A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Friday, 27 May 2011

Navigating the USA

I always knew it was a different system of buoyaging in the USA, and I used to find it disconcerting when we sailed out of (or into) US ports during cruises that the buoys were on the “wrong side” of the ship. Over there the rule is “red, right, returning” (to the harbour), whereas here it is “there is no red port left in the bottle”, or (how I remember it) “we are right out of red port”. Then, passing through the Panama Canal, I couldn’t figure out the buoyaging at all! I won’t go into detail – you can look it up yourself – but, suffice to say that the Americas, Japan, Korea and the Philippines operate a different (and opposite) system to the rest of the world. So to do the Loop, we have to unlearn all our local knowledge and adapt to the US system.

If only it was that easy -  because, as it turns out, there is another system operating for the Intra Costal Waterway (ICW) and yet another for the Western inland waterways (Lakes and rivers).

In a previous posting, I mentioned a Kiwi who had done the Loop and brought his boat back home. Well, we managed to track him down (I will refer to him as Capt Pete) and we have had several visits and chances to admire his Meridian 459 (which is why we are keen on getting one). One of the things he warned us of was the lack of reference in many of the Waterway Guides and books about the Loop to the variances in the buoyaging systems, particularly when the ICW crosses conventional shipping channels. I have obtained the recommended guides from the USA and I must admit that, while there is some info about buoyaging in them, they do not really explain well the relationship between the systems. Capt Pete said he ran aground 4 times because of this confusion, until someone gave him the little gizmo in the pic below, after which he never grounded again.

This gizmo sticks to the helm dashboard, and when you go through the first set of buoys in a new system, you set the red and green caps to match the buoys and then use it for the rest of that waterway to tell you which side of the markers you should pass. Simple, huh! If anyone knows where I can get one from, please let me know (otherwise I will make one before we go).

I also found a US Coast Guard website that had a very good powerpoint presentation on it about buoyaging in all these areas. Some parts were still a little unclear so I have doctored it so I can understand it better based on information on other sites on the net. I don’t know how to put a powerpoint presentation on this blog, but can email it to anyone who wants it if they let me know. 

There is also a system of sound signals on the rivers that you need to know and adhere to because of the large amount and size of commercial barges using them. They consist of whistle or horn signals, or are spoken over the VHF radio with the number of the blasts or whistles being the side on which you should pass etc. ie 1 = port, 2 = stbd, or when all else fails 3 = going astern. It has been suggested that we have a label at the helm to remind us what these signals mean as getting it wrong could be disastrous. See more on: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_2_blasts_of_a_horn_on_a_boat_mean#ixzz1M087spmh

You can also get this information if you do a Safe Boating Course with someone like BoatUS. You can do this online for free at www.boatus.org/onlinecourse and at the end (providing you pass the final exam) you get a Certificate that says it is recognised by the US Coast Guard and should be enough to satisfy the Canadian requirements for proof of competence...... which is necessary if you wish to stay in Canada for more that 45 consecutive days. Just take note that when you enrole, although it will accept an overseas address, you have to declare that you live in one of the US States as the Certificate relates back to that State and some of the course content and exam questions reflect that States laws. I chose Illinois (and the Certificate I got says that I reside in Auckland, IL)......... but any State will do.

We should have some interesting moments on this voyage.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

W.O.W (What of Woody)?

So, “what about Woody then” I hear some more of you say. “Are you going to take him with you?”.

At first we thought that this was the thing to do. We checked out the rules to take him into USA and found that it was pretty easy as New Zealand is considered a Rabies-free country. However bringing him home is an entirely different story. He would have to be checked and certified by a Vet before departure as being free from Rabies and other exotic dog diseases, then he would have to be transported in a brand new purpose built cage which does not allow anyone to come in contact with him and from which he cannot be released until arrival. On arrival he must be re-inspected by a Vet before entry to NZ is allowed and then he would be quarantined for 30 days, which could be extended to 180 days if MAF sees fit. If there is any concern over his health or even if the required paperwork is not in order, MAF have the right to destroy him without consultation.

Then there is the travel itself. Woody would not like being cooped up for upwards of 24 hours will travelling alone in the strange environment of an airplane hold. And, although he loves boating with us (except when it's very rough), we would not like to think of him becoming alligator tucker, or being bitten by a snake, while having his morning ablutions on the landing board.

Looking at the list of “fors” and “againsts”, the againsts far outweighed the only “for” which was to have our good mate and faithful companion with us, which would be pretty selfish.

So "what of Woody"? He’s going to stay with Aunty Lyn on the family farm at Wharehine on the Kaipara Harbour. She looked after him when we went on a North Pacific cruise last year and he had a ball. There are lots of animals to play with and plenty of relo’s with kids to keep him company. Last time he became great mates with a family of piglets who were all about his size.

There are some other people who have offered to look after him as well, and Lyn can use them if she wants to go away for a while, particularly when she and her friend Lois come to the USA to do part of the Loop with us. They’re considering the New York Canal segment which we should be doing around June-July 2013.

Just a bit about Woody now: He is a Swedish Vallhund (Val for short), and will be 3 years old in August. His full name is Vallarity Norwegian Wood and was one of a litter of 9 to Vallarity Kennels in Tirau NZ. Vals are an ancient Viking breed – go to www.svclub.org.nz to read more about them – and are very much the “pocket sized wolf” that they look like. Very intelligent, obedient and loyal.

                                                                8 weeks old
Woody's first dinghy ride

Puppy Woody with Aunty Lyn,  Lois and Mummy 

We’re going to miss him to bits while we are away, but he is better off with Aunty Lyn than being put through the stress of travel and the risks involved in taking him with us and bringing him home again.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Great Plan

The timing to do the Loop is quite specific. If you look at the map on the previous post, you do the green bits in the spring, the orange bits in the summer and the purple bits during autumn (fall) and winter. Constraints are: the Great Lakes freeze in winter and thaw in spring which floods the rivers so you don’t want to be up there either of those times. The Hurricane season is from July to December 1st so you don’t want to be in the Gulf of Mexico or Florida then. The time you start is generally governed by where you start from, but because of these constraints, Loopers are usually travelling “loosely together”, so they apparently tend to meet up a lot.

Therefore our plan is as follows:

Next year, around June(ish), we will buy a boat somewhere around the Great Lakes area, which will probably mean a special trip to the USA and back specifically for the purpose. I favour buying in the Lakes area is because I would prefer a freshwater use boat and that is also where you start the Loop at that time of year. The boat we are looking for will be twin cabin with ensuite in each, separated by the saloon (salon in the USA). It will have twin engines for redundancy, preferably Cummins (despite what has happened with Kindred Spirit’s Cummins VT555 I still like the Cummins B series) and a layout that has stairs, not ladders as the first mate isn’t keen on them any more. And I have been instructed that she wants something newer and a "bit posh". We are presently looking at Meridian 459’s (surprise, surprise) and Carver 444CMY’s that fit the bill. If you want, check them out on www.yachtworld.com, but this what a Meridian 459 looks like and the Carver 444 is remarkably similar: 

And inside


 VIP (guest) stateroom:

Master stateroom: 

Salon entertainment centre: 



Yes, even a washing machine/dryer: 

Sundeck and Wet Bar: 

Sundeck seating

Engine room: 

Doesn’t that all sound sooooo easy ……… It isn’t!!!!

We would then go over again to pick up the boat and have a couple of weeks shakedown cruising to get used to her and provision her up for the trip. We plan to leave Chicago in August, heading down the Illinois river to St Louis before joining the Ohio and Cumberland rivers and into the Tenn-Tom (Tennessee/Tombigbee) Waterway to MobileAlabama. Remember we are not supposed to get to the Gulf of Mexico before 1st December as it is the Hurricane season and you can’t get insurance. We will then cruise the ICW to Florida and cross the Gulf (the only stretch of unenclosed water) to Tarpon Springs (180-odd miles) then down the Florida Coast to the Okeechobee Waterway which crosses Florida about two thirds of the way down. We will then put the boat on the hard at a place called Indiantown and fly home for Christmas. This will give us an idea of whether we like the boat and the lifestyle.

Assuming we do, we will return to Florida in March 2013 and resume our adventure, cruising the ICW up the coasts of FloridaGeorgia, South and North CarolinaVirginia, across the Chesapeake to Maryland and New Jersey and into New York. Then up the Hudson and into the Eerie Canal system to Oswego on Lake Ontario. Across into Canada, then up the St Lawrence seaway to Montreal and back down to Lake Ontario via Ottawa and the Rideau Canal system. We originally planned to go from New York straight up to Montreal via the Champlain and Richelieu Canal system, but if we buy a Meridian or Carver, we will be too tall to go under one of the bridges, so we have to go the long way round.
From there we cross through to Georgian Bay, via the Trent-Severn Canal system, up Lake Huron to the North Channel and back into the USA via Lake Michigan down to Chicago. And here we will have completed the Loop, or “crossed our wake” as Loopers put it.
But that’s not all, because then we will go back down the river system to Mobile again (we were going to go down the Mississippi to New Orleans the second time, but everyone says that it is not a good idea – no fuel stops apparently). Then round Florida’s “Panhandle” to Carabelle and via “the big bend” across the Gulf of Mexico (only 60 miles of open water this way) and right down the Gulf coast of Florida to the Keys. Finally up the Atlantic coast of Florida to somewhere where we either sell the boat, ship it home, or leave it there for future visits. By this time it will be March 2014 and time to go home.

So, there you have it.

So, what about this Great Loop, then?

Since we are now telling friends and family about this blog site, we had better start posting what we’re up to.

So, how did this Great Loop thing all come about? As I think I have said before, we have travelled extensively through the USA over the past 30 years for both business and holiday and from way back intended that, when we retired, we would buy a recreational vehicle (RV to Americans, campervan to kiwis) to travel around the USA for months at a time. We had tried an RV during a visit in 1987 and found it an expensive way to travel for short durations (we only had it for a week), but could see it would make sense to have one for an extended holiday. After that we used to just rent a car and drive around the States finding motels and hotels as we went along, usually using the vouchers in the “Travellers discount guide books” that we would pick up on arrival in each state.

In November 2000 we were booked on an Eastern Caribbean cruise out of Ft Lauderdale in Florida. We had flown into Orlando and hired a car to visit Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Centre (although we had been there 2 years before) and then drive down to the Florida Keys, before returning to Ft Lauderdale to catch the cruise. After 3 days at Cocoa beach, and watching a night launch from Cape Canaveral, we drove south, but opted to stay off the main highways as the scenery is pretty boring from them. So we travelled down the Atlantic coast to Miami and noticed that, while the Ocean was on our left hand side, generally there was another stretch of water on our right – all of the way! We also saw a number of references/signs etc to the “ICW” but didn’t have a clue what it meant. We did the Keys, drove back to Ft Lauderdale, took off on our cruise and thought very little more about it.

When we got back to NZ and were reviewing the trip, I remembered the ICW references and looked it up on the Net. The ICW is the IntraCostal Waterway,  and is an inland waterway that runs from Texas to New York. Apparently was built after WW1 to keep US coastal shipping movements safe from U-boat attack (look it up yourself if you want to know more). It is quite navigable by recreational craft as well as commercial and sounded like much more fun than riding around the US in an RV.
Shortly after, we were talking about to some friends who lived on their boat down at our marina. John is a Kiwi and Laura is an American and they told us that the ICW was in fact part of a round trip, where you can continue from New York up the Hudson to the Great Lakes, back down the Mississippi river system to the Gulf of Mexico and thus do a complete “Loop”. And, what’s more, they said that they had done it! This sounded even more of a better idea than doing the States in an RV.

 Time passed, I was a partner in an importing/distributing business, Carolyn was running her Kindergarten business, and we carried on boating around our local waters in the lovely Kindred Spirit, with the concept of cruising the ICW and beyond dwindling into an occasional recollection. Last year we both rolled over the big six-oh and I decided I had had enough of the business we had been running for the past 25 years – too much stress and uncertainty for not enough income. So my business partner and I decided to close down and “retire”. At around this time a boat (Meridian 459) was advertised in the “for sale” section of a local boating mag which described how the owner had bought it in the USA, CRUISED THE GREAT LOOP IN HER, and brought her back to NZ. I thought “I must contact this fellow and find out how he went about it”…….but I was busy winding down the Company and eventually lost the magazine that had the advert.

Then, during our “Boys weekend”, Kindred Spirit’s engine dropped a valve seat (see previous posts) and the rest is history.

PS This was going to be posted yesterday but Blogger was broken, so there are 2 posts today. I have taken to writing drafts for these in Ms Word so I can edit them before posting and then just copy and paste them to the compose window. I suppose I'm not the only one does this, but it works for me.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Kindred Spirit

And what, I hear you say, about poor old Kindred Spirit. Well, Mr Cummins came up with a good price to fix the motor, and the bits have arrived, so next week KS comes out of the water and the motor out of the boat. A couple of weeks to fix then dyno tested to ensure everythings OK, then back in again. We will use her a little over the winter (as weather permits) to make sure all is still well, then come spring KS comes out again for a make-over. A paint job and new flybridge covers, new carpet and she will be as pretty as a picture again to go on the market, as there is little point in keeping her to sit around while we are away for nearly 2 years. Which is a shame, cause she is a super boat.

When researching through other “Loopers” (people who have done or are doing the Great Loop) blogsites, I was disappointed how little information most gave about their boats, how they were laid out, how they performed, what gear they took, and while there were plenty of photos of the outside or of people sitting round having drinkies, there were very few of the interiors. This made it quite hard to get a feel for what boats are like in the USA, and therefore what boat to buy for our trip around the Loop.

So, to not be a hypocrite and because I need the practice, here are some statistics and pix of Kindred Spirit:

Launched in 1991, she is a 42’ Pelin Eclipse, deep V planing hull, 12’ beam and 4' draft, weighs 9.5 tonnes. She is powered with a Cummins VT555BC diesel engine which develops 320HP @3000rpm and cruises at 16kts with a top speed of 21kts. At cruise she consumes approx 35 litres per hour of fuel. She carries 800 litres of fuel and 800 litres of water, has accommodation for up to 7 in 2 separate cabins plus the saloon, 2 heads, 1 shower plus 1 in the cockpit, and a 45 litre holding tank. The galley has a 4 burner gas cooker with oven and grill, microwave and 230VAC/12VDC electric fridge. There is a large engine driven Eutectic freezer under the downstairs helm seat and a 25 litre hot water cylinder heated by the engine.
She has 230VAC shorepower throughout the boat plus a 1500W inverter and 25A battery charger.  There are 3 x 130AH deep cycle house batteries and 1 x 850CA start battery with separate switches, including one that connects all batteries together. The flybridge helm station has GPS/plotter, depth sounder and VHF radio – there is another VHF at the downstairs helm, along with a stereo radio/cassette player.

She is fitted with a bow thruster and a Muir VRC1250 automatic winch/capstan. The anchor is a 20kg (45lb) stainless steel plough with 60 metres of 10mm chain and there is a spare anchor with 20 metres of 10mm chain and 100 metres of 18mm nylon warp.  We have a seawater washdown system with outlets on the foredeck, cockpit and to flush out the holding tank.

She has a 3.1 metre Southern Pacific RIB with a brand new 5HP Mercury outboard

Lower helm


Master stateroom

Master stateroom vanity (port - another stbd)

Saloon - Table drops to make a double berth, 
settee to starboard pulls out to large single


Guest VIP stateroom

Dolphins and whales fishing (that's a whale right behind us)

Heading home

So now you know all about her

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The next day

Now that we're getting the hang of this blogging thing, time for some introductions.
We are Phil and Carolyn, are New Zealanders (Kiwis) and have set up this blog so we can keep in touch with friends and family when we do the Great Loop cruise, starting next year. Hence the name of this site.
In case you're someone who doesn't know what the Great Loop is, take a look at www.greatloop.org and that will explain it all. Also take a look at www.captainjohn.org if you think you may even be interested in doing it yourself.

We are reaching retirement and have wanted to do this since we discovered it existed during a visit to Florida 10 years ago. We have traveled a lot to the USA over the past 30 years and always anticipated seeing more of it when we retired. We have been boaties in NZ since 1976 and have cruised the Hauraki Gulf and Northland in a variety of different sized vessels (always power, mind you), so could not think of a better way of seeing the real USA than this cruise. 

Having said all that, the thought of doing the Loop completely ignorant of what to expect may have prevented us from ever embarking on this adventure except for one of those (un)fortunate happenings that sometimes come along in life. To explain.....

Our present boat is the lovely "Kindred Spirit" shown at the top of this blog. We have owned her since 2003 and have cruised as far North as Whangaroa Harbour and down to Whitianga in the South, as well as all over the Gulf, Great Barrier Island etc. Last time out was for our annual boys fishing weekend nicknamed "Funuro", which actually lasts 5 days. After 2 days of magic fishing - limit bags caught both days - we were anchoring up for the evening when a little man climbed inside the engine and began hitting it with a hammer to get out. This required immediate shutdown of the engine and a call to our Volunteer Coastguard (of which I am a member) for a tow home the following day. I'll throw in a pic here of our good VCG mates towing us, just to make sure I remember how to do it:
Look at the beautiful weather

Back at home, Mr Cummins came and looked at the engine and started taking bits off. When they got the Port  head off, No2 piston looked like someone had fired a shotgun down the bore at it.

We had dropped a valve seat

Not being happy about this, I decided a new engine was in order and began to look for replacements. Searching the net, I had discovered that you could buy reasonably priced rebuilt marine engines from the USA and, as I was in the import business, I decided this was what I would do. Then a friend at the marina told me he had bought the latest "Passagemaker" magazine (a US boating mag) and there was an article in it about Marine engines that Cummins rebuilt in a factory in Mexico, and he loaned it to me to read. This I did, and a very interesting article it was BUT, there was also an advertisement for the America's Great Loop Cruising Association (AGLCA) and immediately I saw that, the interest in the retirement dream rekindled. I figured we should target "official" retirement age in four years time and bounced the idea off Carolyn, who was all for it but asked why we should wait so long.

So now we're gonna go next year. We have joined the AGLCA, spoken to a fellow Kiwi that did it in 2007 and have begun planning in earnest. We intend to buy a boat in the Great Lakes area and start in August down the Heartland waterways to the Gulf of Mexico and across the Gulf to Florida by December. This will give us enough time to ensure that we like the lifestyle and want to continue. We will then come home, leaving the boat behind, for Christmas and to tidy stuff up here before we go back in March and start the Loop in earnest. We will then do the entire Loop taking about a year to do so, which means we will actually do one and a half loops....probably about 9000 miles. What do we do after that???

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Testing Testing Testing

Being new to the world of Blogging, this is a test page.

This is Woody, our Swedish Vallhund and my first test pic

Now I have got the hang of it I will submit a bit more later.
And this is later and I've figured out how to edit earlier blogs.

And this is the next day and I'm still checking to see if they are editable (is that a word?)