Harlan and Sarah Vince said they are both excited and anxious about their upcoming, yearlong trip on the water.
Boaters since before they were married, The Vinces said their trip around America’s Great Loop has been something they have wanted to do for years, but have been seriously planning the trip for the past two years.
Both age 56 and five years retired from her career as a special education teacher and his as a manufacturing engineer, the couple plans to ship out on Sept. 4, weather permitting.
The Vinces have been summer residents at Grand Isle Marina in Grand Haven for 19 years. Their “dirt home,” as Great Loopers call it, is in Coldwater.
They planned to exchange their water home – something they’ve had for 19 years – to something bigger for the 6,000-mile trip around the eastern section of the United States.
But veteran Loopers told them to stay with what they know. The smaller boat will also be easier to maneuver through the different sets of locks – 150 in all along the route.
Another reason for sticking with the older boat is that it gets pretty roughed up in the saltwater journey, Harlan said.
“You don’t want to do that with a brand new boat,” he added.
Part of the planning and maintenance process is being prepared for the saltwater.
So the In-Vince-ible went into dry dock for a couple of weeks for the systems to be checked and so that “sacrificial” metal could be added.
They use zinc to attract the corrosion and keep it off other parts of the boat, Sarah said.
Once they return home, the boat will have to go back in the shop again for fresh water fittings.
“If Lake Michigan allows us,” the Vinces plan to go straight to Chicago. This would be their longest stretch of open water on the trip.”
“We’ve already been to all of the ports along West Michigan,” Harlan said.
From Chicago, they will head down the Illinois River, flow onto the Mississippi, the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, down the Tennessee-Tombigvee Waterway, Demopolis, Alabama to Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. They will travel along the coast of Florida and then inland across Lake Okeechobee. Once back at the east coast of Florida, they will travel the Intracoastal Waterway north until they veer sideways to go to Washington D.C. to tour the Museum of the Bible. They’ll go to New York City and around the Statue of Liberty before heading up the Hudson River past West Point and into the Erie Canal. Once in the Great Lakes, they take Lake Erie to Lake Huron to Lake Michigan with an estimated time of arrival back in Grand Haven in September of 2020.
The Vinces will stay in Clearwater, Florida for a couple of months once they get there in mid-December. They plan to find another place to stay for another month after that before continuing their journey on the Loop.
Harlan said he estimated they would spend about $15,000 on fuel and almost that much on slip fees.
“You can do it a lot more frugally,” by anchoring out, he said.
But the Vinces agreed they prefer having the electrical hookup on the slip, the socializing with other boaters and the ability to easily get on shore and go to a restaurant if they want to.
Harlan said the couple has received a lot of mentoring about the journey, including a number of boaters at Grand Isle who have completed or partially completed the journey.
Friends on one boat that did the trip in 2013 told them the most important thing to have onboard is a washing machine.
“So we are following their lead,” Sarah said. They have a portable machine they can move onto the deck and hook up to a water source when in port.
Their mentors have talked to them about everything from how to get their mail and medications, to how to secure their home while they are gone.
They also joined the America’s Great Loop Crusiers’ Association.
“We ordered our flag and got our shirts,” Harlan said.
The white flag signifies someone who is doing the Loop. The gold flag means they have completed the Loop. A platinum flag – which the Vinces say they’ve never seen on a boat – signifies multiple times a boat has cruised the Loop.
The end result for cruisers is that some people decide to live on their boat always and others will never step foot on a boat again, Harlan said.
The Vinces will average about 40 miles a day when they travel, Harlan said. “It depends on the locks and the weather.”
Their timeline is also set by the weather. During the late summer and fall, Loopers are all on the Great Lakes, Harlan said. “You don’t want to get to the ocean before Nov. 1 because of the hurricanes.”
As the Vinces complete their final preparations for a year onboard, Harlan said he couldn’t wait.
“I’ll be glad when we actually leave and all the prep work is behind us,” he said.
“Then my goal will be not to run aground, lose an anchor or run into the dock,” he said.