Birch Bay couple complete 5,428-mile boat journey

Boaters have several options for America’s Great Loop. The Andersons took a northern route through the Great Lakes, and the eastern of the two options through the South. Image courtesy of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association

By Oliver Lazenby

When Pat and Patty Anderson describe their 5,428-mile, 226-day boat journey, the recently retired Birch Bay couple likes to have a map on hand – the improbable trip around the eastern United States is hard to explain.

On April 1, 2017, after dreaming of the trip for years, the Andersons finally unloaded their boat, a 25-foot powerboat named Daydream, into the Okeechobee Waterway in Florida.

From Florida, the Andersons cruised up the East Coast and into the Hudson River, passed through the Erie Canal into Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes, went south from Chicago through the middle of the country on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and other waterways, and reached the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay, Alabama.

They arrived to the boat launch where they started on November 13, completing America’s Great Loop, as it’s called by the organization that promotes it.

“It’s just an epic journey for a boater,” Patty said.

Retirement allowed the Andersons the time for the trip, but why did they pick the loop, rather than boating in Mexico, or going up the Inside Passage?

“That’s not the great loop,” Pat said. “I wanted to do the great loop.”

Back in their home near the water in Birch Bay, with Daydream on a trailer outside, the Andersons have a lot to reminisce about.

Challenges

On the first day of the trip, after climbing on board with their dog Baxter and cat Lucy, the Andersons immediately navigated into the first of more than 100 locks they would pass through on the trip.

The couple have made frequent trips to the San Juan Islands in the 13 years they’ve owned their boat, but locks – systems to raise and lower boats between stretches of water with different levels – were a new experience.

They had limited time to figure out how to secure the boat before water started rushing into the lock.

“It didn’t take long before we were quite proficient at dealing with those things,” Pat said. “The first one was an experience, though.”

The Anderson’s 25-foot C-dory boat is small compared to the average boat on the loop, which makes the locks easier but living aboard more challenging. The America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, which promotes the route, says boats between 32 and 42 feet are most common for “loopers.” Pat called Daydream “the VW camper van of boats” in one entry on their blog, daydreamsloop.blogspot.com.

Patty and Pat with their boat “Daydream” in Birch Bay. Photo by Oliver Lazenby

“We had stayed on the boat probably two weeks at the most before, which isn’t very long compared to eight months but we knew we could do it,” Patty said. “We had all our systems down.”

The Andersons had just one major mishap. They pulled into St. Joseph, Michigan on a calm August day, that also happened to be Pat’s 71st birthday. They secured the boat to a wall at the edge of Lake Michigan.

They spent a few days relaxing in St. Joseph, and were caught off guard when the wind changed one night after dark.

“About midnight, we started experiencing some really violent rocking and it went from bad to worse,” Pat said. “Then the boat started slamming into the wall.”

They stayed up all night fending the boat off the wall and by morning the Daydream’s rub rail – a protective edging on the side of the boat – was bent and peeling off.

It took 12 days to have the rub rail repaired, but the Andersons found a silver lining: “It set us back and put us right in Chicago on our anniversary,” Patty said. “That was way cool.”

Meeting the loopers

In nearly eight months of exploring towns, cities and parks, Pat and Patty said the people they met along the way was the biggest highlight.

They got to know other boaters who were cruising the loop, as most follow a similar schedule to avoid hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico and winter storms in the Great Lakes. They also connected with a lot of people through their blog. They started the blog to have a record of their trip, but people began getting in touch with them through the blog early in the
journey.

While the Andersons were staying in Chicago to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, Pat wrote that they were planning to Uber to Costco to restock on coffee the next day. A Chicago couple read that and offered to drive them.

The couple showed up at the marina, took the Andersons out to lunch at a Greek restaurant and left them with wine and gin as an anniversary present.

“They’re good friends now,” Pat said. “People brought us wine multiple times, just because they were reading the blog and felt like they knew us.”

Stops along the way

The Andersons anchored between the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, explored southern vacation towns including Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida. They cruised through the Great Lakes and the Gulf
of Mexico.

Their favorite stop of all was Mackinac Island, a car-free vacation spot on Lake Huron in Michigan.

“It’s all bicycles and horse carriages,” Patty said. “We enjoyed it so much we extended our stay.”

The island is also known for fudge shops and has an 8-mile bike loop that Pat and Patty rode on their folding bikes.

The Andersons extended their stay at other destinations on their route, but by the time they arrived back at the Okeechobee Waterway in Florida, they were ready to go back home. They wanted to be back in time for Christmas.

“We’re glad to be home,” Pat said. “We loved the adventure but we’re glad to be home.”

They’re not home for long though: The Andersons plan to spend most of the winter in Arizona in their fifth-wheel trailer.

Learn more about Pat and Patty’s trip on their blog: daydreamsloop.blogspot.com.

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