When Bill Faw was 12, his neighbor took his “small cruiser” down the Tennessee River from Knoxville to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
“And I’ve had it in my mind ever since that it would be neat to do,” Faw said. “I didn’t even know you could do that — how can you take a boat down a river to get to New Orleans?”
At the time, he didn’t know, but fast-forward to the late 1980s when he learned about America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, or AGLCA.
“That’s when I started dreaming about a big trip like that,” he said.
What Waterways are on the Great Loop?
According to the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association’s website, the primary waterways on the basic route include:
- The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway
- The Chesapeake Bay
- The C&D Canal
- The Atlantic Ocean from Cape May to New York Harbor, or sometimes inland waterways through New Jersey
- The Hudson River
- The Erie Canal, or a popular route option on the “Triangle Loop”
- The Oswego Canal, or continue on the Erie Canal to Lake Erie
- Lake Ontario
- The Trent-Severn Canal
- Georgian Bay
- Lake Michigan
- The Illinois River
- The Mississippi River
- The Ohio River
- The Tennessee River
- The Tenn-Tom Waterway
- Mobile Bay
- The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
- The Okeechobee Waterway, or continue on the Gulf Intracoastal to the Keys
Source: America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association
Boaters can travel the 6,000-mile Great Loop, a journey that circumnavigates the eastern part of the United States and Canada. It cruises up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, through the New York State Canals, into the Great Lakes, down the inland river system, across the Gulf of Mexico and around the southern tip of Florida.
Typically, it takes boaters — or Loopers — about eight months to complete the entire loop.
For 30 years, Bill Faw dreamed of completing the loop, but it wasn’t until his grandson, Peyton Faw, said he would do it with him that it became a reality.
“I dreamed of doing the Loop for more than 30 years. In September of 2020, I sold my house and bought a boat. After living on board and cruising from Beaufort, N.C., to Scottsboro, Ala., and then up and down the Tennessee River, I was ready for the Loop.” Bill said. “My grandson Peyton agreed to make the trip with me and at the age of 79, ‘Miss Mary,’ Peyton and I made the 6,000-mile journey with side trips to Lake Champlain and Nashville.”
‘Miss Mary,’ named after Bill’s late wife, is an 84 Monk 36 Trawler, which is often referred to as a “cruiser’s cruiser.” Peyton said the boat could only go about seven knots which is around eight miles an hour.
“The boat goes pretty slow, but you kind of almost want it that way,” Peyton said. “Then you can stop and take in the sights.”
In early 2020, Peyton spent spring break away from Georgia College & State University with his grandfather cruising and cultivated a fondness for the trawler and the ways of the water.
In late 2020, Bill said Peyton asked if they could sail the Loop together as a pair after he graduated from college in May of 2021. So Bill began to make his way down the inland river system on Feb. 1, to pick Peyton up in Brunswick, where they continued the journey.
While most Loopers complete the journey in about a year, Bill and Peyton finished in seven, stopping at famous cities and landmarks along the way.
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Taking it all in
Some sites they spotted from the water were the Statue of Liberty, the United States Military Academy West Point in New York, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and more.
One memory Bill cherishes was stopping at Fort Ticonderoga in Lake Champlain in New York and “shaking hands with Ethan Allen,” an American Revolutionary War patriot that captured Fort Ticonderoga.
“I missed the Green Mountain Boys, but I still got to see [the statue of] Ethan Allen,” Bill said.
“When we went to Fort Ticonderoga [in New York, my grandpa] kept saying something about some dude named Ethan Allen the entire time,” Peyton said. “And I was like, ‘Who are you talking about?’
Bill said Fort Ticonderoga was placed on a hill overlooking the river, so there were no marinas available for ‘Miss Mary’ to dock. Instead, Bill and Peyton anchored in the river, paddled a dingy to a small beach and walked up a small trail they found.
“It was definitely not the way we were supposed to go,” Peyton said.
Bill said he enjoyed his time sailing through the Great Dismal Swamp in the Coastal Plain Region located between northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia.
“It was smooth water. Totally smooth — almost like glass — and I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Bill said.
Peyton agreed that the scenery on the swamp was interesting because of the way the landscape reflects off the “black water.”
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How it started
Before taking the journey around the Loop, Peyton and Bill took Miss Mary out for a “test run” to see how Peyton liked it.
One of the first marinas they stopped at was located at Amelia Island in Florida. Peyton said he and his family would often go to Amelia Island for vacation, and he liked walking through downtown when he was a kid and looking at the “train tracks, gawking at the boats in the marina and seeing that cool pirate statue they had.”
When he and Bill docked in Amelia Island during the loop, Peyton said he didn’t realize where he was.
“We got out and walked around the town, and I was looking around like … this is all really familiar,” Peyton said. “And then I see the pirate statue and I was like, ‘That’s the pirate!’”
Peyton said fond memories of the town came rushing back to him.
“I just had this little moment where I was now one of the boats being gawked at in the marina that I used to always think were really cool,” Peyton said.
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‘That’s all part of sailing’
While Peyton and Bill were able to make lasting memories eating deep-dish pizza in Chicago, boarding a battle cruiser, passing through 110 locks, they said not every day was smooth sailing.
Bill said that during their journey, navigating the Great Lakes occasionally got tricky.
Coming from Lake Huron into Lake Michigan, Bill said Peyton had to take the wheel because the waves were difficult to traverse.
Where will the journey take a Looper?
Depending on route choices, boaters will go through at least 15 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, which may include: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Quebec, Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.
Source: America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association.
“It was really pretty rough,” Bill said. “Peyton said you’re too old to be doing that, and he took the wheel from me and wouldn’t give it back.”
“Trust me,” Peyton said. “He wouldn’t have wanted it back. It was a bad, tough day.”
Peyton said at one point, the waves were so high that “you could stick your hand out to the side and high-five them.”
Bill said “that’s all part of sailing,” and that while they were uncomfortable on some days, they were never “in any real danger.”
“The boat can handle more than we can,” he said.
Sometimes, Bill said things would get tricky without bad weather, like when he and Peyton ran out of bread and milk.
Somewhere along the journey, the pair stopped in a “touristy town” to purchase bread and milk before continuing the Loop.
“This man went on a three-day quest to find bread and milk,” Peyton said. “And he was getting mad after a while.”
Bill said the towns only had shops that sold novelties like ice cream, fudge and T-shirts, but not milk and bread.
“I couldn’t get a single loaf of bread anywhere,” Bill said. “I know they’re tourist towns, but the people that live there have gotta eat.”
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“I’d do the Loop again in a heartbeat,” Bill said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to start [Miss Mary] up tomorrow and do the Loop again, as long as I’ve got somebody to do it with.”
On Aug. 18, grandfather and grandson received a “BaccaLOOPerate degree” from AGLCA, signifying the end of the seven-month journey.
According to the AGLCA, about “150 boats complete the Great Loop each year, making it a feat more unique than swimming the English Channel or climbing Mount Everest.”
While Bill has returned with ‘Miss Mary’ to Alabama and Peyton has gone home to Alpharetta, the Great Loop will always be a lasting accomplishment.
“The cruising is fun, but finishing the whole Loop was the big accomplishment,” Bill said. “And I got to do it with Peyton. Wow, what an experience with my grandson, right?”