OZAUKEE COUNTY — On Sept. 18, 2022, Gert and Christine Grohmann of Mequon departed the Port Washington Marina on their 32-foot Nordic Tug, Patriot, with a white burgee that represents the start of the more than 6,000-mile route known as America’s Great Loop.
Nearly a year later, the voyagers returned and exchanged their white burgee with a gold one, indicating that they achieved the rare feat of traveling through waterways that encompass the eastern portion of the U.S., Bahamas and part of Canada.
“It was an amazing adventure,” Gert Grohmann said. “It is an accomplishment that only about 200 people, or 150 boats a year complete. That is less than the 700 people who climb Mount Everest or even the 1,000 hikers who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail each year.”
The genesis of the trip was in the spring of 2017, when Gert Grohmann, a Scoutmaster for Mequon Boy Scout Troop 852, attended a high adventure sailing trip with his son in the Florida Keys. One of the other adult chaperones mentioned something about “The Great Loop,” a route that has been attempted in everything from boats over 60 feet long, to kayaks and even jet skis.
After breaking his leg a few weeks later while on duty with the Mequon Fire Department, Gert Grohmann began researching more about boating and the loop during his six-week recovery.
“After telling my wife we should sell everything and move on to a boat (which did not go over well), talking about doing “the loop” in five to seven years seemed totally reasonable,” Gert Grohmann said.
As Gert Grohmann gained more boating experience, even earning his Coast Guard 100 ton captain’s license, Christine Grohmann warmed up to the idea of the trip. In the ensuing years, the two joined America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association, purchased their boat in Ludington, Mich. in 2017 and began spending many summer days cruising the Great Lakes.
Loopers — those who partake in the journey — can begin from any point, but cruise according to the time of the year. For the Grohmanns and many people, it involved: leaving from the Great Lakes in the fall; spending winter in Florida; cruising up the east coast in spring; and enjoying the summer in Canada or Great Lakes.
“Typically the trip is done in one year, but we know of loopers that have done it in three months and some that have taken three to five years,” Gert Grohmann noted.
The couple first traveled down to Chicago, taking the Illinois River to the Mississippi River and then to the Ohio River, which led them to the Tennessee River and to the Tom Bigby Waterway down to Mobile, Ala.
“The fact that everyday we were traveling over waters we had never seen before and we were experiencing things we had never done before, kept us on our toes,” Gert Grohmann said. “Things like transiting huge locks, passing tows on the rivers that had up to 40 barges that could be up to 150 feet wide and 1,200 feet long, entering strange marinas and anchorages, traveling in very shallow waters, sometimes five feet or less.”
The two encountered their longest nonstop run of the trip upon reaching the Gulf of Mexico: a 19-hour trip from Carrabelle, Fla. to Tarpon Springs, Fla. that had to be accomplished at night.
“We were not fast enough to do it in daylight at that time of the year,” Gert Grohmann said. “So after waiting for five days for a weather window, we started around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, ran overnight and got down to Tarpon Springs, Fla. around 11 o’clock the next morning. I think the distance was about 170 miles.”
Despite the challenge, the Grohmanns wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“We always tell people it’s not a vacation, it’s an adventure,” Gert Grohmann said, noting that they also experienced mechanical issues and inclimate weather. “Things do go wrong along the way occasionally, but you just kind of roll with it.”
Making their way across the Florida Okeechobee Waterway and down to the Florida Keys for a month, the two then stopped in the Bahamas, where they spent just over three weeks.
The Grohmanns then headed back up the East Coast to New York City, traveling through the Hudson River and the Erie Canal and the Oswego River before entering Canada and taking the Trent Severn Waterway, which connects to the Georgian Bay and the North Channel of Lake Huron.
From there, the two returned to the U.S., docking in DeTour, Mich. and Mackinac Island before heading back to Lake Michigan.
In all, the Grohmanns have stopped at 167 marinas and anchorages, passed through 15 states and two foreign countries, and transited over 140 locks, and by the time they arrived home, traveled over 7,000 miles.
In addition to the daily adventures, countless destinations and fulfilling a dream, like any trip, it was the new faces that the Grohmanns will remember most.
“One of the surprises is what a strong community we found in other people doing the loop, or loopers,” Gert Grohmann said. “Many nights, we got invitations from total strangers for “Docktails”, where boaters from all over the country and from every walk of life would share their experiences and help other loopers. One tradition is trading boat cards with other loopers we met along the way. We have over 100 cards from boats we have met along the way, some we will never see again and others will be lifelong friends.”
Those can read more about the couple’s adventures on their blog at https://www.patriotsadventures.com.