Around 800 people attempt to climb Mount Everest each year and around 300 people attempt to swim the English Channel each year. Winter Garden residents Jon and DeeDee Hinson achieved something even rarer than that by completing the Great American Loop, a feat accomplished by less than 150 boats each year.
The 6,000 mile journey covers the eastern part of the United States and Canada, traveling up the Atlantic Intra-Coastal Waterway, through New York State Canals, into the Great Lakes, along the inland river system, through the Gulf of Mexico and around the southern tip of Florida.
The achievement is called “crossing the wake”, and it comes with a “baccaLOOPerate” diploma from the Great Loop Cruisers’ Association of the United States, as well as the coveted gold flag to display on their boat, a 1983 Mainship 34 Mark III motorboat which they named War Eagle.
The Hinsons bought their trawler in August 2020 in Pine Island, off the west coast of Florida. This would be the starting point of their journey together. This would be the third loop for the War Eagle, so the Hinsons were confident in their choice of boat.
The Great American Loop is usually a year-long trip planned seasonally to enjoy the northern states in the summer.
“We slowed down the first six months,” DeeDee Hinson said. “We mainly made monthly stays while waiting for spring. This allowed us to learn the boat.
DeeDee Hinson explained their itinerary: “We sailed around the Florida Keys and the rest of Florida for about six months (waiting for spring), then through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (including a detour to the Outer Banks) , then explored the Chesapeake Bay for about a month. We sailed around New Jersey in the Atlantic Ocean and New York – right by the Statue of Liberty – then north on the Hudson River, then west on the Erie Canal.
“Since Canada’s border was closed due to COVID, we have completed the entire Erie Canal, which took 14 days,” she said. “At the end of the Erie Canal we visited Niagara Falls, then ventured into the Great Lakes including Lake Erie, Lake Huron and crossed Lake Michigan to Mackinac Island where we then explored the Wisconsin coastline.
“We drove through downtown Chicago and entered the river system, which includes the Illinois River, Mississippi River, Ohio River, Tennessee River, Cumberland River – we took a detour through Nashville – and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which terminates in Mobile, Alabama, and then meets the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway,” she said. “We crossed the Gulf of Mexico and came full circle.”
FROM ONE SHORE TO THE OTHER
Each day brought a different experience. They spent two months docked in the Florida Keys when Hurricane Eta hit in November, they saw the east coast of the United States and various oceanfront landmarks, they swam with the manatees in Crystal River, they befriended and sipped “docktails” with fellow Loopers.
Nearly 200 boats made the same Greater Loop trip, Jon Hinson said. It was common to find some of the same yachtsmen at different stops.
“We call it loop-frogging,” said DeeDee Hinson. “We met the same people over and over again.”
The Hinsons typically hiked four hours a day — 30 to 40 miles — after checking the weather and determining their next destination. Their average day was boating in the morning and stopping around noon for lunch and exploring the area by bike.
DeeDee Hinson said her favorite part of the trip was along the Erie Canal, with its quaint towns, live music, free docks and places to eat and shop. Jon Hinson loved New York.
They enjoyed the “shorts and flip flops” weather 90% of the time, they said, and encountered only a few thunderstorms the entire trip.
The War Eagle is cleaned and beautified for its next adventure when the Hinsons set sail from Sanford on April 5.
“Since we heard and read that the Canadian part of the Great Loop is beautiful, we plan to complete our second Great Loop and explore Canada in depth in 2022,” said DeeDee Hinson. “Starting at the Hudson River, we will continue north through the Champlain Canal, Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, then west on the St. Lawrence River to Montreal to the Ottawa River and towards south on the Rideau Canal. We’ll explore the Thousand Islands, then head west on the Trent-Severn Waterway, Georgian Bay and the North Channel before reaching Lake Michigan and exploring the Michigan coastline before venturing out on the rivers .
The bigger question is how high gasoline prices will go. Besides gas, the Hinsons spent a lot of money on food and marina fees.
“We did a lot of seminars to find out what we were getting into,” DeeDee Hinson said. “We had been in the planning phase for probably five years.”
For more information about America’s Great Loop, contact AGLCA at (877) 478-5667 or greatloop.org or email [email protected].
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