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  • Jill and James Iverson of Manitowoc, Wisconsin completed the Great American Loop.
  • The trip is a loop of more than 6,000 miles around the United States and Canada.
  • “It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” said James Iverson.

MANITOWOC, Wis. – Returning on September 2, 2021, Jill and James Iverson locked up their house, walked down the street to the Manitowoc Marina, got into their sailboat, and wandered away for over a year.

The couple – lifelong boaters – achieved a big dream to complete the Great American Loop, a more than 6,000-mile route that took them over inland rivers including the Illinois and Mississippi to the Gulf from Mexico, around the Florida coast, to the east coast. through New York State canals to Canada, before returning to Lake Michigan.

They “crossed their wake”, or returned from where they started, on September 10 this year. It’s a feat of about 200 people, or 150 boats, a full year. This compares to the 700 people who climb Mount Everest or the 1,000 people who hike the entire Appalachian Trail each year.

“It’s a relatively rare thing to do,” James said. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”

The couple have been traveling by boat for 35 years. They sailed the Great Lakes extensively, crossed the Atlantic Ocean a few times, and cruised the Caribbean a few times.

“We heard about the Great Loop a few years ago and decided it was time to do it,” Jill said.

Their boat, the Alvin James, is like a 33-foot-long miniature boat, she says. The Alvin James has a single engine and is slow, going around 8 to 10 miles per hour. It has a small kitchen, a comfortable bed, a “back porch” and two steering positions.

Most days they were about 40 or 50 miles. Some days they didn’t move at all. Some days they went further.

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The Great Loop is a circumnavigation of the eastern United States and Canada over rivers, canals, lakes, and the open ocean.  The loop is marked here.

“The United States and Canada look very beautiful from the water,” Jill said. “We haven’t seen a mall or fast food for a year. We haven’t sat in a car for a year except for a few Uber rides. What we saw were the small coastal towns. It was wonderful and magical. »

Along the way, they met many friendly Loopers from all over the world. They met boaters from as far away as Australia and families homeschooling their children on the Loop.

The people of the towns where they stopped along the way were kind and eager to help them.

“They were happy to meet us and tell us their stories and hear our stories,” Jill said. “Many of them offered to take us to the grocery store or do the grocery shopping for us. They were very keen to help us in any way they could.

The couple saw many American icons along the way, including The Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Statue of Liberty.

The MV Alvin James passes the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as Manitowoc's James and Jill Iverson complete the Great American Loop.
Jill Iverson poses in front of the Statue of Liberty as she and husband James complete the Great American Loop.

Getting to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island was particularly emotional for them. They spent the night on the boat in the area, watching New York fall asleep and wake up the next day.

“Travelling at 8 miles per hour, it took us 10 months to get there,” Jill said. “We drank champagne and ate strawberries. We put on some music and danced. It was an important step for us, a great day.

They saw dolphins almost every day on the Atlantic Ocean. Dolphins like to travel near boats, and she recounted a time near Florida where the Alvin James was surrounded by about 35 dolphins.

Dolphins on the bow of James and Jill Iverson's MV Alvin James while crossing the Gulf of Mexico as part of the Great American Loop.
The MV Alvin James moored to the wall of the Trent Severn Waterway in Canada as Manitowoc's James and Jill Iverson complete the Great American Loop.

The Iversons are planners, but kept their itinerary loose on this trip so they could take spontaneous detours.

One of their favorites was a trip down the St. John’s River in Florida.

“It was magical, like being in the middle of a jungle,” James said.

Most of the time they never encountered bad weather while sailing – they would stay at anchor or in a marina if the forecast looked difficult.

Although they met many friends, they did not see their family and friends back home for over a year. They weren’t there for holidays, birthdays and other gatherings. But they stayed in touch via social media and video chats and never felt alone.

“We also really enjoy each other’s company,” Jill said. “We are very happy to be alone together.”

Still, coming home after a year away seemed strange to me.

“We cruised for two or three months,” Jill said. “One year is very different. It’s a big part of your life. You come back a different person.

They displayed a white burgee, or flag, on the boat indicating they were doing the loop. Many loopers do this, upgrading to a gold burgee once they’ve completed the trip.

James said they are often asked if they have visited somewhere they would like to live.

“We visited so many interesting places,” he said. “But I tell them that I really like living in Manitowoc. We have lived in Chicago, New York and the Florida Keys. I love Manitowoc. We are a true port city on Lake Michigan. You can travel anywhere in the world from Manitowoc if you wish.

Contact journalist Patti Zarling at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @PGPattiZarling.