About 800 people attempt to climb Mount Everest annually, and about 300 people try to swim the English Channel each year. Winter Garden residents Jon and DeeDee Hinson have achieved something even rarer than that by completing America’s Great Loop, a feat accomplished by fewer than 150 boats every year.
The 6,000-mile journey covers the eastern part of the United States and Canada, cruising up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, through the New York State canals, into the Great Lakes, down the inland river system, across the Gulf of Mexico and around the southern tip of Florida.
The achievement is called “crossing the wake,” and it comes with a “baccaLOOPerate” degree from the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, as well as the coveted gold flag to display on their boat, a 1983 Mainship 34 Mark III powerboat they christened 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 two-person journey. It would be the third loop trip for the War Eagle, so the Hinsons had confidence in their choice of boat.
America’s Great Loop typically is a year-long trip planned around the seasons so to enjoy the northern states in the summer.
“We went slow the first six months,” DeeDee Hinson said. “We did mostly monthly stays waiting for spring. It gave us a chance to learn the boat.”
DeeDee Hinson explained their route: “We cruised around the Florida Keys and the rest of Florida for about six months (waiting for spring) and then up through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (including a side trip to the Outer Banks), then explored Chesapeake Bay for about a month. We cruised around New Jersey in the Atlantic Ocean and into New York City — 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 completed the entire Erie Canal, which took 14 days,” she said. “At the end of the Erie Canal, we visited Niagara Falls and then ventured into the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie, Lake Huron and crossed into Lake Michigan at Mackinac Island, where we then explored Wisconsin’s shoreline.
“We cruised through downtown Chicago and entered the river system, which includes the Illinois River, Mississippi River, Ohio River, Tennessee River, Cumberland River — we took a side trip to Nashville — and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which ends in Mobile, Alabama, and then meets the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway,” she said. “We crossed the Gulf of Mexico and completed our loop.”
FROM SHORE TO SHORE
Each day brought a different experience. They spent two months docked in the Florida Keys when Hurricane Eta struck in November, they saw the U.S. East Coast and various landmarks oceanside, they swam with the manatees in Crystal River, they made friends with and sipped “docktails” with other Loopers.
Nearly 200 boats took the same Greater Loop voyage, Jon Hinson said. It was common to meet up with some of the same boaters at different stops.
“We call it Loop-frogging,” DeeDee Hinson said. “We ran into the same people again and again.”
The Hinsons typically traveled four hours per day — 30 to 40 miles — after checking the weather and determining their next destination. Their average day included boating in the morning and stopping around noon for lunch and exploring the area on their bicycles.
DeeDee Hinson said her favorite part of the journey was along the Erie Canal, with its quaint towns, live music, free docks, and places to eat and shop. Jon Hinson enjoyed New York City.
They enjoyed “shorts and flipflops” weather 90% of the time, they said, and hit only a few rainstorms on the entire trip.
The War Eagle is getting cleaned and spiffied up for its next adventure when the Hinsons head out from Sanford April 5.
“Since we’ve heard and read the Canada portion of the Great Loop is beautiful, we plan to complete our second Great Loop and explore Canada extensively in 2022,” DeeDee Hinson said. “From the Hudson River, we will continue north through the Champlain Canal, Lake Champlain and Richelieu River, then west on the Saint Lawrence River to Montreal to the Ottawa River and south on the Rideau Canal. We will explore the Thousand Islands and then head west on the Trent-Severn Waterway, Georgian Bay and North Channel before reaching Lake Michigan and will explore Michigan’s shoreline before venturing down the rivers.”
The biggest question is how high gas prices will go. Besides gas, the Hinsons spent a great deal of money on food and marina expenses.
“We did a lot of seminars to learn what we were getting into,” DeeDee Hinson said. “We were in the planning phase for probably five years.”
For more information on America’s Great Loop, contact AGLCA at (877) 478-5667 or greatloop.org or email [email protected].