Great Loop Cruisers

“Looping” Through the Great Lakes

Buy the Book via Amazon

George and Pat Hospodar

When traveling on America’s Great Loop, you will eventually journey through some of North America’s Great Lakes. These are the largest freshwater lakes on the planet, and they contain 21% of the world’s surface fresh water and 54% of the world’s liquid fresh water by volume. These so called “lakes” are actually inland seas, and should be treated as such.

A typical Great Loop trip will take you across Lake Ontario (a journey of about 45 miles), through a small portion of Lake Huron (about 40 miles), and possibly down the full length of Lake Michigan, the fifth largest lake in the world with a length of 307 miles, a maximum width of 118 miles, and an average depth of 279 feet. Cruising down Lake Michigan can take several weeks, depending on weather conditions, as we found out on our own Great Loop adventure. The “locals” had told us that for every three days of good weather on the Great Lakes you can expect one day of foul weather. However, during the summer that we traveled down Lake Michigan we experienced exactly the opposite. For every day of good weather, we had three days of unsettled weather!

great-lakes-looperAt one point in our journey we spent six days in Petoskey and three days in Ludington, Michigan waiting for the conditions to improve. Lake Michigan truly does have some very interesting weather patterns.

We finally decided that we would cross the Lake from Holland, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois, a distance of about 85 miles. Although the weather forecast called for possible rain, the winds were supposed to be from the northeast at 10 the 13 mph with wave heights of one to two feet. Since our general direction from Holland to Chicago was southwest, the forecast seemed “acceptable”. Everything was going terrifically for the first few hours, but as we approached the center of the lake, the sea heights increased and the wind came across our port beam, making it quite rocky onboard. After several hours of rolling from side to side across Lake Michigan, things eventually calmed down the closer we got to Chicago. Later that day I spoke to a local boater about our experience on the Lake. He informed me that this type of wind and wave phenomenon is not uncommon. He explained that Lake Michigan can create its own weather, where conditions along the shorelines and in the center of the lake can vary significantly, and this certainly proved true for us!

Here are some suggestions for a safe and comfortable journey on the Great Lakes:

  • If possible, travel with other “Loopers”, as there is often safety in numbers. Just knowing that there is at least another boat nearby in case something goes wrong will add to your confidence when making an open water passage.
  • Travel when seas are 2 feet or less. Remember that the Great Loop trip is not a race, so make good use of your downtime and enjoy the local sites. Be wise, and wait for a more comfortable weather window, even if it takes several days.
  • Use wind, wave, and weather information resources such as:
    • NOAA marine weather forecasts at:, then click on the map of the Great Lakes. Then keep clicking on your area of interest on each succeeding map until the forecast you desire appears.
    • Great Lakes Wind and Wave Forecast, for additional wind and wave forecasts on the Great Lakes at: Click on the “Winds” or “Waves” for the Great Lake for which you want the forecast. A graphic showing the wind strength or wave height by color and an indication of their direction will appear.
  • Traveling the eastern side of Lake Michigan has some advantages because it has a Harbor of Refuge every thirty miles. So, if the Lake kicks up, you will be no more than 15 miles from a safe harbor. Also, these harbors have a policy of not turning anyone away. Even if all the dock spaces are filled, they will raft boats together in order to accommodate everyone. The harbor entrances are clearly marked with lights on the end of jetties.

great-loop-hospodar-boatGreat Loop Boat Stay safe out there, and enjoy the journey!

We traveled the NJICW from Atlantic City to our home off Barnegat Bay aboard our boat, Reflection, which has a draft of 4 feet on May 27. We left Atlantic City at mid tide rising and had no problems traveling this waterway, which we have done for over forty years!

Stay safe out there.

Captain George and Pat Hospodar are authors of “Reflection on America’s Great Loop”: (A “Baby Boomer” Couple’s Year-Long Boating Odyssey), and their new book, “The Great Loop Experience from Concept to Completion”: (A Practical Guide for Planning, Preparing, and Executing Your Great Loop Adventure) will be available this fall.

Back to the Great Loop Page