Princess V48 owner Elliott Maurice sets off on his Great Loop adventure from Florida to New York then up the Hudson river and through the canals to the Great Lakes.
On the whole, I describe boating as a passion, not a hobby. Anything that requires such a large chunk of capital, an ongoing supply of hard-earned funds and endless time spent on maintenance and logistics should not be called a mere hobby.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me that the best days of boat ownership are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.
Well, not for me. As far as I’m concerned it’s about daring to dream – a childhood passion that set me on a path to one day doing and seeing the things I’d read about within the glossy covers of MBY.
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I started sailing at the age of eight on the Welsh Harp reservoir in North London in a wooden pram dinghy that my father purchased in a sorry state and refurbished over the winter. At 24 I bought my first motor boat, a 28ft Maxum sportscruiser.
Since then I have owned several boats from high performance powerboats to family cruisers, originally in the UK then southern Spain and now Florida. I have been fortunate enough to have cruised the Costa del Sol, the Greek Islands, the Southern Grenadines and both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida and the Bahamas.
Having previously flown into Miami airport more than 100 times on business trips from the UK, I would always look down on the approach and see dozens of boats transiting north and south between Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Keys or heading east to the Bahamas and the Caribbean and think to myself that I too would love to do that.
So in 2017 I followed my dream and emigrated to Florida with my current boat, a 2006 Princess V48 called Privilege. Over the past three years, I have undertaken several cruises across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, which were every bit as wonderful as I had imagined and more.
The journey is a relatively easy one, weather permitting, and once across the Atlantic shelf into Bahamian waters, the ocean seems to light up from within as the colour changes from dark blue to iridescent turquoise and starts teeming with exotic sea life.
Every island offers its own unique experience. Honeymoon Harbour at the north end of Cat Key is home to stingrays that eat out of your hand just a few feet from the beach.
Bimini, a small island on the western tip of the Bahamas and only 60 miles from Miami, is a shark sanctuary and one of the few places you can dive with great hammerheads in shallow water.
It is also a sport fishing mecca, regularly hosting catch-and-release tournaments. A hundred miles further east the Exumas offer true desert island cruising, while Harbour Island has native pigs that swim out to greet you in the hopes of a free meal. Eleuthera Island, with its pink sand, is yet another example of this unique paradise.
Now with an extensive Florida cruising repertoire under my belt, I am planning a new adventure. For boaters based on the East Coast of the US, completing The Great Loop is the ultimate cruising pilgrimage.
Involving a vast network of interconnecting rivers, canals and coastal passages, it allows you to literally loop the entire Eastern US from Florida in the south to the Great Lakes in the north via the Atlantic Seaboard, the Hudson river, the Mississippi and back down into the Gulf of Mexico before looping around Florida and the Keys in one great big circle spanning more than 5,000 nautical miles.
No wonder The Great Loop is considered the Route 66 of boating and, needless to say, it’s the one trip I have been itching to do for years.
The grand plan
My plan is to start the first half of the loop in late spring from my home port in North Miami with a view to finishing at the western end of Lake Erie in a place called Sandusky, Ohio, around six weeks later.
This will give me the chance to enjoy a summer of lake cruising, taking in Chicago, Canada, and all the Great Lakes before completing the second half of the loop next year.
This part of the journey involves the long passage south down the Mississippi, past New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico where I will coast-hop along Florida’s Pan Handle to the Keys before heading back up north along Florida’s eastern coast.
To help me with this year’s trip I have invited nine friends, all of whom are experienced boaters, split across three separate legs.
Our route starts in Miami and will take us 350 miles north to Jacksonville on the Florida/Georgia border. From there it is 180 miles to historic Charleston, South Carolina, where the weather will gradually change from the searing heat of Florida to a more temperate climate not dissimilar to England.
Having never visited Charleston, I plan to spend a couple of days enjoying the famous Southern hospitality of this historic British-founded port. Known for its fabulous dining and historic architecture, this will be the first highlight of the trip.
From Cape Fear to New York
From there we will head 130 miles north to Cape Fear and then another 120 miles to Newport, North Carolina. The next stage takes us to our second big stop in Norfolk, Virginia, home to the US Navy and Chesapeake Bay.
This too will be a major sightseeing opportunity with the chance to take a tour of the enormous WW2 battleship USS Wisconsin and cruise Chesapeake Bay with its stunning scenery and legendary seafood.
The next and final sea legs are a 300-mile run north to New York with a stop in Atlantic City – Las Vegas on the sea – with its large casino resort hotels, sandy beaches and famous boardwalk.
This stretch also takes us in past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and to Manhattan for a couple of nights in The Big Apple for sightseeing and some decadent dining with a decent steak high on the agenda.
From here, the Hudson beckons with its wooded and winding trail that takes us past The West Point Academy and some of the most majestic scenery of the entire trip.
The two-day journey up the Hudson takes us as far as Albany where we will enter The Erie canal system. We are planning to cover the 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo at around 30 miles per day through most of the canal system’s 57 locks, all navigated at idle speed.
This will likely prove the most challenging part of the journey with 294 bridges to pass under, many of which have only a few inches of clearance over my boat’s anchor light. Overnights will mostly be spent moored on the canal’s walls or anchored in a cutting so we can sample the local towns and taverns.
Finally, the Erie Canal will take us through the historic landscape that skirts Lake Ontario and into the Great Lakes proper. The sheer experience of transiting this scenic 200-year-old canal system, with its Victorian lock system, should be a fitting climax to the journey and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We will need to make sure we head west at the fork – heading east directs you to Niagara Falls and a likely sticky end – where we will eventually exit the canal at Buffalo, taking us into the vast Lake Erie and our final part of the loop.
This involves a 200-mile run south-west across the lake and is likely to prove the riskiest part of the entire journey. The majority of the lake freezes in winter, as do the rivers that feed this vast body of fresh water, so at this time of year it is still strewn with debris from the thaw, such as submerged trees that are extremely hard to see but can cause immense damage if hit.
All the crew on this leg are local boaters with more than a century of combined experience on the lake. The crossing ends at Sandusky, Ohio, at the famous Barrell House Saloon sited on its own jetty over the lake.
A fun mecca for summer boaters, Sandusky, with its historic Kelley’s Island and Put-in-Bay party island, will become Privilege’s new home during the summer of 2021 before I tuck her up safely into winter storage at the end of October.
Known for the Battle of Lake Erie, where on the 10th September 1813 the United States Navy defeated the British Navy and sunk or captured the British fleet’s warships, it seems fitting that a proudly British boat built next to Plymouth’s naval dockyard will be spending its summer in these waters.
Cruising the Great Loop: Preparation is key
Having spent the last two months getting the boat prepared for the trip, including a hefty 1,000-hour service to the engines and generator, an air-conditioning service and descale, as well as a thorough review of all the onboard safety equipment and systems, I am confident that Privilege is more than ready for the adventure that lies ahead.
I have been just as busy sorting out the logistics of crew changeovers, accommodation and an appropriate inventory of provisions. I need to make sure all possible scenarios are covered including a significant change in weather and temperature, and, of course, food and beverages for each leg to cover four to five crew packed on a 50-foot sportscruiser.
Fortunately, high-speed wi-fi is available along most of the route allowing all the crew to work remotely during the trip.
If everything runs smoothly the first half of the loop should take between three to five weeks end-to-end, but as anyone who has ever owned a boat knows, things rarely go exactly to plan. The adventure awaits…
My Great Loop itinerary
Miami – Port Canaveral (171 miles)
Canaveral – Jacksonville (151 miles)
Jacksonville – Beaufort (130 miles)
Beaufort – Charleston (90 miles)
Charleston – Cape Fear (125 miles)
Cape Fear – Newport (112 miles)
Cape Fear – Coinjock (134 miles)
Coinjock – Norfolk (134 miles)
Norfolk – Annapolis (125 miles)
Annapolis – Atlantic City (164 miles)
Atlantic City – New York (110 miles)
Brooklyn NY – Poughkeepsie (73 miles)
Poughkeepsie – Erie Canal (63 miles)
Erie Canal – Sandusky (197 miles)
Next month: Elliott and his crew set off from Miami to Cape Canaveral and the historic city of Charleston
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