Gary and Carol Zierhoffer recently "crossed their wake" and returned from their Great Loop journey aboard their Fleming 58, Legacy. Here they share with PropTalk highlights of the journey, how it all came about, and advice for would-be Loopers. 

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Celebrating the finish with friends and family at AYC.


Both Gary and Carol grew up boating. Carol, who hails from North Smithfield, RI, says she practically lived on the boat in the summer because her parents were both school teachers. Gary, originally from Lexington, MA, grew up waterskiing on smaller boats. 

Their first boat together was in Centerport, NY, on Long Island sound: 27-foot Sea Ray in 1998 that we named Legacy. They then graduated to a 33-foot Sea Ray (Legacy II), and then a 38-foot Sea Ray (Legacy III), until they took the big plunge to the 58 Fleming in 2020 (Legacy). The couple, now retired, have been members of Annapolis Yacht Club (AYC) since 2015. 

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Legacy is a 58 Fleming, pictured here in New York City. 

How did the idea for the Great Loop come about?

"Interestingly, we can’t remember whose idea it was, and we each point at each other! We started planning for the Great Loop some time in 2017 prior to Carol’s retirement in 2019. We ordered the boat in 2018. It was built in Taiwan and shipped to the US arriving in March 2020 just as Covid was shutting the world down. Legacy was outfitted right here in Edgewater at Burr Yacht Sales and delivered to us in June 2020.

"We thought we would prepare in 2020 and leave in May of 2021, but Covid had Canada shut down to US boats and many places we’d want to go (museums and historical sites) were closed. We changed our plans to leave in May of 2022.  That also changed since our elderly golden retriever, Stryker, was not doing well and the trip would have been difficult at best. We decided to give him his best life and delayed one more year. He passed in December of 2022, and we cast off lines on May 25, 2023, the day after the Blue Angels air show (didn’t want to miss that!). We rented out our house while we were away."

Tell us more about your boat.

"Legacy is a 58-foot Fleming—ideal for the Great Loop. We were one of the larger boats on the Loop with plenty of creature comforts: three staterooms, full size refrigerator and freezer, generator, isinglass enclosed fly bridge, pilot house to run in cold/wet weather, great electronics for navigation, water maker, and 1400-gallon fuel capacity that at cruising speed would allow us to cover 1400 miles, and full walk around gunnels. The most common boat on the Loop is a 39/40-foot Mainship and we encountered many. We’d be the big brother/sister to that boat with lots more creature comforts. 

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That was a close one! The low bridges and water depth are always a concern.

"Positives: amazing boat with outstanding support and service from Burr Yacht Sales.

"Negatives: not many… just need to be very mindful of water depth (we draw five feet) and air draft (we need 24 feet to clear a fixed bridge). Our mast does fold down, which we did several times on the Erie Canal, Trent Severn Waterway, and Chicago. Even with the mast folded down and our air draft at 19 feet, we could not get under the lowest fixed bridge in Chicago that would have allowed us to cruise through the downtown area. That being said, we went around on a different route and transited under the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Bridge (the fixed bridge south of Chicago with 19 feet, six inches of clearance). They say poor planning here can turn the Great Loop into the Great U-turn… We got through by a few inches! It was an exciting day. Not to worry about not going through Chicago; a highlight of the trip was taking the architectural cruise on a commercial boat—great tour!"

How did it feel to cast off the lines?

"When we started, we felt pretty confident since it would be all waters we had navigated before. We headed up the Chesapeake, across the C&D Canal into Delaware Bay and to Cape May, up the coast of Delaware on the outside to Sandy Hook, and then we took a side trip in the Long Island Sound to Deep River, CT (near Essex on the Connecticut River) to visit family. Then we backtracked on Long Island Sound into NYC, toured there for a few days, and started the trek up the Hudson. It was when we reached Verplank, NY (where we picked up Legacy III), that we were now in unfamiliar territory, so it became more exciting. Shortly after that, we entered the Erie Canal and our first locks (a little nervous), but we got the hang of that pretty quickly.  

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Dolphins off the bow!

"We had lots of cruising experience, but not for such a long period of time. Locks were new to us, as was dealing with strong currents in certain parts of the country, but you learn along the way and the other experienced Loopers are all super helpful."

Favorite places/memories along the journey?

"The Georgian Bay and North Channel in Canada were spectacularly beautiful; you reach these after transiting the entire Trent Severn Waterway and her (roughly) 40 locks. A couple favorites of the locks were the two lift locks (Peterborough and Kirkfield) as well as the Big Chute which literally carries your boat out of the water, over a road, and back into the water on a platform and sling system, pulled on a set of rails. 

"We also enjoyed the Bustard Islands, also in Canada—a beautiful set of islands with spectacular anchorages. Michigan was a hidden gem for us. We had no idea how beautiful the coastline was and enjoyed exploring the small towns and beautiful dunes including Sleeping Bear. A real highlight was crossing Lake Michigan on a beautiful flat day to arrive in Milwaukee and explore the western shore of Lake Michigan in addition to the eastern shore. We’d have definitely spent more time in Michigan and would like to return there.

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Cruising to Burleigh Bay in Canada - narrow channels and shallow water. 

"Something we had not anticipated was the history lessons we learned along the way—so many amazing museums with history of the colonial days, American Revolution, the painful history of slavery, the Civil War, and both World Wars.

"We also enjoyed a side trip to New Orleans where the highlights were amazing food, including beignets, and jazz bars as well as the World War II Museum. Our only complaint was we didn’t have enough time! Another great side trip was a road trip to Niagara Falls from Brewerton, NY.  Having never been there, it was a real thrill to experience.

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The Peterborough Lift Lock, known as the 'see-saw bathtub,' was a definite highlight.

"We were blessed to have family and friends join us for parts of our trip. This included a Christmas visit from our son Michael in Clearwater Beach, FL, and our daughter Sarah and her boyfriend in January. We enjoyed the Fort Myers/Captiva/Cabbage Key area of Florida where we had the most amazing dolphin escorts as we traveled. We had four to five jumpers on both the starboard and port sides as well as four to five running in the bow wave. Truly amazing!"

What did it feel like to “cross the finish line?”

"It was exciting, invigorating, and a bit of a relief. The last month or so we were beginning to feel “get-home-itis” and even accelerated a bit, deciding that the southern Chesapeake was full of locations we could go back to and really tour a bit more in the future. Legacy is not just our Loop boat, it’s our forever boat. We enjoyed each port we stopped and tried to find the local food, museums, and historical sites. We will tour the lower Chesapeake more thoroughly in the coming years.

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All rafted together in Echo Bay.

"Crossing the finish line was very exciting! We came around the corner of the mooring field in Annapolis to a few of our friends on the pier at AYC cheering. We arrived around noon (on May 18), had a buffet of food delivered at 12:30, and welcomed our friends and family to come and celebrate with us all afternoon. It was a blast!"

What advice do you have for boaters dreaming about the Great Loop?

"Do it! Don’t wait! 

"Be sure you are comfortable handling your boat in different conditions you will encounter because you will encounter many: wind, shallows, currents, tight quarters, etc. Practice docking, rafting up, and anchoring/mooring. We were surprised at how many Loopers were uncomfortable or unskilled at rafting with other boats, which you may be required to do in locks. As a result, we bought extra fenders along the way so we could have protection from the lock walls and from other boats told to raft to us who approached with little to no fenders or fenders in the wrong places!

"Strong currents in the Carolinas were probably one of the toughest things we encountered. Planning your arrival and departure at slack tide was key. One great piece of advice we got from a fellow Looper was if you can’t depart at slack time, reposition your boat away from narrow fairways or tough spots at slack tide the night before you leave (example move to the gas dock for the night after the gas dock closes). Great wisdom and stress reducer!

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We got this! Lock 17 near Little Falls, NY, has a vertical lift of 40.5 feet, which is one of the tallest in the world. 

"Be sure you have good up-to-date chart packages for all the areas you will travel to. Use multiple wind/wave apps and practice with them beforehand so you know which are most reliable. You will meet lots of folks along the way with different expertise and experience. Over time you will learn whose advice should trust and whose to be wary of!

"We definitely recommend joining the America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association (AGLCA) and reading “the forum” for some time before you travel. There is a wealth of information there to aid your trip. Cruising guides for the various regions were extremely helpful in finding marinas, anchorages, and things to do. There are so many out there, so do your research and choose the one you want. And of course, triangulate with other Loopers." 

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Gary and Carol Zierhoffer crossed their wake and completed the Great Loop this May in Annapolis. 

To read more about Gary and Carol’s voyage, check out their blog:

For more Great Loop stories, check out our article Chesapeake Boaters in Midst of America's Great Loop.