For many, retirement is a time to relax and take it easy, but for Darlene and Rusty Russell, it was an opportunity for adventure. Their Great Loop journey is a story of inspiration and discovering the breathtaking beauty that our world has to offer. Let’s dive into their remarkable expedition and hear from the adventurers themselves.
The Great Loop Unveiled
First things first, what is the Great Loop? The Great Loop Route is a 6,000-mile nautical adventure that takes you through some of North America’s greatest cities, historic sites and heartlands. At its essence, it’s a circumnavigation of the eastern U.S. and part of Canada that boaters cruise while aboard their own boats, while exploring diverse cultures, communities, and natural beauty, usually taking a year or more to complete the journey.
A Dream Born from a Magazine
“I ran across a story on the Great Loop in a magazine and told my wife that we should consider buying a boat when we retire and travel the Great Loop. We talked about it a lot while still working. The adventure sounded like something we both would enjoy”, Rusty stated.
In 2019, the Russell’s purchased their Meridian 540 Pilothouse from Erwin Marine Sales with the intention of retiring and moving from Northern Virginia to Chattanooga to begin the Great Loop in October 2020. Unfortunately, the COVID epidemic pushed their departure date and thus retirement a couple of years. Planning and boat preparations however, continued through October 2022. The prospect of navigating the Great Loop seemed like an experience they both would cherish and enjoy considering the amount of travel they had done during Rusty’s 25 years of US Navy service. On November 12, 2022, Darlene and Rusty, aboard M/Y Bama Breeze, got underway from Chickamauga Marina to begin the Great Loop.
Memorable Stops and Scenic Delights
Darlene and Rusty’s journey was filled with memorable stops and breathtaking natural beauty.
Throughout the Loop, the Russell’s were able to stop along the route, to visit family and lifelong friends, in places like, Pensacola, Crystal River, Tampa, Inglewood, Stuart, Charleston, New Bern, Norfolk, the Chesapeake Bay area, and several towns on Lake Michigan. Many of the towns visited offered glimpses into local history, as well as the role each played in the history of the U.S. There were, however, places that were overwhelming in their beauty, for example, the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence Seaway, which included visits to Cape Vincent, Sackets Harbor, and Clayton, NY, each of which played a significant role in the War of 1812. While in the Thousand Islands, they also visited Singer Castle and Boldt Castle.
In Canada, they experienced the beauty of the Georgian Bay, situated in the northeastern area of Lake Huron, in Ontario. Georgian Bay is known for its rugged shoreline, sandy beaches, windswept pines, and clear blue water. Many starry nights were spent at anchor while in the Georgian Bay and Northern Channel. Anchoring offshore was fun and if the temperatures were warm, allowed for quick dips in the chilly, clear water.
While not part of the Loop, the Russell’s made a side trip to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. This was a very enjoyable experience, with the exception of a few days in marinas, the entire Abaco cruise was spent at anchor, using the dinghy to venture into the small towns, to reprovision and to experience the local culture. Dinghy trips were also made into the canals on the islands to witness the local marine life, for example, manta rays, sharks, and sea turtles, as well as, the large variety of beautiful birds in the islands.
“We thoroughly enjoyed our Loop side trip to the Bahamas and the Thousand Islands in the St Lawrence Seaway. Anchoring off Ellis Island and a morning view of the Statue of Liberty from the water was a memorable experience for our grandchildren that we had onboard for that section of our journey.”
Unforeseen Challenges and Triumphs
The couple encountered ever-changing weather patterns and conditions in the various bodies of water they navigated. On the eastern seaboard, they grappled with extreme tide changes, In the the Great Lakes, weather was the driving factor for movement from one town/harbor to another. Time/distance was the problem of the day. Winds and sea state varied a lot in the lakes. The rivers of the U.S are experiencing low water levels and as a result, some marinas along the Illinois River are inaccessible for deep draft vessels, therefore requiring alternative stopover plans be made, for example, locating suitable anchorages.
“The various weather patterns and conditions in the different bodies of water we traveled. Overcoming mechanical issues and continuing on. The extreme tide changes in some areas along the eastern seaboard.”
Bama Breeze: A Reliable Companion
Their vessel, the Meridian 540 Pilothouse named “Bama Breeze,” proved to be a reliable companion. Though they faced a raw water pump issue on the generator, a quick replacement
of the pump got them back on course. The boat’s amenities, including a full galley with a full-size refrigerator and a 200-gallon freshwater tank, enhanced their experience. They had the freedom to cook onboard, maintain their budget, and enjoy extended stays at anchor.
“Bama Breeze performed well throughout our adventure. We did experience a raw water pump issue but a new pump fixed the problem.”
Friendships that Crossed Wake
The Great Loop is not just about the places you visit; it’s also about the people you meet. Darlene and Rusty, like many Loopers, exchanged boat cards with fellow adventurers they encountered on their journey. These boat cards symbolize connections made and stories shared.
“Like most Loopers, we made boat cards for our trip. These are handed to other Loopers you meet along the way. We have quite a few cards. We did make some lasting friends, especially our boat buddies on M/Y Permanent Vacation. We met them in the Bahamas and cruised the Loop with them until we both crossed our wake at Grand Harbor Marina, Mississippi. Good friends, I’m sure we will see again soon.”
Darlene and Rusty have already discussed going to the Bahamas with some of their fellow Loopers as their next adventure!
Nature’s Majesty in the Georgian Bay
When asked about the most breathtaking natural scenery they encountered, Darlene and Rusty didn’t hesitate: the Georgian Bay and Northern Channel in Canada. The stunning granite rock formations and crystal clear waters left them in awe. The natural beauty of this region made a lasting impression, reminding them of the incredible world that unfolds when you embark on the Great Loop.
“The Georgian Bay and Northern Channel in Canada, provided some of the most beautiful scenery. The granite rock formations and the crystal clear waters were fabulous.”
A Journey of a Lifetime
Darlene and Rusty Russell’s Great Loop adventure is a testament to the power of dreams and the thrill of exploration. Their journey was filled with unforgettable moments, unexpected challenges, and breathtaking beauty. Darlene and Rusty’s story encourages us all to embrace our own adventures, seek out the unknown, and discover the beauty that awaits on our journey through life.
Check out Bama Breeze Great Loop Adventure Facebook page to see every destination the Russell’s encountered and all the memories they captured!