West Palm Beach

We left Jupiter Island on January 26 and headed towards the northern part of West Palm Beach. The trip took us by some amazing houses and mega yachts. We did find a couple of houses for sale, one was for $24 million. We found a nice anchorage and quickly hit the local Publix for some groceries.

The next day, we did manage to get off the boat and wander town. There were a few quaint shops including an Italian Market and French pastry shop.

The Italian Market was unique. There was a wall of different wines that you could sample and select the size of a pour. Prices varied from $1 – $15 for a small pour. After purchasing a card, you would insert it into the machine and select the wine you wanted to taste. We tried a few different wines and then filled our glasses as we continued grocery shopping.

On Saturday, we had to part ways with Lil Sudden as they had a family emergency. We went out to dinner at Rafiki Tiki and then said our goodbyes for the next few days.

The weather has been windy and cold over the last few days. Sunday was the first nice day. We were anchored near Little Muyon Island and have been wanting to explore it as it has some water trails through the mangrove trees. The day was perfect for exploration. we saw an Iguana and discovered Mangrove Tree Crabs while we glided through the water trails. After kayaking, we exited the interior of the island and played in the lagoon.

The weather is expected to be in the 80’s the next few days. Today we moved the boat 30 minutes south towards Phil Foster Park and found anchorage just off to the side of the small island. The island has a swimming beach and underwater snorkel park. Due to its location, the water is extremely clear and attracts colorful fish.

It was a bit of an adventure getting to shore. We used our favorite mode of transportation: kayaks. The kids and I snorkeled for a bit and saw many colorful fish as well as barracuda. The current was a little strong as it was not slack tide. After some rumbling bellies, it was time to return to the boat for lunch. At the boat, we couldn’t stay dry for long and immediately began jumping off the bow and into the blue water. It was so clear, you could see starfish on the bottom. Annette had an unfortunate encounter with a jellyfish and was done swimming for the day. Michael found a coconut floating and wanted to break it open. Taking a screwdriver, we tore off the husk and broke open the nut.

When it rains, the diesel will pour… or something along those lines

The saying “When it rains, it pours” holds true time and time again. Truly, when life gives you a challenge it rarely gives you a singular event which will “teach you a lesson”. Instead, we can expect to have several events culminating in a grand finale of epic proportions.

Cue in a gorgeous, sunny, fun, Central Florida day. Lil’ Sudden is leading the charge, southbound on the intercoastal from our anchorage at Sailfish Point to the Tequesta/Jupiter Anchorage while we “brought the rear” in Saga at a leisurely 8.5 knots. Sun was shining, water was calm, wind was brisk just enough to keep the heat feeling like you’re not going to pass out from heat and humidity. Oh, and bugs were non-existent. One could say that things were JUST RIGHT. The plan has been to head out to the Blowing Rocks Preserve and spend the time there for a couple of days while we slowly work our way to West Palm Beach for some scuba and snorkeling adventure.

Queue in my first mate (pardon me, the Admiral) coming up to the bridge with a somewhat strange question “Hey, did we pass something strange because it smells like gasoline in the boat?” As a captain of a diesel vessel, many things go through your head. Did we go through a gasoline spill? Did the dinghy gas can spill over? Did someone fart? With all those questions in mind, I quickly tell my lovely wife/admiral/love of my life to watch the helm, with which she responds “But what do I do?”

So, to some of you this is not that much of a surprise. The Admiral does the Admiraling, while the Captain does the Captaining, and the two shall never cross over. We both grew up on boats, have owned boats for over a decade, big boats for the last 3+ years. I digress…

We went through a quick crash course of “the boat is driving itself on autopilot. Watch out for anything getting in front of us. If you have any doubt, just put the engines in neutral HERE and scream from the top of your lungs so I can race up to the fly bridge” As soon as the safety briefing was over and done with, I headed down to the engine room to check what might be this gasoline smell. What greeted me as a bilge floor covered with red substance and the port engine spraying stuff all over the place.

The analog fuel gauge on the engine had failed and started spraying diesel from the pressure relief valve on the face. At 70PSI, the spray was all over the port engine, the floor, and anything else you can imagine.

We shut down the engine, assessed the damage and decided that the best path forward is to continue to our journey to the anchorage on the starboard engine. Lil’ Sudden graciously backed us up and we kept going to our next destination. As we limped forward to our next anchorage, we got in touch with one of our great resources to help diagnose the issue. Charlie Smithwick from Smith & Wick Marine Diesel in North Palm Beach, Florida was able to quickly tell us that even the tiniest leak in fuel will cause the fuel pressure to drop dramatically. Only option was to plug the pressure gauge hose and remove the analog bits from the system. The engines are Cat 3196 with full ECM sensor suite and controls, so analog gauges are not truly necessary.

One would think that this is enough to cap off the day and the adventure has reached its peak, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Keep on reading our fellow mariner, much more is in store here.

As we sailed southbound down the intercoastal, we realized that Jupiter doesn’t offer many options for anchorage. With the tide going out, we decided to make a stop and anchor right across our destination. We overshot the anchorage and as we turned around, we realized that there is a sandbar trying to poke its head up out of the water. I quickly get on the radio to warn Lil’ Sudden to make sure that we are safe and clear of the obstruction. What I failed to calculate is that with one engine, going up current that is 3+ knots, and having a broadside wind from the starboard, out ability to overcome the push onto the sandbar to our port was impossible. Within seconds the bow caught the current, the wind pushed us sideways, and the rudders were unable to overcome the thrust of only having the starboard engine.

In less than 3 seconds, the boat shook, the engine shuddered, the back end kicked serious mud, and we ended up on the sandbar… yes, the same sandbar that I warned Capt. Matt to stay off of just moments before, the irony is not lost on me… trust me. I kicked the engine in reverse, just to be met with a quick shudder and the RPM dial reading ZERO. The situation was clear, we need to get off this sand bar and quick… the tide was still going out and we had nearly a foot to go until we hit the lows. Lil’ Sudden came around with a rope to help us get off the sandbar but that plan is quickly aborted because I feared that the props were dug in and we’d end up either bending the props, bending the shafts, or ripping the struts out of the boat as we tried to get us off the sand.

Plan B was quickly created, Lil’ Sudden would anchor out and then come back to assist with a rescue plan while the Saga captain assessed the situation.

As you can see from the look on my face about 3 seconds after I got into the water is that “we’re screwed”. I’m 6’2″ and the boat drafts 4ft from the factory… sooo yeah… you can do the math.

The two captains came up with a brilliant plan… one that is guaranteed to end with absolute success.

Why not have two guys try lift and move a 50,000 lbs vessel stuck on a sandbar, that is definitely going to work. OK, to our defense, we really had hope that it would work but looking back we were absolute nutcases thinking that this would work.

So the next step was to have an expert take a look and really tell us what we needed to do. He was happy to oblige with a quick snorkel dive and offered to clean the hull while he was at it as well.

Ultimately we accepted our fate that we will have to wait for the high tide to come in and for us to get off the sand bar. This fate is really hard to come to terms with though as every few minutes the bow is further up, and the starboard side is digging just a bit more in due to the current shifting the sands against the hull. luckily for us, we had the awesome crew of Lil’ Sudden making things a bit more bearable with a boat side dinner delivery.

I will be honest, with the bellies full, and great company, it was much easier to let the time pass and wait out the high tide scheduled at midnight… having a sleepless night was really not a happy thought but it was better than a few weeks at a boat yard doing repairs.

Unfortunately for us, the winds coming from the east were picking up and instead of 15 knot sustained, with 20 knot gusts, we were seeing 20-25 knot sustained winds to our stern. We quickly realized that with rising water we are being pushed further onto the sandbar by the wind. Every time we would wiggle out just a bit and start bobbing around, the wind would push us further onto the sandbar causing another serious issue. If we didn’t get off the sandbar by the high tide, we’d not be able to get off at all. With a quick Hail Mary, the next time the keel would start swaying we’d turn our engines on and we’d try to get out.

Fortunately for us it worked, and within minutes we were backing the Saga off the sandbar and into the anchorage with winds howling and the tides moving us around more than we’d like… but hey, we are doing The American Great Loop, what can be better than that? Not much to be honest!!

The next morning we looked out and saw the sandbar (to the far right) that we spent our brief stint on.

The House of Refuge

After spending a few days in Stuart, we left and anchored inside of the barrier island near Bathtub Reef. The current and wind was strong, but our anchor held.

The first day we took the dinghy to the neighboring sandbar and joined in the festivities. There were many boats sitting on the sandbar and walking, swimming, and playing ball. We swam around and enjoyed the warm blue water.

The next day we took the dinghy to the House of Refuge and Bathtub Beach.

The House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar

The House of Refuge was established as safe havens for shipwreck sailors along the East Coast of Florida. This particular House of Refuge was established in 1876 and eventually became U.S. Coast Guard post #207 when the U.S. Life-Saving Service merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 Later, the House of Refuge played a role in WWII. It is now the only surviving House of Refuge. The House is located off the Gilbert’s Sandbar which was named after the Pirate Pedro Gilbert who raided merchant ships in the area.

In Fort Myers, we had joined the Edison Ford Estate, which also had reciprocal benefits at other museums, including the House of Refuge. The tour was great. Our tour guide spent a lot of time explaining the history and significance of the place. We went through two buildings and learned how the facility operated throughout history. We even saw the remains of a two-headed turtle.

After the tour, we explored the coastline, which is unique with its limestone formations. As it was low tide, we enjoyed climbing the rocks. We went back the next day during high tide and watched the waves crash against the rocks.

Bathtub Beach

On the way back from the House of Refuge, we went to Bathtub Beach. It’s best to visit this area during low tide as little tidepools are visible. The beach is special due to its reef system, which is created by tiny tube-building Sabellarrid sea worms. The worms create a network of tube dwellings that build up over time and create the reef system.

After viewing the sights, we jumped back into the dinghy to return to the boat; however, this proved to be more challenging than expected. As it was low tide, we were surrounded by sandbars. We had to move slowly and carefully to get around them, even over them. There was one point where we had to walk the dinghy across the bar and finally into the channel.

The Most Beautiful City

After boating for 3 days, we decided to stay put in Stuart, FL. Stuart was voted the most Beautiful City in 2008 and is also known as the Sailfish capital of the world. It has a charming historic downtown, many marinas, parks, and a rich history.

We anchored near a mooring field and took the dinghy into town for some exploration and food. We had to provision and stopped at the local Publix. Thankfully, we were only a quarter of a mile away so lugging two large bags and a backpack of food wasn’t too bad.

We strolled through town exploring the many streets and charming architecture. The historic center consisted of 3 streets with adorable shops selling clothes, decoration, art, jewelry, and food. As we walked past restaurants, the air would be filled with the delicious scents of their specialties including ice cream to pizza.

A few notable sights included stopping at Kilwins for fudge and ice cream and The Lyric Theater, which was built in 1926 and still has shows weekly.

The town has a boardwalk that takes you from the marina to the old town and around the water. As we strolled around, we found a very nice playground for the kids to burn energy and a farmers market.

As we strolled along, we found a barber shop and took the opportunity for Michael to get a haircut.

We ate out twice. Once at Lola’s for some delicious seafood and once at a Basil Garden for some amazing Thai food.

Through Florida from the Gulf to the Atlantic

The first leg of our trip on the Great Loop was crossing the Ockeechobee Waterway, a 154 mile stretch through the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee, and into the Saint Lucie River. The trip took 3 days going through 5 locks.

Day 1 we took it easy traveling 3.5 hours over 22.7 nautical miles and ended at the WP Franklin Locks. We dropped anchor and Lil Suddens tied up. It was a good trial run at homeschooling while underway and balancing helping Boris while he Captained the boat.

Day 2 was eventful as we passed through 3 locks (W.P. Franklin Lock, Ortona Lock, and Julian Keen Jr. Lock aka Moore Haven Lock). The trip took 7.5 hours over 38.29 nautical miles. The locks were nice as they provided the lines. I just had to grab a line, secure it to the boat, and feed it through as the water raised/lowered.

After passing through the Moore Haven lock, we tied up to a couple of dauphins. We have never attempted dauphins before and it was an experience.

We had to get the stern close so that I could loop a line through the cleat. I then had to feed the line so that we could get the bow close to the next dauphin. Once close, I secured the stern line and went to the bow to secure the bow line to the other cleat. The challenging part was reaching that cleat. I hung precariously over the bow, holding onto the anchor and dauphin in an attempt to loop the line. The first attempt was nearly successful, until I realized I had the line going over our railing, which could cause damage. Second attempt was a success. The event was stressful, but a good learning experience.

We settled in for the evening next to marshy grassland. Michael and I kayaked around, but did not venture far as I was concerned with alligators. I heard a grunting sound but it belonged to a Pig Frog. We also saw Turkey Vultures nearby and heard lots of birds.

Day 3 was our longest day. We decided to push through and reach Stuart on the Atlantic side. It took 9 hours over a course of 60 miles and included 2 locks (Port Mayaca Lock and St Lucie Lock)

The crossing also took us through Lake Ockeechobee which is the second largest lake contained entirely within the contiguous 48 states. Ockeechobee is known to be rough if the winds are blowing. On this day, however, the winds were calm and we had a peaceful crossing over glassy smooth water.

We finally arrived in Stuart, FL exhausted. After dropping anchor, we took the dinghy into town for some dinner, then called it a night.

Overall, our first crossing of The Great Loop was fun. There were many learning experiences as well as challenges: Managing battery life on the hook, navigating through narrow channels, and bugs!

It Has Begun

After months of planning, securing a vessel, repairs, and packing, it was the moment we’ve been waiting for: starting The Great Loop.

Wednesday January 18, 2023 we walked for a final cup of coffee from Perk n Brew, said our Goodbyes and departed Cape Coral.

Our destination was WP Franklin Locks. The plan was to boat for about 3 hours, lock through, and settle for the day making it an easy run and allowing us to work out any issues that may arise.

When we approached the locks we learned our first lesson: check lock operational status.

As we arrived at the locks, we were informed that they were closed for maintenance and would be open the following day. So we dropped the anchor and settled in for the day with kayaks, a dinghy ride, dinner, and a movie.

The evening concluded with a lovely sunset and a plan for an early start the next morning.

Overall, day 1 was a good intro to the Loop. We traveled 3.5 hours and 22.7 nautical miles.

Perk n Brew

As we stayed in Cape Coral for a few weeks to prep the boats, we got into the habit of walking 1.5 miles to our favorite local coffee shop, sitting down for coffee (and sometimes breakfast), walking to the local store for errands, then heading back to the boats.

It was a delight each morning arriving and being greeted by the familiar faces of the other regulars. Our drink orders were known as were our names and boating agenda. The atmosphere was wonderful and coffee tasty.

Perk n Brew is more than a cafe. It’s a home away from home. I discovers my favorite coffee here: the caramel Bon Bon (condensed milk with espresso and caramel).

Eureka! We found one

After the failed dinghy purchase, we were in search of a new dinghy. The boat show didn’t turn up any leads and there was a shortage of them due to the hurricane.

Our only option was to purchase new. We found an 11 foot RIB with 40 HP engine. It was delivered within the week and arrived just in time. Boris and Matt picked it up from the boat launch at night and had to drive 7 miles in the cold dark evening to our boat.

Everything worked perfectly and she’s powerful enough to support our family.

Today Boris installed the mounting system onto our swim platform to support the dinghy and we are now ready to rock and roll. My next endeavor is trying to figure out how to keep her clean and white.

Why Haven’t We Left Yet?

Our original intent was to fly into Florida December 29 and spend a few days prepping the boat, getting batteries and an inverter installed, get our dinghy, and depart January 2.

Obviously, we have not yet left and are still in Florida on Matt’s dock (Lil Sudden). A few things came up preventing our departure:

Toilet Explosion Our toilets are on a VacuFlush system. The bellows broke, spilling sewage into our engine room and causing countless hours of cleanup. Due to the tight fit, and all other things we’ve had to work on we decided to hire someone to fix it, but unfortunately while the system is operational, it is far from ideal.

Finding A Place for Everything. Prior to arriving in Florida, we had numerous items ordered from Amazon delivered to Matt’s house in Cape Coral versus shipping from home. This resulted in many boxes both on the boat and in the house. We had to spend a few days unpacking and finding places to put the items. We were able to find creative storage spaces under the beds, couches, and floor boards. Additional time was needed to measure cabinet spaces and find appropriate shelving/storage to fit these spaces. One creative idea was installing a magnet to store the knives as we didn’t have counter space for a knife block. Additional items needed to be installed including TVs and cameras. After all the unpacking and shopping, everything has a place and the boat looks so much nicer.

Dinghy Disaster The dinghy we were expecting to purchase and use did not work out. The story of that event can be found here and ends in Boris and Matt being towed to shore. It was a challenge finding a replacement dinghy due to Hurricane Ian. We even attended the local Boat Show in hopes of finding one for sale. In the end, we had to purchase a new dinghy and wait for its delivery.

Delay in Matt’s Boat Matt’s boat was in the boatyard getting bottom paint and other work done. She was delayed by many days and it took 2 additional days to get her to Cape Coral after the work was complete. We were waiting for both boats to be present in order to install a battery and inverter system.

Battery and Inverter Installation Boats here rarely have an inverter to charge the batteries; most people constantly run their generator, which uses fuel. We opted to have an inverter system designed so that our batteries could charge while under way and have batteries that would charge quickly (with generator or invertor). Our boat/mechanic friend flew down from Seattle to assist with the installation; however, the 2-day project ended up taking more than a week to complete.

Bad Weather We were hit with a cold front with temperatures as low as 50 degrees, high wind, and rain/lightning. This slowed us down with the battery install and our departure. Thankfully it has warmed up and we have sunny weather for the next week.

Random things Breaking Part of boating is various items constantly breaking. We had to repair the air conditioner and water tank leak. Thankfully both were quick repairs. We also have one engine leaking a little oil and anticipate additional projects arising.

All projects are wrapping up and the goal is to now depart Wednesday January 18, 2023 towards the Atlantic side of Florida. Tuesday will be spent cleaning up the tools and equipment and ensuring everything works.

What is the Great Loop?

The Great Loop is a continuous waterway that can be traveled and includes part of the Atlantic, Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, Canadian Canals, and inland rivers.

There are a variety of routes one can take; however, some are dependent on how tall the boat is or how deep its draft is. The draft must be less than five feet in order to travel the inland waterways. Additionally, few Loopers choose to stay on the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf of Mexico due to heavy barge traffic. Instead, they jump onto the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and exit in Mobile, AL.

Below is a map of all the different routes Loopers take while the other map is the route we will be taking.

Boaters travel in a counter-clockwise direction typically heading north along the Atlantic coast in the late spring/early summer, then summer across the Great Lakes, and head south along the Rivers in the Fall. Loopers typically join the Great Loop Association (AGLCA) and fly the Great Loop burgee.

Loopers fly the white flag off their bow making them easily identifiable to other Loopers.

Once a Looper completes the loop by “crossing their wake” they get a gold flag.

If they complete it a second time, they receive the platinum flag.

We are starting in Cape Coral, FL. Our original plan was to then head to the Keys, but due leaving later than anticipated, we will instead head straight to the Bahamas and hit the Keys at the end of the trip.

After the Bahamas, we will slowly cruise along the Atlantic Coast into Chesapeake Bay. In April, we will leave the boat in Norfolk, VA and take a train to Washington D.C. and then fly home for 2 weeks. When heading back, we will fly into Philadelphia, PA and drive to Hershey Park and then Baltimore MD. After returning to our boat in Norfolk, we will continue the loop and head to New York City.

The earliest Loopers want to enter New York canals is May as they open between the first week and third week of May. Loopers will want to wait one week after they open for debris to flow through. We will then proceed into the Erie Canal, but due to height restrictions, we are unable to cruise all the way into Lake Erie. Instead, we will exit at Oswego, NY.

We will then head north and enter the Saint Lawrence River to see the Thousand Islands before proceeding into the Trent-Severn waterway. The Trent-Severn Waterway is a 240 mile canal route connecting Lake Ontario to the Georgian Bay (Lake Huron). There are 44 locks and includes flight locks, lift locks, and a marine railway.

Once through the Waterway, we will continue along the Great Lakes and head to Chicago. As they are doing work on the locks, we are unable to leave Chicago until September 30. While heading down the inland rivers, we plan on taking a side trip to Nashville. After exiting the river at Mobile, AL, we will go to New Orleans prior to returning to Florida.

In additional to all the boating, we also have a few car trips planned to see a few other locations that we are unable to access by boat. Those places include:

  • Boston and Salem
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Conway, NH
  • Portland, ME
  • Niagara Falls

We hope to complete this trip in 12-13 months. For a more detailed itinerary, please visit the itinerary page here or found on the right side of the page.