A cruising schedule… sort of


Making my best guess where I'll be, and when I'll be there

The water here is a little too hard for sailing, so I turned my thoughts to scheduling my travels on the Great Loop. I'm not referring to a conventional schedule; trying to arrive in specific locations on specific dates runs counter to the laid back nature of the journey. Trying to rigidly control departure and arrival dates may be dangerous if you press on when Mother Nature and King Neptune say you should hang back.

Magic Moments, snowcoveredMy kind of schedule relates more to creating loose guidelines for traveling. Like most sailboats, Magic Moments has a displacement hull, and her maximum hull speed is limited by her waterline length. Her top end is only about 6 knots (which translates to 6.9 mph, or 11.1 kph). She's no racehorse, but then neither am I in a hurry. I'll use the following guidelines:

– Travel an average of 30 miles a day, and plan on traveling only 5 days a week. That will leave me time to wait for weather, etc. I'm also planning on traveling only three weeks each month, leaving one week a month free for futzing.
– There are some legs of the trip where progress will be slowed by lock schedules or because I have to work my way upstream against the current. In those areas, I'll assume I'm able to travel only 20 miles a day.

With those guidelines in mind, I intend to avoiding hurricane season (June – December for the Gulf and Atlantic states) and work within the seasonal schedules for locks along the Erie Canal and theĀ  Trent-Severn Waterway. I'm using Google Earth to grab distances, and making sure to include places of interest, such as Georgian Bay and the North Channel. I may plan a few side trips in the event my guidelines were too conservative and I have some extra time to enjoy other trips.

Great Loop itinerary, Part 1With that in mind, here's what I've come up with:

  • Head east on Lake Erie to Buffalo, New York and pick up the west end of the Erie Canal, then follow the Erie Canal to Oswego, NY and head northwest across Lake Ontario to the Trent-Severn Waterway (about 560 miles, or 901 km).
  • Take the Trent-Severn Waterway further northwest to Georgian Bay, on the east side of Lake Huron (approximately 278 miles, or 447 km).
  • Plan to arrive in Georgian Bay in mid to late June, and the North Channel in early July. The water will still be soaking up the heat of the summer, and the black flies will (hopefully) have retired for the season. I'm not trying to be a weenie here – I've spent much of my adult career working outside, and biting flies, mosquitoes, etc. are a fact of life. Still, if I can schedule around the worst of it…
  • I'll pass under the Mackinac Bridge in mid July after traveling about 320 miles (515 km) through Georgian Bay and the North Channel.
  • Nearly everyone who has done the Great Loop says it's best to be off the Great Lakes by mid September, so I'm planning on traveling 389 miles (626 km) down the west side of Lake Michigan, and exiting the lake through downtown Chicago early in August. I have read of some who begin their journey around Michigan in October, citing off season rates and readily available marina slips, but they're veterans who have made the trip 15 or 20 times. This greenhorn will stick with the commonly held wisdom, and be off the lakes earlier rather than later.
  • I'll follow the Chicago River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to the Illinois River, taking it to the Mississippi River. My ‘schedule' calls for me to be to the juncture of the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers by the beginning of September after traveling 542 miles (872 km) from Chicago. The weather will be turning a little cooler at that time of year, so I'll need to have sorted out some way to keep the cabin warm. Most heaters burn some kind of fuel, and all create water vapor as a by product of that combustion – so it's important to have a heater that vents outdoors. My idea of a warm and cozy cabin on a chilly night does not include moisture running down the walls, creating a haven for mold. More on heating later.
  • I have family I'd like to visit up the Tennessee River, so I'll slog upstream along the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers nearly to Knoxville (564 miles, or 908 km), docking the boat in late October.

Check back for the next installment of my rough schedule, picking up in late November when I rejoin the boat and head for points south.

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