We crossed our wake back into Dog River on the Western edge of Mobile Bay on a warm, sunny afternoon, just one day ahead of a big storm. We pulled out the Gold America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association burgee and tied it to our bow while our neighbors—some just beginning the journey—congratulated us on our finish.
It’s been quite a journey.
For me it was an emotional experience, reaching deep within to discover I could do more than I thought I could. For Mark it was a chance to test skills and to cross something off his bucket list.
We got to our ports and anchorages safely, sometimes a bit grouchy from long, vigilant days on the water, but always grateful when we tied to our last cleat or the anchor was secure.
Here’s the fourth quarter checklist:
We covered 5,200 miles in seven and a half months. Our average speed was about eight knots, although we drove harder the final week.
Tugs pushing as many as 35 barges—five across and seven deep—were the biggest challenge on the rivers. If they were waiting to go into a lock it meant a three-hour wait. Commercial vessels always had priority. If we encountered them on a curve, we had to scoot way over to the edge of the channel after hailing them on the radio and asking which side they wanted us to pass on. Most of the tug captains were very nice. Some mumbled like they had a wad of chew in their mouth.
Best part of this leg of the trip was the fall color. It was just starting, but very pretty when we had bright days. The white cliffs near Demopolis, Al. were a surprise. I also liked the trip through downtown Chicago on the canal that winds through all the tall buildings and under picturesque bridges.
Most bizarre marina was Hoppy’s, a series of old barges with tires, a couple of folding chairs, and a picnic table. The gas barge had signs proclaiming it was a No Smoking area, while all the old boys hanging out there had cigarettes dangling from their mouths, even when filling our tank.
On this leg we traveled on parts of the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior, and Mobile rivers. We encountered a number of locks and we figured on the entire trip we went through almost a hundred locks of all types, heights, and ages. We tied the boat to them using ropes, cables, or floating bollards. The latter always screeched like a banshee.
Everywhere we went we encountered people we’d met on other parts of the trip. As I’ve said before, making new friends was the best part of looping.
Sea Bear comes out of the water today. It was one of the smallest boats on this trip, but it served us well. It will sit out until early December when it will be picked up and trucked back to California. It’s older and wiser…just like its owners.
It was a trip of a lifetime. But I’ll be glad to get back home.