Category Archives: Route

A cruising schedule, part 4


Sailing upstream against the Labrador Current

In my last post, I mentioned that the offshore area near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina was known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic“, and that many of the shipwrecks that occurred in the area were the result of wild weather and heavy seas stirred up by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream streaming north and hitting the cool, southbound waters of the Labrador Current. Sadly, this means that as I proceed north from Cape Hatteras, I may find myself bucking the Labrador Current, which runs a bit over 1 mph (1.6 kph) in places. That doesn't sound like much, but Magic Moments top speed is only about 6 mph, and any hindrance can be significant. I don't have to be out in the current for most of the trip though – if I'm content to motor along in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW – also known as “the ditch”) for most of the way. Decisions, decisions…

The final leg of the Great LoopRegardless of how I proceed (staying inside the ICW or going outside along the coast), the cool water of the Labrador Current will mean the amount of fog will increase as I head further north – just another of life's little challenges. Sticking with the worst case scenario, I have the following:

  • The route takes me from Cape Hatteras, NC to Atlantic City, NJ within the ICW – a total distance of about 375 miles (604 km). I should be arriving in Atlantic City toward the end of May. If you recall from part 1 of my itinerary, I'd like to be off the Gulf and east coast by the time hurricane season begins in June – so I'll be cutting that part of my schedule a little close. It's only another 100 miles to the shelter of the Hudson River though, so I should be in reasonably good shape. If you're reading this and haven't seen the earlier parts of the trip, you can also take a moment and read through part 2 and part 3 of the trip.
  • I'll continue along the ICW from Atlantic City, NJ to Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, then head outside along the coast and across the bay, entering the Hudson River and the Erie Canal. I'll follow the Erie Canal north to a point just a little north of Albany, NY, then continue west along the canal to Utica, NY – a total distance of 366 miles (or 589 km), arriving near the end of June. I will actually have completed the loop near Bronson, NY, shown below where the short yellow segment of the trip hits my earlier red segment. Those who travel the Great Loop call themselves “Loopers”, and refer to completing the loop as crossing their own wake.
  • Even though the loop will be complete at Bronson, NY, I won't be home until I've returned to the west end of Lake Erie. The  remaining distance from Utica, NY back home is 513 miles, and I should be securing the anchor lines near the end of July, 2016 – 15 months and 6,737 miles after leaving.

That's the plan – now we'll see how it plays out.

The entire route for my Great Loop adventure

A cruising schedule, part 3


Route up the east coast to Cape Hatteras, North CarolinaTrippin' up the Gulf Stream

The title is a little misleading, since the route laid out in the picture to the left is entirely within the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), well clear of the Gulf Stream. My planning to date has all been on protected waters, either on rivers or along the ICW – with the exception of a short run across the Gulf of Mexico from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs, Florida. From a scheduling perspective, staying within the ICW is kind of a worst-case scenario. You can only travel during the day, your route will at times be tortuous as the river or ICW snakes around (definitely not the shortest distance between two points), and you'll be tied to the tiller for much of the time you're traveling. You can't use any autopilot if you need to dodge barges, motorboats, or newly shifted shoals while you're on those protected waters.  In addition, it would be a real challenge sailing where surrounding terrain obstructs the wind and the meandering waterway prevents you from staying on the same bearing for any distance. Translation: lots and lots of motoring – not what I have in mind for a pleasurable trip. The bottom line is that I'll be looking to head offshore in a few places, and I'll also be taking note of places where I can duck into inlets to take shelter if the weather begins to look threatening. If you missed the earlier posts, you can backtrack and look at the routing shown in part 1 and part 2.

One place I'm likely to travel outside the ICW is shown in white in the picture above, from Jacksonville, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina. I understand maintenance dredging of the ICW hasn't been a priority in Georgia, and that grounding is fairly common. Having said that, Magic Moments' draft is under 2 feet, so if the weather doesn't cooperate through that stretch, I'll join the parade of boats motoring their way up the ICW. Here are my best guesses at distances and scheduling:

  • The blue segment shown on the map above runs from Miami, Florida to Jacksonville, Fl – about 352 miles or 566 km. Assuming all has gone well to this point, I should be arriving in Jacksonville at the end of March or beginning of April.
  • Then I'll have to decide whether to follow the ICW through Georgia or not. If I stay inside the ICW as shown in white, the trip will be about 251 miles (404 km). If I can catch some good weather, I could head offshore and complete the same trip in under 200 miles (321 km) – including traveling 20 miles offshore and 20 miles back again. It would be nice to see the night sky without no ambient urban lighting to spoil the view, and to see the phosphorescent trails of dolphins at night – as well as watching them play during the day! Regardless, the trip as plotted above should put me in Charleston, South Carolina by the middle of April.
  • The last leg shown above (in red) is about 356 miles (573 km), which means I should be docking in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina early in May. I doubt I'll tempt fate too much on this leg by going outside the ICW as I near the cape, an area known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Confused seas and sudden, severe weather changes can result when the warm waters of the Gulf Stream flow north and hit the cold waters of the Labrador Current as it flows south.

I don't generally do intensive planning like this for trips, but it's not as if I'm jumping in a car and driving to Florida and back. I can't just twiddle my thumbs for the next two years, so I may as well try to get my act together before shoving off. Next up – I'll finish my trip up the east coast and head up the Hudson River in New York, where I'll have to drop the mast again to travel the length of the Erie Canal on my way back west to Lake Erie in part 4.

A cruising schedule, part 2


‘Best Guessing' my way around the Great Loop

Great Loop itinerary, part 2I've been working on establishing some kind of cruising schedule – without specifying departure or arrival dates . For a better idea of what I'm referring to, see part 1 of this scheduling effort. Magic Moments and I were last ‘scheduled' to be in Tennessee, with the intent to hit the waterways again in late November, 2015. After departing, my cruising will be done in several steps, as follows:

  • First, I'll head back downstream along the Tennessee River, partially retracing my earlier route. When I reach the Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway, I'll depart my earlier route and head south to Demopolis, Alabama. This leg is about 564 miles long (907 km). With luck, the boat and I will arrive in late December, with our sights set on points south.
  • The next leg of the journey will be from Demopolis to Panama City, Florida, about 381 miles according to Google Earth (about 613 km), and will put me on the Gulf of Mexico in mid-January.
  • The short white segment of the Great Loop is shown in white in the picture to the right, from Panama City to Carrabelle, Florida. It's only about 87 miles (or 140 km) long – so I should arrive by late January. What happens next will be determined in part by weather windows opening on the Gulf, so I may be held up in Carrabelle for a bit. The next bit of the Great Loop involves crossing the Gulf, whether along the shore (as shown in red, south of Carrabelle), or heading south-east across the open waters of the Gulf to Tarpon Springs, Florida. When I'm finally able to scoot across the Gulf, I may duck back inside the Intracoastal Waterway and continue south to the southern tip of Florida – where I'll have to hole up again and wait for a weather window to head to Dry Tortugas National Park at the  western tip of the Florida Keys. Magic Moments and I will follow along the south side of the keys on the way back up to mainland Florida, View from the cockpit while beating upwind in Lake St Clairand should hit Miami in the middle of March, after traveling 816 miles (or 1313 km) around the western and southern sides of the state.

I'll begin laying out my trip up the United States' east coast in part 3 of my planning effort. It'll be interesting to see how closely my rough timetable and my actual schedule coincide. I don't plan on biting my nails over the issue though – especially on this leg of the trip. I'll be too close to Margaritaville to worry!

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 the  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.