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Locals attack the Great Loop

John HartNoel Carter (left) hooks up the tarp on his boat for the winter with the help of his wife, Joanne.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Meet Noel and Joanne Carter, a Banner Mountain couple, went on a spur-of-the-moment, 4,511-mile boat trip – the so called Great Loop.

“I was on a crazy trip, and everybody thought I was crazy for doing it,” said Noel Carter, a 60-year-old retired manager for Bank of America’s branches in Grass Valley and Nevada City.

Ordinarily, Carter said, boaters spend a year or two preparing to do the Great Loop, which jogs up the Eastern Seaboard, cuts through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River.



“In a 10-day period, I packed my boat and was off,” he said. “It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

One of the boaters that the couple met along the trip asked Noel Carter, “What kind of navigation courses have you taken?”




“I was embarrassed. I told him ‘None,'” said Carter, who credited his success to “beginner’s luck.” Before their odyssey, the Carters had never sailed out of sight of shore, or used their compass for navigation.

They started April 21 just north of Jacksonville, Fla. They went up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to New York City, headed west through the Hudson River, St. Lawrence River and a series of canals, went through three Great Lakes, and finally took a series of rivers and canals – including the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and the TennTom Waterway – to get back to Florida in late October.

The couple towed their 28-foot boat back from Florida, and were home by Nov. 12.

Their journey was inspired by friends Al and Nadine Carol, a retired couple from Cool. About six years ago, while the two couples were boating on Lake Powell, they pledged to try the Great Loop sometime. So when the Carols called last spring, the Carters packed up and left.

The two couples sailed together for about 21/2 months. But then, during refueling in Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, the gas tank ruptured on the Carols’ boat, so they had to quit.

But the Carters soldiered on, despite such obstacles as “waterspouts” – tornadoes of water – on Lake Michigan.

Another trial was their boat’s loss of engine oil pressure on the Tombigby River in Alabama. They waited five days to be towed to a marina, while they counted alligators to pass the time.

“We’d just use a spotlight at night to see how many we could see,” said Carter.

Fun things about the trip included meeting countless other boaters. When the Carters stopped for the night at a marina, people would gather around.

“We were an oddity, being a California boat,” Carter said.

And the couple got an unusual boater’s-eye view of the country. They traveled through 18 states and two Canadian provinces.

Historical sights along the way included the Battle of Shiloh battleground in Tennessee, with a riverside house where General Ulysses S. Grant stayed.

“We got to see things I don’t think you’d see in a car,” Carter said.

Carter’s boating skills improved during the trip. He’d spend an hour or two every night charting the next day’s course, including picking the next night’s harbor and coming up with backup harbors in case of trouble.

The couple stopped in Pensacola, about 1,200 miles shy of finishing the 5,800-mile Great Loop. The shop that worked on the oil pressure problem couldn’t figure out what caused it or guarantee it was fixed, so the Carters didn’t want to cross 100 miles of open sea in the Gulf of Mexico and risk a boat breakdown.

The trip was “a blast, except there was more work involved than we could imagine,” Carter said.


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