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St. James City couple travels America’s Great Loop

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Jan 20, 2021

Kathy and Mike New on board “Happy Trails” with their cat Knotty. PHOTO PROVIDED

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

Mike New, along with his wife and first mate Kathy New, left St. James City aboard their 44-foot Schucker Motorsailor, known as “Happytrails,” for America’s Great Loop, with Knotty, their Himalayan cat.

The couple’s plan was to head north from St. James City, up the west coast of Florida, cross the Gulf of Mexico and wait out hurricane season from Kingfisher Bay Marina, Demopolis, Alabama, before starting their first trip of a lifetime.

Mike describes America’s Great Loop as an interconnected waterway that circumnavigates the east coast of the United States. The trip, he said, is somewhere between 5,600 to 6,000 miles, depending on where you go in that time.

“We did it in exactly one year to the day we began,” said Mike, “but some people take multiple years.”

Because COVID-19 was already a threat when they began the trip, the couple made notes along the way of the places and things they’d like to see the following year, which could turn into a multi-year trip.

A love for boating coupled with the adventure of seeing the United States was the driving force behind the trip, the couple said.

“There’s so much to see from the water,” said Mike.

“It’s historical too,” said Kathy, admitting that history played a big part in her desire to make the trip. “We would go into a small town where there was a lot of history and I would take pictures and put it on Facebook. We know about the Great Lakes but we’d never been there.”

They especially loved going through the Erie Canal, saying it was one of the highlights of the trip. “It took us about 10 days to go from Albany to Buffalo,” said Mike. “I wish we could have spent more time because it was so interesting,” he said speaking of the Erie Canal, with its 35 locks across the state of New York.

“These locks were built back in the 1800s and early 1900s. They used to draw the boats through there by mule.”

The couple found that every state and every body of water had something to teach them about the area.

“Anyone can do it,” said Mike, adding that anyone who isn’t certain about what they’re doing might want to take a boating class. Kathy admits they’ve learned a great deal being a part of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association along with hundreds of other cruisers who are available to answer any questions regarding the trip.

“There’s a whole group of people out there doing the Great Loop,” said Mike, “we have met a ton of people in our first year that are a part of this association. We’ve become, what I know will be life-long friends, because we have so much in common. It’s been great so far and I know we’ll be doing it again.”

Most people, Mike said, use a crawler or a motor yacht, because of the height restriction on some of the bridges.

“To do the Loop, you can’t be any taller than 17 feet, so we had to take our mast down three different times along the way.”

A part of the plan for the couple was to make a side-trip to the Bahamas for a few months. However, after having paid the fees and getting a permit for Knotty, they had to return to the United States.

“We had the choice to either stay on our boat for our 2-month planned duration, or return to the U.S. By this time, Bimini was a ghost town and most of the dining and shops were closed to the public. With the possible risk of re-entry issues, we returned back to the U.S.A. after only one week in the Bahamas,” said Kathy. “The virus threat continued to limit our access to many small towns, marinas and special events along the way, along with our second side-trip through Canada, which is why we decided to start a second Great Loop adventure, heading back to St. James City as soon as we finish minor engine repairs, repairing canvas, and can step our mast.” (Sailing term to raise a sailing mast after having to lower it several times due to the low bridges along the route). “We completed The Great Loop exactly one year after traveling under 557 bridges, through 83 lock systems to ‘cross our wake’ (a Great Loop term to return to the starting point and trade out a white flag for a gold flag, hence, they are now known as  “Gold Loopers“). I took over 4,000 pictures and videos capturing the most beautiful sunrises, sunsets, full moons and marine life, such as dolphins playing in our boat wake, quaint towns, historical landmarks and the forever friends we made along the way.”