After reading the forum over the last year, I’ve seen a lot of questions about the logistics of putting together a Great Loop adventure. Everything from what state you want to register your boat in to what to do with your dirt house -- there is so much planning that goes into the trip. And then we started seeing some of the Loopers who were coming from other countries and I started thinking about how much more involved their planning process must be.
I talked with a couple of our Australian Loopers (we even have two Harbor Hosts in Australia!) to get an idea of the challenges they faced.
Let’s Meet Them
Current Loopers, Clive and Anne Arnold, began their Loop adventure with the purchase of their boat in Florida and, at the time of this writing, are in New Jersey.
Experienced boaters, spending the last several years cruising Tasmania and the East coast of Australia in their 40’ sail boat, Clive and Anne found themselves looking for another adventure. They’ve known about the Loop for a while, but once their son took a job in Los Angeles, they thought it would be nice to visit him and, while they were already in the States, do the Loop too!
“As it turns out, we haven’t yet been to LA, although he visited us in Florida.” Anne mused.
Harbor Hosts Colin & Dawn Warrington, who completed their Loop in 2016, learned of the Great Loop while discussing transporting a boat from the U.S. to Australia, trying to find a port from which they could ship the boat from one country to the other. During their internet research, they found AGLCA. Colin has been boating most of his life along the East coast of New Zealand. When they moved to Australia, he and Dawn regularly cruised the East coast of Queensland.
Buying a Loop Boat and Immigration Issues
The biggest challenges both couples faced while planning for their Loop were:
1. How to purchase a boat from halfway around the world
2. Immigration Visas
As many U.S. and Canadian Loopers before them, before buying their Loop boat, the Arnolds needed to sell their current yacht and figure out what to do with their dirt house (they decided to rent it). Because they only have a fixed amount of time on their visa, the less amount of that time they spent purchasing the boat after arriving in the States, the better. Get help from industry professionals to figure out taxes and documentation. AGLCA sponsors All Yacht Documentation and Curtis Stokes and Associates assisted the Arnolds with all aspects of the boat purchase.
The Arnolds hit the ground running when it came to purchasing their Loop boat, “We arrived in Florida on a Tuesday, saw the boat on the Friday, arranged surveys etc for the Friday two weeks later, closed on the following Wednesday, moved on board on the Thursday and left on the Loop Saturday the following week.” Even moving as quickly as they did, they were a month into their visa before they were able to start their Loop.
The Warringtons found a documentation company in New England who helped them register their boat in Maryland.
“Maryland had the cheapest rates and there is no obligation to advise the state when you are leaving.”
When choosing a boat, the Warringtons advise choosing a boat that is not too big. “Ours was 38’, just right – some older marinas and ones in Canada are built for small boats – narrow and not very long.” Both couples suggest not worrying too much about having everything just “right”. Make sure the boat is safe and comfortable and get on your way. You’ll have plenty of time while underway to work on tweaking things.
Immigration provided another hurdle. The standard visa is only issued for three months. Both couples knew this wouldn’t be anywhere near enough time to purchase boats and complete the Loop. Even working with a six month visa, you will need to move quickly through the Loop, or plan on completing the Loop in two pieces. You definitely don’t want to spend too much of that time dealing with the logistics.
The Arnolds discovered they needed to get special visas, which required a personal interview! They traveled 500 miles to the closest place where interviews were held and then had to persuade the Powers That Be they were going to need more than three months. Eventually, after having the Loop explained to the Immigration office, they were given the 6 month visa.
The Warringtons advise, “Get the immigration and visas sorted before you go and check thoroughly about criteria for leaving and entering from USA to Canada and back. We had done all this prior to leaving but even after all this we were still hassled by American immigration about how long we were going to be in Canada and whether we could enter again or not. We could never get the same answer or a definitive statement about this and could find nothing written down. We were often told that the immigration officer at the border had complete autonomy to make any decision. So treat them courteously.”
The Warringtons opened a U.S. bank account to make paying for things easier and to save on the exchange rate fees they would have paid if using their Australian credit card.
There are so many things you take for granted in your home country that you will need to make plans for before you leave: arranging money, credit cards, phones, weather apps, local news sources, how to find notices to mariners…all these things will be different in the U.S. from Australia. Even things like statute miles vs. nautical miles, feet vs. meters, Celsius vs. Fahrenheit.
Anne adds, “The weirdest things are that the sun goes across the sky incorrectly, the moon waxes and wanes the wrong way, and latitudes go North and West instead of South and East.”
What Should You Bring?
Do your research before you come to the U.S. and decide what you will require to live on the boat for 6 months at a time. As Colin and Dawn point out, they didn’t have the option to leave the boat at a marina and fly home for a month or two and then fly or drive back to the boat. This was their home as long as they were in the U.S.
Make sure you have navigational books, such as Skipper Bob or Waterway Guides, because you will get so much more information about the waters you are cruising than just the conditions of the waterway, anchorages and marinas. You’ll also have lock and bridge opening information and places you might want to visit.
The Arnolds were left with much of the general boating and galley equipment from the previous owner of their vessel. “In retrospect, more clothes, especially warm ones, would have been good. We really weren’t expecting such cold and wet weather and we certainly didn’t have enough tools.”
The Warringtons found “You end up wearing the same old shorts and tops most days” and also noted, “You do not have to stock up with months of provisions – there are shops at every marina…Look for long life milk (usually in the baking isle) and stock up because it can be hard to find". Even if the marina store isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, some marinas have loaner cars that you can get to a grocery for provisions. Also take advantage of your Harbor Hosts! Many will happily lend you their vehicle or give you a ride to a grocery store, post office, or wherever else you might need to go.
Was it worth it?
Yes! Colin and Dawn emphasized what most of you do about the Loop: “The people we met were our most memorable and favourite moments. We never met anyone who was objectionable or rude (except some immigration officials).”
Locals brought baked goods, offered to take them shopping, loaned vehicles and offered accommodations.
“We never tired of the docktails each evening…we met many new friends…”
They would have loved to have spent more time exploring the Potomac, Chesapeake, up the Hudson, and in Canada but were forced to keep moving due to the visa requirements.
The Arnolds are planning to do six months, fly home when their visa expires, and come back for another six months to complete their Loop, allowing for a little more time to explore.
Check out the Warringtons blog to see their whole trip - photos and narrative at: auskiwiloop.blogspot.com.