have one planet (we think it's a pretty good one) and it's so important that we take care of it. Whatever comes next, prioritizing spending time outside (and doing our part to help take care of it) is on the list.
We reconnected with so many friends and family.
They say on the Great Loop you can meet somewhere at a time or a place, but rarely both, making visits difficult despite the best of intentions. Coupled with Covid barriers, we thought we would primarily be on our own. As vaccines became available and restrictions eased, we were shocked by how many friends, family, family of friends, and friends of family we saw along the way. We reconnected with childhood friends we hadn’t seen in years. Former co-workers drove hours to share a part of our nautical life. We hosted family members who just happened to be passing through the same town at the same time. We opened Sweet Day’s doors for open houses with friends and family. The list goes on, but for everyone who came to visit and followed us virtually, thank you for taking the time to be a part of our journey. We loved sharing it with you. And to those that offered homes, docks, meals, laundry, showers, and ice, you beat any marina we stayed in along the way.
Our waterways are full of history.
So much of our country’s history takes place along our waterways. From the Revolutionary War to westward expansion to the Civil War, history came to life on this trip in ways we ever expected. The Dismal Swamp was no longer just a forested waterway, but a place for reflection on how it served as a harsh sanctuary for people seeking freedom. Traveling along the Erie Canal we saw how communities transformed as the canal evolved. During our visit to Shiloh Battlefield, we learned how the Union used the same waterways on the Loop to transport soldiers and provisions during battle. The more we realized how much history was around us, the more we found ourselves wanting to learn more, visiting museums (Detroit's Historical Museum was a favorite) reading books (Holding Back the River is a must-read), listening to podcasts, or googling History channel episodes on an area of interest. We found a new appreciation of how much our current day is shaped by our past and a sense of gratitude for all the courage, ingenuity, and curiosity of those that came before us.
We learned how to work and learn together.
Tim and I have done a lot together over the last 10 years. But learning how to operate Sweet Day, troubleshoot challenges, learn new skills (changing oil, bleeding an engine, reading a chart, understanding weather to name a few), and live together full-time on a 31-foot boat was a new experience. There are no secrets on Sweet Day. We learned our ability to communicate was the most important factor in how well we worked with one another. We learned how to give each other feedback, express when we were upset, utilize one another's strengths, and most importantly, how to be partners, knowing the lessons we learned we'll use in wherever our journey leads us next.
Our waterways are very diverse.
Each waterway we traveled through is so different. The Intracoastal waterway is populated with tons of marinas and fuel stops, but dodging wakes from other boaters was challenging. The weather was rarely an issue on the Erie Canal, but it was critical to be aware of locks’ operational statuses. The Great Lakes were all about finding weather windows to travel comfortably. Monitoring fuel consumption and learning how to talk to tows (barges) were the biggest hurdles on the inland rivers. The landscapes and boats differed too. Motorcoaches line the Tennessee riverbanks, mansions dot the Florida ICW, houseboats fill the Kentucky Lake marinas, shrimping boats line the docks of Georgia, sailboats catch the wind in the Chesapeake Bay, canal boats go up and down the Erie, urban oases are formed at city marinas in DC and Detroit. The Loop gave us the opportunity to visit different "neighborhoods" every day and learned cruising on Sweet Day is clearly not the only way you can enjoy the water.
But the boating community is not very diverse.
While the boating community was generally welcoming to us, it was hard to ignore its lack of diversity. Photos lining yacht club rooms were primarily of white men, we could count the number of women we saw driving boats on two hands, and out of 2,000 boats that have completed the Loop since 1985, it wasn’t until 2021 when the first African American woman completed the journey. Boating is too fun and has too many benefits to be represented or enjoyed by a single demographic. Thankfully it is encouraging to see groups trying to diversify and increase access to this space. Brooklyn Boatworks offers programming for NYC families and students primarily in Title-I NYC schools to learn boatbuilding and STEM skills through maritime activities. When we started the loop, Eddie Gill IV embarked on a “Journey for a Cause,” a 10-day cruise down the inland rivers where he held fishing events for kids along the way and to bring awareness to the lack of diversity within the boating and fishing community. The Chicago-based Rainbow Races hosts “Rainbow Regattas” to promote diversity and equality within sailing, specifically among the LGBTQ community. Cruising the Great Loop reaffirmed the privilege we have of being able to access and enjoy the outdoors, but also the importance of how can we continue to build diversity and representation in this space--because the outdoors belongs to all of us.
It would be hard for our country to function without navigable waterways.
It takes an incredible amount of ingenuity and hard work to move goods across the country, and couldn’t be possible without our waterways. Huge freighters battle weather year-round to transport goods from Chicago to the Atlantic. Tow captains have to know every curve of the river as they transport grains, oil, orange juice, and more down our rivers to the Gulf. Lockmasters work 24/7 to ensure large amounts of cargo are transported in a timely and safe manner. Crews spend weeks at a time on the water, left to themselves to safeguard goods, troubleshoot issues, and deliver materials that we use every day. Living in NYC we never thought about the depth of the Mississippi or what happens if a lock is shut down for repairs. It turns out, if the river levels are too low, barges carry less cargo to avoid running aground. If a lock is closed for repairs, tows can get stuck for days waiting to pass through. So now when we buy a loaf of bread or pour a glass of orange juice, we think of those on the waters that helped make it happen.
Community is important.
While cruising, there are times we never felt farther from the places we called home –and we’ve been to a fair share of countries. While cruising the Great Loop we witnessed a variety of covid protocols, wealth, political views, homes, modes of transport, main streets, grocery stores, ways to make a living, and more. Our diversity is one of the best parts of this country, but anyone who turns on the news knows it can also feel like an uncomfortable weakness. While the places varied, one uniting trait was the comfort we felt in the presence of a strong community.
This was often witnessed in small moments. Checking out at a local grocery store in Cedar Key we saw a jar collecting funds to help a resident’s health emergency. The county commissioner was handed “her usual'' when ordering a breakfast biscuit in Apalachicola. On the docks in Fort Myers, we watched neighbors crowd around to help Bruce launch his new dinghy. On Kentucky Lake we heard the laughter after the dockmaster rocked a slip holder's boat with his foot, causing him to emerge from his sailboat. We listened to enthusiastic announcements to join pickleball and softball games during the daily morning radio broadcast for harbor residents in Marathon. In Detroit, we were greeted with a warm welcome to the city by a couple who spends their summers living on their boat. Along the Tennessee River we saw neighbors sharing food and the BBQ pit on a Thursday evening. Loopers had a community of their own, made up of people from all backgrounds, ages (kind of), and parts of the country, united by the AGLCA burgee flying on their bow. Seeing the flag provides comfort, knowing we are in the presence of people to share a story, a drink, or spare part with, and help if needed. We will be searching for these traces of community as we figure out where we land next.
We plan to spend time in the Florida Keys and then make our way up the east coast back to the Chesapeake Bay where we will put Sweet Day up for sale this summer. In the months to come, we will start to chart our next journey, one that will likely involve putting down roots through jobs and a home on land. While there are still a lot of unknowns, we know we will forever feel grateful for this experience and all the ways it has and continues to shape us.
In the meantime, we will continue to post about our travels and learnings here and on Instagram. We love sharing them with you, and it helps us process all we’ve experienced. Thank you for following along and being part of our Sweet Day community.