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America’s Great Circle Loop

by Debi Starnes, Atlanta

The president of EMSTAR Research since 1988, Debi Starnes is an influential figure in Atlanta. She served on the City Council, as a policy advisor to Mayor Shirley Franklin, and has consulted with numerous educational, research, and cultural organizations in Atlanta. She earned her Ph.D. in organizational psychology from Georgia State University, and concentrates on developing and assessing programs ranging from child abuse prevention to volunteer programs for cancer patients. An enthusiastic recreational boater, Debi Starnes recently completed the Great Circle Loop.
The Great Circle Loop is a series of interconnected navigable waterways on which boaters can cruise around most of the United States east of the Mississippi River. It is approximately 6,000 t0 7,000 miles long, depending on route options taken. Boaters generally travel the Loop in a counterclockwise direction to take maximum advantage of river currents, and often sail the loop in several stages, sometimes taking years to complete the Loop.
A typical passage would begin somewhere on the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW), which runs from Texas to Norfolk, Virginia, then through the Chesapeake Bay, and then along the Jersey shore to New York City. From here, they cruise north on the Hudson River to Waterford, New York, enter the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, or continue up the Hudson to the Champlain Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Loopers cruise through the Great Lakes to Chicago and enter the Illinois River to begin the southern leg of the journey. They travel south to Grafton, Illinois, and enter the Mississippi River. From here, they have several choices, including continuing south on the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, or taking the Ohio River to the Cumberland to the Tennessee Tombigbee River to enter the Gulf at Mobile, Alabama, to rejoin the ICW.
For many Loopers, traversing Florida simply involves cruising south and rounding the tip of the peninsula, and then sailing north, with perhaps a visit to Key West included. Another option, which Debi Starnes elected, is to take the Lake Okeechobee Waterway, an inland waterway from Fort Myers to Stuart, that includes the huge lake.                            
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