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Cedar Falls couple logs 6,000 miles on Great Loop cruise of a lifetime

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CEDAR FALLS – Bud and Sue Hansen have spent the last four years cruising America’s rivers, waterways, lakes and bays aboard their 38-foot boat, the Odyssey, soaking in the country’s history and panoramic views and experiencing its diverse people, food and cultures.

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Sue Hansen holds up a bulletin board showing the route she and her husband, Bud, took their boat on the 6,000-mile Great Loop Adventure.

“We’re fortunate to be retired so we could do this,” said Bud. Formerly from Cedar Falls, the couple presently lives in Waverly.

This fall, the couple received their BaccaLOOPerate degree from America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association. The degree recognizes their completion of one of the world’s most unique adventures, America’s Great Loop.

Boaters doing the Great Loop make a 6,000-mile journey that circumnavigates the eastern part of the U.S. and Canada, cruising up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, through the New York State Canals, into the Great Lakes, down the inland river system, across the Gulf of Mexico and around the southern tip of Florida.

Approximately 150 boats complete the Great Loop each year, making it a feat more unique than swimming the English Channel or climbing Mount Everest.

In many ways, it was the trip of a lifetime, although the Hansens have actually cruised 10,000 to 11,000 miles, beginning with their first boat, a 32-foot Marionette. “We liked the lifestyle and sold that boat and found a boat we could live on,” the Odyssey, Bud said. “We were 100 days on that first boat, and we’ve lived on this new boat 960 days.”

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Sue and Bud Hansen hold a bulletin board showing the route they took their boat, the Odyssey, on the 6,000-mile Great Loop Adventure.

The couple sold their home in July 2017 and moved aboard the boat. They began their Great Loop at Au Gres, Michigan, and followed the Illinois River to Grafton and the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Sue described the Mississippi as “a very busy river, and we were on it for just over 272 miles.” They found their way to the Tennessee River and eventually to Mobile, Ala., and the Gulf of Mexico.

“We made a night crossing of the Gulf in December, 2017. It was an amazing experience. The water was like glass, and that isn’t always the case. It can be pretty rough. But we had a Super Moon overhead and dolphins swimming alongside the boat for miles. It was a long journey – we were traveling at nine miles per hour,” Sue recalled.

They were part of a casual flotilla of six or seven other boats to arrive on the Florida side about 10 a.m. the next morning.

crossing the gulf thumbs up from bud and sue hansen after all night crossing in Dec. 2017.jpg

Bud Hansen gives a thumbs up at the helm of the Odyssey after a night crossing of the Gulf of Mexico from Alabama to Florida. 

Their travels have taken them to Key West, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, among other locations in Florida. This spring, they watched the Space X liftoff from the water near Cape Canaveral. Other scenic locations they enjoyed include Hilton Head, South Carolina, and barrier islands along the eastern seaboard; Baltimore, New York City and Jamestown, Virginia, up the James River from Chesapeake Bay, as well as Sister Bay, Wisconsin, and all points in between.

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Sunrise on the St. Johns River in Florida from the dock where the Hansens anchored their boat 

“We’ve seen stunning beaches, glorious sunrises and sunsets from everywhere on our cruises – so many wonderful things,” said Sue, who kept a blog and Facebook page to let followers keep up with their explorations.

Her favorite spots included Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore with its wild horse sanctuary, and the St. Johns River, the longest river in Florida, and its warm middle basin where manatees retreat in winter months. Bud particularly enjoyed being at the helm as he piloted the Odyssey through the Erie Canal in New York state.

They’ve spent winters in Florida, including Fort Myers Beach, particularly during COVID.

“When the pandemic hit, we opted to stay in Florida. One thing cruisers enjoy is gathering for docktails – cocktails on the dock – at sunset, but during COVID we had dingy docktails. We’d get our snacks and beverages, climb in the dingy and meet everyone on the water,” Sue explained.

“We made so many friends and met some interesting people, from pilots and physicians and lawyers and retirees to people living off the grid who wouldn’t give their last names.”

Last winter, the Hansens spent time in Savannah, Georgia, awaiting shaft repairs on the Odyssey. When they put the boat back in the water this spring, they’ll be flying their gold Great Loop flag, presented to the Hansens when they crossed the Loop near Detroit in August.

“It is one way cruisers recognize each other. We’ve made lifelong friends. They understand all about your journey, which is great,” Sue said.

Boating season is short, and the Hansens, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2019, are anticipating fulfilling their bucket list wish to cruise Canadian waterways next year.

For more information on America’s Great Loop, go to www.GreatLoop.org.

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