With the Gold Burgee raising ceremony behind us, here is the first of a few final posts, summarizing our Great Loop Experience.
We often get asked – “So, what was your favorite place on The Loop ? “
To identify 1 place after a year of travel is IMPOSSIBLE.
But Jonell & I have attempted to make our list of Top-10 Ports & why they stand out in our memory banks.
The task was quite hard, so we even cheated and will supply 5 honorable mentions.
Both of us initially started with about 25 , top-10 Ports !
Below is the whittled down list.
Mike’s Top -10 (+ 5 honorable mentions)
1. Port #49-50 (Carabelle/Clearwater Florida)
Ports #49-50 are the ports just before & just after our 170 mile, 20 hour, nite-time crossing of the Gulf of Mexico. This event sticks in my memory banks due to the high anxiety prior to crossing, the coolness of doing it alone feeling like an explorer, the serenity and quietness of hearing only the motors and water rush and seeing only water all around you in every direction for hours.
I vividly remember sitting out on the eyebrow of the boat at 2-3am in the morning with the boat on autopilot, a full moon lit night, and totally smooth waters – thinking how cool this was !
I had about 30 seconds of a euphoric feeling that night.
2. Port #53 – Fort Myers Beach Florida – The Pink Shell Marina & Resort
All of the items below come back in my memories, making this #2 for me.
We spent the month of December here.
Full access to the Pink Shell Resort Hotel Facilities – Beach Chairs, Umbrellas, Firepits
Christmas Eve & Day on the Beach with just me & Nellie.
Wonderful weather the entire month of December.
Arriving in Fort Myers with Rich & Anita – the afternoon farewell drinkfest at Doc Ford’s.
The Ashley/Dave & Dan/Megan visits.
My sister Brenda’s visit.
The Vrabels visit (Dave, Carol, Eric, Laura)
Brenda & Vrabels cruising with us to Marco Island (& Brenda going on to Key West).
Dinners with Donna Mae & Ramble On.
3. Port #56 – Marathon Florida – Fara Blanco
The Faro Blanco Marina was just a beautiful place in a beautiful setting.
We spent a week here.
I remember the pool side parties with The Spraggs & the other Loopers.
I have fond memories of simple things like playing bag toss with the Spraggs in a pretty grass setting, overlooking the marina.
At Fara Blanco we had many of our best Looper friends with us – Rula Bula, Craic, Ramble On, and Pharm Life.
We were treated by Dennis Hahn from Pharm Life, busting into an impromptu harmonica session with the poolside musician one night.
And we got to know, our now great friends Craic much better on the Dinghy Regatta.
4. Port #36 – Florence / Muscle Shoals Alabama
This was a really cool stop on the Tennessee River, with a lot of memory makers that we had no idea existed prior to Looping.
We spent about a week here over 2 separate visits, on the way into & back from Rogersville Alabama.
Florence Alabama is across the river from the city of Muscle Shoals Alabama.
The Muscle Shoals Recording Studio was one of the most famous studios in the country.
I had never even heard of it, but every famous artist you have ever heard of, had recorded here in years past.
The Muscle Shoals Recording Studio was most famous for the Lynard Skynard song Sweet Home Alabama, of which the song says “Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers”.
The Swampers were the studio band at Muscle Shoals.
We also went to a place called “Tom’s Rock Wall”, a 3 foot high mile long rock wall a guy named Tom spent 30 years building to honor his Indian great grandmother.
We visited the birth home of Hellen Keller.
We had a wonderful anchorage under the ole train bridge with Kenny & Carla.
We went thru the tallest lock on The Loop – The Florence Lock (over 100 foot rise/drop).
We had awesome fun, partying with Mother Ocean (Dennis & Jan) & Ken/Carla.
5. Port #102 – New York City / Liberty Landing Marina
This port jumps near the top of the list due to two main things – Visiting the 911 Memorial Museum & Boating right up to The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. Both events were so cool and some of the things we saw are now burned into our minds.
It was also very cool navigating the Hudson River & all the commercial ferry traffic.
Additional highlights included ; One World Trade Center, Ellis Island, & Times Square.
It was also memorable due to the bill – We were there for 5 days, and left just before the 4th of July, because the price went from $5/foot ($225/night) to $8/foot ($350/night).
6. Port #42 – Three Rivers Lake Anchorage, Alabama (just north of Mobile)
This is the anchorage where we were led in by Larry Chrysler of the vessel Bucket List. The entrance started out about 30 feet wide & 10 feet deep, but soon looked like we were entering the Amazon with the width getting so tight that branches were touching the boat and water depth went down to 5 feet. Then suddenly the narrow creek opened up into a beautiful Lake.
We had the added bonus of rafting with all of our dear Looper friends – Bucket List, Odyssey, and Rula Bula.
We had a wonderful pot-luck dinner on Bucket List, of which everyone pitched in.
We watched Rula Bula’s drone video on Gettin’ Looped’s 47″ Flatscreen.
It was one of those magical nights.
7. Port #96 – Annapolis / Washington DC – Annapolis Yacht Basin
It was the 1st experience in Washington DC for both me & Nellie – seeing all the famous landmarks was awe-inspiring. We walked our legs off for 2 days.
The image of all the crosses at Arlington National Cemetery & the ceremony honoring the unknown soldier were very solemn events.
The most interesting things we did that most folks cannot, was to have Lunch at the exclusive Republican Club Restaurant (thx to Beth from Lab Partners) & we went to the once/year Congressional Baseball Game at National Stadium. At the game, representative Steve Scalise, who was shot 1 year to the date, made the first putout of the game. It was very emotional for everyone in the stadium.
In this port we also visited The Annapolis Naval Academy.
Our marina was also right next to the famous “Ego-Alley” boat canal. Watching show-off boats come in/out of the canal was a great pass-time.
AND – Annapolis is just a very cool city, modern city with an old-time feel.
8. Port # 71 – St. Augustine Florida
Same for St. Augustine, It’s just a really really cool city – outdoor dinners at restaurants with only 4-6 tables & small narrow streets, make it feel like you are in Europe.
It’s a modern city, but with most of the buildings originating back to the 1600’s time period. There was 1600/1700’s history at every corner.
We met local tour guides Bob & Marjorie – related to our Detroit friend Chris Stoker.
We met local tour guides Brian & Kim Hinman- who are related to my great pal Dave Hinman.
We had several more dinners with our now good friends, Tim & Patti from Craic
9. Port #57 – Islamorada – Plantation Yacht Harbor
This one jumps out because I remember backing the boat into our slip and hearing some guy saying “that’s my boat, that’s my boat”.
The guy shouting that was Dave Sylver, the guy I bought the boat from.
It was a crazy, impromptu meeting of chance.
We had a great time partying with Dave & Michele Sylver (our Great Loop God-Parents), along with – The Spraggs, Rula Bula, and Craic.
At this port we also had the dinghy ride from hell, back from the Lorelei waterfront bar.
This port had maybe the most beautiful beach, called Marker 88 – a very small quaint beach looking like a Gilligan’s Island Cove. We sat under the shade trees right at the water, had drinks from the Marker 88 bar, and listened to the tropical music for about 5-6 hours on a beautiful afternoon. While on the beach, we were also treated to the landing of a seaplane right in front of our beach lounge chairs.
The day was even more special by sharing the experience with The Spraggs, who were with us the entire month of February.
The last memory was one of our late night party sessions with The Spraggs, The Sylvers, and a well served Dave Sylver singing quite loudly – “stroking to the east, stroking to the west, stroking to the one that I love best, she’s stroking”. It was so funny !
10. Port #126 – The South Benjamin Island Anchorage.
Just me & Nellie in potentially the most beautiful spot on The Loop.
Mike’s Honorable Mentions
11. Port #32 – Grand Harbor @ Pickwick Lake
Our Graceland Trip to Memphis.
The Madison Hotel Rooftop Bar & Firepit – drinking & making friends with the locals.
Ribs at The Rendezvous Cave Bar.
The Shiloh Battlefield with Kenny & Carla.
Freddy T’s Restaurant.
12. Port #44 – Orange Beach Alabama
The beautiful Wharf Marina, the marina & surrounding Orange Beach area was gorgeous, the Christmas decorations with giant trees & ornaments were beautiful.
We were there for a week.
One of the coolest places we went to on The Loop was The Flora-Bama Bar & the once per year “Frank Brown Music Festival” with singer/song writers from all around the world. We sat in The Flora-Bama bar at noon and did not leave until 6pm. Every 15 minutes there was a different musician from all over the world singing his own original material.
The short shows were riveting & highly varied in music type.
We did not plan to stay 6 hours, but could not get up from the table, it was non-stop music with no breaks.
This is also the bar where Kenny Chesney has done a couple of beach-side concerts with tens of thousands of people.
13. Port #26 – Hoppies Fuel Barge
Docking in the high current on the Mississippi River and meeting Hoppie & the famous Miss Fern. This is one of the very well-known, iconic stops on The Loop. It is the last stop for fuel on the Mississippi River before Mobile Alabama. Miss Fern, who has worked the fuel barge for over 50 years, gives you a mile by mile tutorial of areas to be careful on the voyage down to Mobile.
14. Port #103 – Croton on the Hudson – Half Moon Bay Marina
The George Dam & Waterfalls were beautiful, we spent several hours just walking around getting different angles of the dam & waterfall.
We visited iconic places like the West Point Military Academy & The Culinary Institute of America, both of which are located on the beautiful northern Hudson River. We had a delicious dinner at The Culinary Institute.
We celebrated the 4th of July Fireworks on top of the Poukeepsie Bridge, looking down at the Hudson River & the fireworks.
The week was also made special by the visit of Jonell’s brother Adam & bride Patti.
15. Port #51 – Sarasota
I remember the beautiful, expensive, Marina Jacks Marina – a beautiful setting with lots of very nice vessels.
We had dinner at Oleary’s Tiki-Bar, with our toes in the sand & a drink in our hand.
One of the coolest things on The Loop, was a travel day with 3 Dolphins swimming right next to the boat for at least 15 minutes, looking up at us with curiosity.
This voyage was also very special because we were accompanied by Jonell’s cousin Anita & Rich Cook.
16. Port #86 – Beaufort NC – The Beaufort Yacht Basin.
Upon arrival at The Beaufort (Bo-fert) Yacht Basin, right after check-in, we were loaned a really cool Golf Cart to do our initial inspection of the town.
We went on the discovery, and found – The Wild Horses of Carrot Island.
We also went on the discovery, and found the secret hideaway – Backstreet Pub.
We had an incredibly fun dinghy ride to The Rachel Carsen Reserve & found thousands of little crabs in the sand.
On the same dinghy ride, we had a wonderful “Beach Day on Carrot Island”, one of few sunny days of the Hinman’s visit.
Other memories from this port include ; the bar night at The Dockhouse Bar -listening to the band Bobby Webb & Company & the Hinman’s photos of the Homer Smith Seafood Company – morning fish harvest.
All of the above, were made even more special – by the visit of my great pal Dave Hinman & 1st mate Ginger.
Nellie’s Top -10 (+ 5 honorable mentions).
1. Port #53 – Fort Myers Beach – The Pink Shell Marina & Resort
What’s not to love? Beautiful beach, great weather, dolphins, & the resort hotel had many amenities!
2. Port #2 – Key West – Conch Harbor
Our first manatee sighting, live street entertainers at Mallory square, & a boat ride to have lunch on Sunset Island. Sunset Island is a private island that you can only go there if you have a reservation at Latitudes Restaurant, or if you live on the island. Latitudes Restaurant was another one of the places that may have been the most beautiful on The Loop. We were also blessed by having lunch on Sunset Island with the company of the Schellers & Spraggs. We also had our largest batch of visitors in Key West, and toured famous places like The Hemingway House, The Truman House, Fort Zachery, & Sloppy Joes Bar.
And of course, all the photos with every visitor at the Southernmost Point Buoy !
3. Port #96 – Annapolis / Washington DC – The Annapolis Yacht Basin
We enjoyed all the monuments and various memorials, had a blast at the Congressional Baseball Game, the luncheon at the Republican Club, and the tour of Arlington Cemetary.
4. Port #71 – St Augustine Florida
I remember the wonderful carriage ride through the narrow street town, later we strolled through the beautiful college campus. Walked down the cobble stone streets and window shopped. We also visited the fountain of youth, where we sampled the water, funny thing is, I felt no different afterward!
5. Port #75 – Savannah Georgia
A very beautiful town, with so many parks and beautiful homes & churches.
6. Port #76 – Hilton Head South Carolina
I liked that there were many shops right next to the marina, also restaurants, live music and beautiful golf courses!
I purchased the dress to Dan’s wedding at Hilton Head.
7. Port #68 – Cocoa Village Florida
We took an exciting airboat ride with our pals from Craic. The ride was exhilarating and we saw hundreds of gators, even a gator with a turtle in his jaws. We went to Cocoa beach with Al & Roberta and watched a NASA rocket launch from right on the Cape Canaveral Beach. The town was very quaint with a very nice park next to the water.
8. Port #9 – Beaver Island Michigan
This was an unexpected special treat. We had an entire day private tour of the island by our friend Doug Edgar, the Police Chief of Beaver Island – in Doug’s Police Car !
The water here was so clear and aqua colored, so amazing!
9. Port #10 – Anchorage @ South Benjamin Island
My favorite anchorage location of all !
Pretty rock formations and the colors were so cool as the sun highlighted them at different times of the day. The water was beautifully clear, and we had lunch on our own private little boulder island. We took a dinghy ride around the entire island and saw many beautiful hidden-away secret coves.
10. Port #44 – Orange Beach Alabama – The Wharf
Many stores, restaurants, & really pretty Christmas decorations.
The Flora-Bama bar and the beach.
Jonell’s Honorable Mentions
11. Port #49 – Carabelle Florida
After all the pre-trip anxiety, the Gulf Crossing was very peaceful & calm.
As dawn arrived, we were treated to the most spectacular moonset & sunrise that I have ever see in my life!
The end of the 20 hour voyage was indeed, filled with anxiety – a mine field of hundreds of crab pot markers that were everywhere upon arrival into Clearwater!
12. Port #102 – NYC / Liberty Landing
The 911 memorial was very solemn, but one of the things I had really looked forward too, and it didn’t disappoint. It may have been the most memorable thing that we saw on The Loop.
13. Port #12 – Leland Michigan
Fish Town was a really cool small town, but so neat. Cool shops, fish stores, restaurants, & even a beach. We had a Chubby Mary drink – a bloody mary with a smoked chub fish stuck in the glass, that you eat when you finish the drink.
14. Port #19 – Downtown Chicago – DuSable Harbor
I can’t describe how cool it was to drive the boat thru downtown Chicago, going under bridges as low as 17 feet with only 18 inches to spare, then looking up at all the sky-scrapers, all the while dodging lots of boat traffic going both ways on the Chicago River.
15. Port #37 – Grand Harbor = Graceland
Enjoyed so much visiting Graceland!
Also staying at the newly built Graceland Hotel called The Guest House.
Both were so amazing!
Bonus Material – Really Cool things we saw or did , not mentioned in our Top-10 Lists
Not in any attempted ranking of cool-ness, just random recollections !
> A private tour of The Viking Motor Yacht Assembly Plant.
> A private tour of The Baltimore Ravens Practice Facility.
> Dogs & Dolphins – marina dog chasing & barking at the dolphins every day.
> Manitee & Water Hoses – manitee coming right up to the dinghy, while washing boat.
> Gators & Cows – hundreds of cows less than 100 feet from about 20 gators.
> Grand Haven Michigan Musical Fountains – like Vegas Bellagio Fountains on the river.
> The Loretta Lynn Birthplace.
> Elvis – His ultimate home of Graceland & his birth home in Tupelo Mississippi.
> Murphree’s Landing Marina – why yes Michael, I believe that we are kin !
> NASA Rocket Launches – Cocoa Beach & St. Augustine.
> Listening to the VHF Radio talking & then seeing the Navy Warship #77 & the 6 Boat Coast Guard Escort – with machine gunners in the bow of the coast guard boats.
> Boating thru the Camp Lejeune training area with signs saying “don’t proceed if lights are flashing, live firing in progress”. Also seeing signs on the island which said “Do Not Enter – live unexploded ordnances (bombs).
> West Point & The Annapolis Naval Academies.
> The Culinary Institute of America.
> Wrigley Field, Camden Yards, and Busch Stadium.
> The Top Floor of the One World Trade Center & The Sears Towers.
> Lauri Scheller Swimming with Dolphins.
> Locks – Florence 100 foot drop, the Peterborough Lift Lock, & The Big Chute !
> The St Louis Arch & Aeries Restaurant – Views of the Mississippi & Illinois Rivers converging.
> Driving the boat right up to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island.
> The Charleston Slave Mart – a place where slaves were bought & sold.
> The SS Hunley Sub – a 6 man powered, 1st Submarine in the Civil War.
> The Babe Ruth Birth Home & Bed – the bed that the great bambino was born in.
> The Star Spangled Banner House – the place the star spangled banner flag was sewn.
> St. Augustine – the oldest street in USA, the oldest jail in the USA, the Fountain of Youth.
> Savannah – The Forest Gump Bench & Park.
> Hilton Head – Photo holding the flag at the iconic 18th green of The Harbortown Links.
> Fort Lauderdale – The Swimming Hall of Fame (doesn’t sound cool, but it was !).
> My 1st time ever, Deep Sea Fishing with my pal Dave on his 60th birthday (thx Carol).
> Witnessing a woman fall off her boat while docking at the Trent Severn Lock #41.
> Drinks on the Front Porch of the Mackinac Island Grand Hotel.
> Anchorage at the Miami Stadium – right across from downtown Miami.
We are sure that there are many more, but these were just the ones which came to mind off of the top of our heads.
Next Post = Our Looper Visitors !