The Great American Loop... The Continuing Adventures Of "Sea Toy"

We continue with Ray and Sherrie Nichols on their voyage through The Great Loop of waterways through the eastern United States.

When Ray and Sherrie Nichols from Rockport in Texas bought their new Riviera 47 Open Flybridge Sea Toy, a mission to explore the Americas began in earnest.

After cruises around Mexico, they decided to take on the Great Loop, a network of navigable waterways right around the eastern half of the United States. It stretches more than 6,000 nautical miles of rivers, canals and lakes and some offshore water.

Last month, they told of their voyage from their home to New York and Boston. After an abortive adventure toward Nova Scotia, they turned back south to New York and a run through the Erie Canal.

They cruised to Kennebunkport, Maine, home of the summer residences of the Bush families.

“We spotted two whales as we left Kennebunkport, and we also saw several groups of seals – but no Bush!” says Sherrie.

Next, they travelled to Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is famed for its tragic witchcraft trials of 1692, but by 1800 Salem was the sixth largest city in America and the richest per capita.

Cruising north on the Hudson River, the Appalachian Trail crosses at the Bear Mountain Bridge. Then around the bend, located on the cliffs high above the river, is the famed West Point Military Academy.

Waterford, New York, on the Hudson River where the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers meet, marks the gateway to the Erie Canal. Opened in 1825, the Waterford Flight features a series of five locks where boats are lifted and lowered 169 feet in elevation in less than two miles. Finally, they entered Oneida Lake and stopped in Brewerton, New York, for a few days.

The Oswego Canal took them through locks, on to Oswego, New York. The following day they crossed Lake Ontario, checked in with Canadian Customs and arrived in Trenton, Ontario, by noon.

The Trent-Severn Waterway consists of beautiful rivers and lakes that meander from the Bay of Quinte in scenic central Ontario to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. On a 240-mile route, 44 locks raise boats nearly 600 feet from Trenton to the summit near Balsam Lake and then lower them 263 feet to Georgian Bay.

“It was definitely a highlight of the trip, “says Sherrie.

“After cruising the beautiful waters of Georgian Bay, we headed to Tobermory. On the tip of the Bruce Peninsula between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, beneath these crystal clear waters, lie some of Canada's oldest and best preserved shipwrecks. The world famous Bruce Trail, 700km from Niagara Falls along the rugged Niagara Escarpment, ends at a stone monument overlooking this harbour.”

They returned to US waters, stopping at Mackinac Island, near the northern tip of Michigan. A step back in time to the early 1800s, the historic waterfront village has horse-drawn carriages and beautiful colonial homes with colourful gardens.

“We arrived in Chicago, known as the Windy City - all the "hot air" emitted by local politicians in the late 1800s - on the weekend - just in time to catch the action at the Chicago Bears Stadium next door to our marina,” says Sherrie.

“We chose to explore the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and in particular the tiny community of St James Harbour at Beaver Island. Next stop was Frankfort, Michigan, part of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore Park. With 480-foot tall sand dunes, white beaches and a backdrop of forests, the views from the lake are simply breathtaking.”

South of Chicago, they entered the river system of Middle America that winds 1,300 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico.

“After cruising the waters of the Great Lakes, the river systems are certainly very different,” says Sherrie. “The grounds around the locks are well cared for and in the park-like settings we saw deer and birds such as snowy egrets, great blue herons, and Canadian geese.”

After 325 miles and three days on the Illinois River, Ray and Sherrie were thrilled to enter the mighty Mississippi river. A few miles farther downstream, the Missouri River joins the Mississippi in a tumble of rapids opposite the Chain of Rocks Canal.

At Cairo, Kentucky, they entered the Ohio River to Paducah, Kentucky.

“When you stop at Hoppie's Marina you will be greeted by Charles Hopkins, arguably the last living Mississippi River lamplighter,” explains Sherrie.

Then they navigated the Barkley Canal which connects Barkley Lake and Kentucky Lake. This later becomes the Tennessee River and near Savannah, Georgia, they passed the Shiloh Battlefield Memorial Park.

The next stage took them into the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, known as the Tenn-Tom. It is 234 miles long, with 10 locks connecting 10 lakes. It goes to the junction of the Black Warrior River and joins the Tombigbee River then meets the Alabama River, and the two create the Mobile River, which flows to Mobile Bay.

“The cypress trees along the Tenn-Tom were in full fall colour and the weather was nice,” says Sherrie.

“Early on November 4 we cruised down Mobile Bay and turned west into the Gulf of Mexico. We and Sea Toy had completed the Great American Loop. We have made our trip of a lifetime. We lived aboard our Riviera for eight months, visited 22 States in the US and several towns and islands in Canada. We cruised three of the Great Lakes and many of the major rivers in Middle America. We logged 7,450 miles on this trip and passed through 121 locks.”



Click to enlarge image:

Lighthouse at Kingston, New York.

Lighthouse at Kingston, New York.

Museum on the Erie Canal.

Museum on the Erie Canal.

The magnificent Niagara Falls.

The magnificent Niagara Falls.

Lock #8 Oswego Canal, New York. Lake Ontario ahead.

Lock #8 Oswego Canal, New York. Lake Ontario ahead.

Ray raised the Canadian flag to tour Canada.

Ray raised the Canadian flag to tour Canada.

Entering the Trent-Severn waterway at Trenton, Ontario.

Entering the Trent-Severn waterway at Trenton, Ontario.

Beautiful where the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi River. Small islands were packed with recreational boaters as we headed to a Marina at Port Charles, Missouri.

Beautiful where the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi River. Small islands were packed with recreational boaters as we headed to a Marina at Port Charles, Missouri.

Just about everyone visits

Just about everyone visits "Hoppie's" Marina on the Mississippi River.

We pass through downtown St. Louis and the soaring stainless steel arch. The

We pass through downtown St. Louis and the soaring stainless steel arch. The "Gateway to the West" commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804.