The Great Loop: A Pillager man’s 6,000-mile journey
The Great Loop is a circumnavigation of the eastern U.S., and part of Canada, down the Mississippi, through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and the Great Lakes.
BRAINERD — Purchasing a boat only three weeks prior and attempting to follow the warm weather as the Brainerd lakes area started to chill, Craig Lida headed down the Mississippi river on a 360 day, 6,000-mile journey, America’s Great Loop.
“In the past, I used to do a lot of trips with my father, sailing all over the western hemisphere,” said Lida, a 51-year-old Pillager resident. “And years ago, I kind of started looking for my own trip and heard about this trip, The Great Loop.”
America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association website states the Great Loop is a circumnavigation of the eastern U.S., and part of Canada. The route includes the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the New York State Canals, the Canadian Canals, the Great Lakes, the inland rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico.
“You're kind of ‘chasing 70,’ that's what they call it,” Lida said. “You're chasing 70 degrees the whole time. So if you dress right, you've just got shorts and a T-shirt on.”
Lida said he grew up around the water and would go on “a lot of adventures” with his father when he was younger.
“First time I was on a bigger boat, a sailboat, was with my father,” Lida said. “I was 21 years old and we sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Port Canaveral, Florida to Lisbon, Portugal.”
Jokingly, Lida said most of his trips with his father involved at least 1,800 miles and a tropical storm, as he mentioned another trip where they traveled from Bayfield, Wisconsin, through the Caribbean to the Panama Canal, before heading up to San Diego.
Always bringing along two friends for each leg of his journey, Lida said he took off from St. Paul on Oct. 7, 2021, headed down the Mississippi, chasing that 70-degree weather.
At a speed of around 10 mph, Lida said he completed the trip in multiple legs, ranging from 1,000 to 1,900 miles each leg at around four to six weeks each. He left his boat, a Viking Convertible Sport Fish 47 powerboat named “Son of a Sailor,” docked for a few months as he visited with family and enjoyed his first warm winter in Fort Myers, Florida.
Before making it to Fort Myers, Lida said he was waiting for his turn to go through Coffeeville Lock and Dam on the Tombigbee River in Choctaw County, Alabama, when the boat in the lock sank.
Finding himself stuck in Alabama for a week as a salvage crew, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency all worked to clear the wreck, Lida rented a car and headed down to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, making lemonade out of lemons.
One of the biggest changes from sailing around the world as a young adult compared to now was Lida’s ability to get food, he said.
“Between Instacart, DoorDash. Amazon and Walmart, you can actually have anything delivered,” Lida said. “At one point, actually, on the Erie Canal, we had a couple of gallons of milk and Slurpees delivered to the boat.”
Along with deliveries to the boat and being a big fan of Thielen Meats, Lida said one benefit of doing the trip in legs was his ability to fly back to his boat with around 20 pounds of pre-cooked meat and bacon. Though he did receive some comical looks from Transportation Security Administration when he was running late to make one of his flights back.
One of the things he did not expect was the amount of planning he had to put in to complete his trip safely, Lida said. And between watching for marinas and learning the tides, his biggest takeaway was learning patience — at 10 mph.
Headed back up the coast after a nice Florida winter, Lida said one of his fondest memories was making sure he had his boat in Baltimore, Maryland, in time for his niece’s graduation.
Lida completed his 6,000-plus mile journey on Oct. 2, 2022.
Though he has no future trips planned at this time, in the spring, Lida said he will head down to grab his boat from a dock in Nashville and “decide where to go from there.”
Lida’s trip stats
Duration: Oct 7, 2021 - Oct 2, 2022
Total trip: 6,300 miles
States visited: 22
Number of locks and dams: 97
Paid marinas: 51
Anchorages and free docks: 51