Chesapeake Bay boaters Dave and Sonia Astle recently completed America's Great Loop in their Ranger Tug.

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"Crew Lounge" is a Ranger Tug R43 CB.

The Boat:

Crew Lounge, so named because Dave is retired from American Airlines, and also because he’s noticed a tendency for some guests and crew to lounge while boating. Crew Lounge, a Ranger Tug R43 CB, is their sixth boat and follows a Ranger 31, which they enjoyed greatly. However, they thought a little more room would be ideal for completing the Loop, so they made the purchase in the fall of 2020 with America’s Great Loop specifically in mind. 

Route and Itinerary:

In early June 2022 Dave and Sonia departed their home slip on Dymer Creek in Whitestone, VA, on Virginia’s Northern Neck for an expedition expected to take one year. They would travel counterclockwise around America’s Great Loop, a mega adventure that began humbly enough—motoring north on the Bay and transiting the C&D Canal to Cape May, NJ. There, they slipped “outside” to the Atlantic Ocean before making their way inland to the Hudson River, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lakes Erie and Ontario, and the Thousand Islands, which straddle the US-Canada border. The passage through the Trent-Severn Waterway, constructed between 1833 and 1920, brought the couple to the beautiful Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, the North Channel, and eventually back into the States. 

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The St. Louis Arch.

Navigating Lake Michigan, they chose, for a couple of reasons, to head south along the western shore of the lake, hugging Wisconsin. Storms often build as they cross the lake west to east, but equally importantly, they wanted to stop in Green Bay, WI, and visit some of Sonia’s extended family.  

Dave and Sonia made their way through downtown Chicago and entered the river system, which carried them to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. Instead of continuing to the Keys on the west coast, they crossed to the east coast through Lake Okeechobee and then down the ICW to the Keys for almost a month. Heading toward home, they took a side trip to the Bahamas from West Palm Beach. They returned home to the Bay in early June 2023, having earned their Golden Looper status for completing the entire Loop.

Did they sell their home and belongings? 

While some Loopers choose to sell or rent their homes, Sonia and Dave did not. In fact, every two months they returned home for a two-week stint. Sonia explains, “We had family at home that we wanted to spend time with and who sometimes needed our help. This way, we didn’t miss special milestones, such as birthdays. The visits helped me feel more grounded and connected to our ‘regular’ life.”

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One of the best parts was the people we met along the way.

Best part of the trip? 

Dave: The whole thing! But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say Georgian Bay. 

Sonia: Completing the Loop was the adventure of a lifetime, and the whole thing was beyond words. A few things that stand out in my mind are the wonderful people we met, the friendships we formed, waking up every day to a new adventure, the little towns in Canada that were all unique, and the natural elements: the flowers, the wildlife, the clear beautiful water. 

Buddy Boating 

Dave: You can be with another boat for several days, and then one of you might take a side trip and you split up, but you notice that you keep bumping into the same boats. You form relationships with the other boaters doing the Loop. The America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA) boaters are the politest boaters you will come across. They really look out for one another. We found other Loopers by looking for the AGLCA burgee and using the Nebo app, which tracks movements of other boats. We jokingly referred to it as the Great Loop stalking app!  

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Crew Lounge with buddy boat True North, an Aspen C120 with a Herrington Harbour North home marina, in a lock in Canada - tight fit!

Sonia: One of the best parts of the adventure is meeting all the people. Buddy boats help you feel safe. They understand the kinds of problems you run into and know how to help. Afterward you either keep in contact or have fond memories of them. For us, in September, just three months after completing the Loop, we traveled to England with six other people from three boats that we had met on the Loop and chartered Narrow Boats on the English canals. We also had several AGLCA boats cruising the Bay last season stop at our home dock.

They’re not done yet!

In December, Dave and Sonia took Crew Lounge to the Exumas, a part of the Bahamas that they didn’t get to during their loop. What is next? They’re not sure, but they agree that they would enjoy returning to the Georgian Bay and perhaps Lake Champlain and the Rideau Canal in Canada.

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On the bow the day we completed the Loop with our not-yet-complete white burgee and the gold burgee, which indicates we have completed the Loop.  

Advice for those considering the Loop.

  • If you have a feeling that you might like it, just go do it! You won’t regret it. It’s spectacular—beyond words.
  • AGLCA seminars are a nice way to learn what to expect. It may take several years of planning.
  • When barge captains hail you with directions, listen to them. They’ll tell you what they want you to do.
  • Respect the weather and do your homework. Be ready to change your plans on a dime.
  • Harbor Hosts will make themselves known. They are an amazing resource, so don’t be afraid to call them.
  • Consider if you’d like to anchor more or slip your boat at a marina. We stayed mostly in marinas because we wanted to get off the boat to exercise and walk. It was a good way to meet locals and shop locally, and it was a great way to meet other Loopers. Every evening we would all find one another and gather around 5 p.m. 
  • Consider how you will eat. We ate healthy, sit-down dinners. Provisioning was not difficult. Most of the time we were really only three days from a Walmart.
  • You don’t have to be retired. We met couples with one or both working online from their boat.
  • Get creative with using your space. A freezer can double as a coffee table for more storage.
  • AIS is really important. We were often with no cell service. Pay the nominal fee to be capable of both transmitting and receiving.

As Told to Beth Crabtree