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How the Thousand Islands Inspired Me to Cruise America’s Great Loop

A Toronto native, I graduated from Queen’s University in May 1962 and moved to Brockville, to take a job at Automatic Electric (Canada) Ltd. A few days late,r at King’s Restaurant, I met my future wife. I had known of Mavis at Queen’s, and she was working as a waitress for the summer; a year later we married.

My boss at Automatic Electric, Bob O’Kelly, had a 28 foot cabin cruiser and introduced me to boating in the Thousand Islands and the Brockville Yacht Club (BYC).

In 1971 it became time to buy my own boat, a new 18 ft. Starcraft Cuddy Cabin with a 55 hp used outboard engine. May 1st was a great day at Huck’s Marina, in Rockport, when I Christened the SEAWON and joined by Jim Garton, we cruised her to Brockville. It was so early in the season I had to run through melting ice cubes.

Now a member of BYC, I met an experienced cruiser, Lou Lochner, who showed me the Texaco Cruising Chart No. 5, that plotted how you could cross Lake Ontario and take the Erie Canal and the Hudson River to New York, the Atlantic Ocean, and the world. That cruise became my dream.

However an 18 ft. cuddy cabin with two kids, would be a little too small for such a trip. In 1973, Lou, always fond of trading boats, sold me his 1968 26 ft Fjord Cabin Cruiser. Fjords were imported to Canada in the 60’s from Norway and were the Rolls Royce of boats. (As an aside, Susan Smith, editor, Thousand Islands Life once owned a 30 ft Fjord.)

In the summer of 1977 we cruised SEAWON II, up the Trent-Severn Waterway, to Georgian Bay. That started me thinking that maybe there was a way we could go to New York, and just keep going south, cross Florida and head-up the Inland Rivers, to Lake Michigan and Huron, and get back to Brockville that way. Our dream boat now was a Gulfstar Trawler, which we encountered one day in the Brockville Narrows shipping channel.

A job change intervened; and in November 1977, I was moved to Nashville, Tennessee, by my new employer Northern Telecom. My new boss at Nortel, said the action was in the USA, and would I move to Nashville? My response was “Where’s that? My next thought was, what about my boat? I soon learned that Nashville was on the muddy Cumberland River, and the best boating was on land locked lakes. It was also so hot, you could never enjoy a boat without air conditioning. I would be laughed out of the BYC, if I said I had a boat with air conditioning. We sold the Fjord to another member of the Club, who has kept it at the Club for 38 years.

In 1999, our two sons had grown up, my company was doing well, and we went to the local January Boat Show;  there was a picture of the kind of trawler we had always wanted. It was located in Nashville, so we went to see it the next day. It was beautiful, with teak everywhere, and had been repainted. A month later we made a deal, and scheduled a survey. It flunked the survey horribly, as it had been damaged in a hurricane and was full of dry rot, from leaky decks. It was not the boat to do the Great Loop. By then I had done enough research and told my broker to find a Grand Banks. Built in Singapore, these trawlers have the same level of quality as Fjords. In April 1999, we took possession of the 1981,36 ft. Katy Leigh, in Erie Pennsylvania, and did another part of the Great Loop; Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers.

A sailing friend of mine had discovered the Tennessee River, and moved his boat to Kenlake Marina, on Kentucky Lake,a distance of 105 miles from Nashville. Kentucky Lake was formed by a dam on the Tennessee River. In 1985, The Tenn-Tom Waterway was built, which connects the Tennessee River to Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf of Mexico. We now had a boat, once again, right on the Great Loop; however, I had learned, with actual experience, that the currents in the Mississippi River are so strong, it’s best to do the Loop counter-clockwise.

On October 18, 2003, we started the Loop. We left the boat in Florida for the winter, in Chesapeake Bay, for the following summer, and in Brewerton, New York for the winter of 2004-5. Brewerton is on the Erie Canal, and the marina, Winter Harbor, has heated storage for large boats. There is no need to cover up, and no haul-out days like we had at the BYC.  You just leave the boat at their dock, and come back in the spring, with it in the water and ready to go.

May 12, 2005, we resumed the Loop with a new Bimini top, bow thruster, and an epoxy paint job the marina had done during the winter. We stayed overnight in Oswego, and tied up in Clayton. We were so impressed with Clayton, we stayed several days and joined the Antique Boat Museum there. Crossing over the river to Rockport we cleared Canadian Customs and headed for Brockville. Our boat wouldn’t fit into the BYC Harbour but even better was to stay with Lou and Marg, at their home on Molly’s Gut.We had completed the 5,400 mile Great Loop just as I had dreamed of, for so many years. If you want adventure, try it! People do it in kayaks, canoes, pontoon boats, sailboats and yachts. The only limit is a maximum height of 19 ft-1” and a depth of under 5 ft.

If you would like to learn more about the Great Loop; visit our website at

By Bob Duthie

Bob Duthie grew up in Toronto and graduated, in Engineering Physics, from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario in 1962.  He worked 27 years with GTE Automatic Electric (Canada) Ltd and Northern Telecom, in R&D, product management, business development and general management. In 1989 Bob founded Duthie Learning, a Nashville Tennessee based publishing company that today provides books, cruising guides and digital adventure programs related to America’s Great Loop and RV Touring in the USA and Canada.

Bob is a writer and photographer for Heartland Boating Magazine, and a speaker at Passagemaker’s TrawlerFest. , A member of the Grand Lakes Yacht Club, he continues his memberships in the Brockville Yacht Club and the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY.

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John Chipman
Comment by: John Chipman
Left at: 4:53 PM Sunday, March 15, 2015
A nice piece Bob. TI area captured us many years ago and after bouncing around we returned to retire. Paradise indeed (not so much Jan/February)

Waltraud I Mack
Comment by: Waltraud I Mack
Left at: 6:55 AM Monday, March 16, 2015
Sounds like a dream come true, I am so envious, but happy for you and family.
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle
Left at: 6:36 PM Sunday, March 22, 2015
What a fantastic voyage!
Comment by: bill
Left at: 7:53 PM Friday, May 27, 2016
Hello Bob, what advice would you give to anyone considering becoming a "live aboard" on a boat at a marina...mine is a trawler.