Skirting the Shore: Reflections on Sailing the Great Loop

Sep 05

Skirting the Shore: Reflections on Sailing the Great Loop

Disclaimer – Links are Amazon affiliate links. If you click and buy from my link I get a small commission. This review is my own, nothing was provided to me by the author or any representatives. 

It’s no secret that our biggest dream is to travel full-time in an RV. I love reading blogs and books written by other travelers so I was happy to find this one on Amazon’s Kindle – Skirting the Shore: Reflections on Sailing the Great Loop by Adrian Martin.

This book was my first introduction to the Great Loop (informational link)- a 6000 mile circumnavigational route around the eastern United States. Also called the Great Circle Route, boaters can join at any point in the loop and complete it within a year if they don’t need to stop. Others will stop, work for a while, or travel the loop during vacations and complete it in sections.

I have to admit when I heard about the Great Loop it became yet another dream to accomplish. We’d RV travel, then sell or park the RV and do the loop. Then we’d come back to the RV and continue on merry way. It didn’t matter than we’d never sailed before or been on anything other than a motor boat or a commercial ferry. We’ve never driven an RV before either. We can learn. People do it everyday, right? I even went on eBay and found the cutest little tug boat that looked really sad. Am I the only one that wants to give inanimate objects a home because they look sad?

I love Adrian’s explanation about this book – that it’s a true to live account of sailing the great loop. There’s good and bad, showcased with his “Dirty Secrets of Boating” that begin each chapter. The first secret – You will get wet and your bed will get wet.

Adrian’s family started their trip in May of 2002 – recent enough to have computers and cell phones but not recent enough to have the technology of today – smart phones with Google Now, tablets, etc. The book offers a list of equipment and supplies they started out with. They sold their house, cars and everything else, moved to Virginia and docked their boat in Maryland. Adrian and his wife spent a year (I’m estimating, I can’t see where he details the time spent) learning how to sail (Hey, they didn’t sail either!) before heading north that spring with his two kids and two cats aboard their catamaran.

As Adrian talks about their first month onboard – engine issues that required a tow, stepping the mast to be ready for the low bridges ahead in the Eerie Canal, working for two hours to find a anchor hold in a rain tossed river – my idea of  a leisurely cruise down a river began to fade. Could we do this? Could I do this? Did I want to do this? Did I want to have to deal with difficult weather, getting sick, having to get to shore in a dinghy to buy groceries or do laundry? Part of me thought of the trip as a new adventure. Another part of me said, are you crazy? An RV is one thing, but a boat?

I did enjoy Adrian’s discussion about this being a lifestyle change and not a vacation. This is important to realize for anyone who wants to change their life and become a full-time traveler, whether you’re on a boat, in an RV or traveling the world. A vacation is temporary. A lifestyle is where you trade one routine for another. You’ll still need to make a living. You’ll still have stress and problems. They’ll just be different, and that’s an important consideration. Leaving your job, your home, your friends and family for a new lifestyle isn’t going to be a permanent vacation. But he does make a good point – he was rich in time. Time to walk to the store or the gas station. Time to swim, read, hike to the waterfalls, explore, nap. This is one reason we want to travel and work for ourselves – to buy back our time.

Adrian broke up the tales of swinging anchors and boat repairs with tales of homeschooling his children, killing mosquitoes with a T-shirt and emptying the porta-pottie they used. His humor in various situations made me laugh even as I wonder how I would handle the same issues.

I was fascinated by the description of traveling through the locks. I couldn’t really picture how they worked. They’re basically a large chamber that you tie your boat to and the chamber fills or empties with water. This is how boats travel through various canals.

Bear with me a second because this is how my brain works – I go from thinking about living on a boat and traveling the Great Loop to how does a lock work? I needed a visual aid. I found this awesome animation on the website for Rideau Canal – What is a Lock?

This animation shows how a boat would “lock up” or “lock down”, and it helped me visualize the process. There’s one type of lock, though, called the Big Chute Marine Railway in the Trent Severn in Canada. Your boat is lifted out of the water, travels over a road, and then is lowered into the water on the other side. Here’s a video I found on You Tube:

You can stay on your boat while traveling over the road. I found another video that shows this. The boat is lifted and starts moving at about the 5:30 mark and is leaving the lock at about 11:30 mark.

Once boaters are through a lock chamber and into the canal, they can continue on or tie up on the canal wall. Some towns have built parks nearby so a boater can tie off the boat then enjoy a picnic in a park, a hot shower and some exercise.

As I read I realized how much you need to know to pilot a boat. Not just a quick run for the day on the lake, but real sailing. Knowing how to set an anchor, read a chart, use a compass, looking for rocks, knowing the depth of the water – not knowing how to do these things or doing them wrong can cut the trip short before you really started. Again, I’m feeling a bit torn. Can I learn this stuff? Do I want to learn this stuff? Because it’s all part of the journey, and while traveling the inland lakes and rivers is safer than the open ocean you’re still on a boat. That can sink. With all your stuff and you.

Other advice from Adrian Martin:

Boating is about solving problems. Figure it out.

Boating is about self-reliance and being a pioneer.

Avoid the well-beaten path, shun the well-beaten advice.

Make the experience your own.

So will we travel on the Great Loop? I really don’t know. Part of me still has that new adventure excitement and the other part of me says to stay on land. I may be open to doing the loop in sections or traveling with an experienced couple for a while, if we can all get along on the boat. I may even be open to renting a boat and spending a few days on the water to see how it goes. I guess it’s all up in the air. I would like to spend some time on a boat and really see what it’s like – weather and all – before deciding if it’s something I’d want to do full time.

Blogs about traveling on the Great Loop:

Katie and Jessie on a boat – These two friends are traveling the great loop on their boat, Louise, and their dog, Reggie. They finance their trip by staying put for a while and working.

Captain John – The page is coded in HTML, looks a lot like the first pages I built in 1998, and watch out for the music that plays automatically – especially if you’re at work. But if you want to know ANYTHING about cruising the Great Loop, this is the page with all the information you could ever want to know.

Why Knot on the Great Loop – Darrell and Lisa Grob have a home port in St. Louis, Missouri, and have traveled 8,000 miles around America’s waterways, including the Great Loop.

Find more blogs than you can ever read by searching “Great Loop Blogs”.

Books about traveling the Great Loop:

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  1. Hi Christina, Skirting the Shore sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    My husband and I have lived aboard a sailboat since 2010. On one hand, there’s nothing quite like it. We’ve had some of the most amazing adventures you could imagine. On the other hand, it can be a pretty stressful lifestyle.

    I’ve never traveled in an RV, but I’m guessing that traveling in an RV could be more expensive (due to the high cost of fuel; sailors have to be patient, but wind is free.) On the other hand, I think that moving from a home to an RV would likely be an easier transition than moving aboard a boat would be. I don’t really know — just guessing based on my own experiences.

    At any rate, we jumped into sailing and ended up loving it, but it has its ups and downs.

    • Hi, Amy.

      I’m still torn about the boat. I know the wind is free, but what if you need to go in a certain direction and the wind takes you in circles?

      Fuel would be just another cost of living, just like a house you pay electric, water, gas, etc. And you’re not driving every day. We’re planning on staying put at least 2-3 weeks at a time.

      I guess everything has its ups and downs. I’d love to hear about your boating adventures.

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