To many of us, setting sail to chase the horizon for a few years may seem like an unattainable pipe dream. For the O’Grady family, it’s one of their most treasured memories.
Will and Pamela O’Grady and their 13-year-old daughter Sara set off on a grand adventure on the seas on what’s known as “America’s Great Loop.” The O’Grady family covered the distance in stages over three years time, returning back home for seasonal breaks. All in all, they spent six months traveling, accomplishing what many of us yearn to do.
It was a fine day when they set off from their Hilton Head Island home in early June 2004. From Spanish Wells, they headed up the Intracoastal Waterway to the Chesapeake, up New York’s Hudson River to the Erie Canal and across Lake Ontario to Canada.
“Of course, we planned around the seasons,” said Will. “We wanted to be sure to head downstream on the rivers.” Eventually making it to the Mississippi and down into the Gulf of Mexico, their trip went smoothly even though it was a bit of a challenge to find places to stop on the fastmoving Mississippi.
“It was absolutely amazing. You cannot imagine,” said Pamela, who home-schooled Sara while en route. “It’s a fabulous way to learn, with educational opportunities every step of the way. Geography and history come to life. And, as Christians, we felt a purpose to meet the people we met along the way and explore this great country of ours.”
Both Pam and Will are quick to give Sara credit for her efforts as a toprate first mate. “We could not have done it without her,” insisted Pamela.
It was an incredible journey, to say the least, particularly when you consider the size of the boat. The Pamela Jane, a Cruisers 280C, measures only 30 feet in length. It is an intimate ship with a surprisingly spacious cabin. The ten-foot beam provides ample room for the O’Gradys, with two separate sleeping quarters, a bath and a kitchenette.
At any given time, more than 200 boaters are navigating America’s Great Loop. “It’s a well-mapped and established course run by the America’s Great Loop Association, so you’re not quite alone out there,” explained Will. Truly exhilarating may be the way to describe this 6,000-mile journey. “With the elements of a challenge, certainly you never know what lies ahead; weather conditions can get tricky,” he said.
Due to its smaller size, their boat had the advantage of speed. They could move faster than larger ships and the sights were amazing. “To sail past the soaring St. Louis Arch was just incredible and boating up toward the Statue of Liberty – outstanding,” said Pamela.
Next they followed the landline down to the Florida Keys, spent time swimming with manatees, tooled around Key West, and then they navigated the last part of the journey up the East Coast. Along the way, their older son and daughter managed to come onboard. “We didn’t have room for everyone,” laughed Will. The O’Gradys have four children, sons Kieron and Tristan, proprietors of The Big Bamboo; daughter Rebecca, a teacher in France; Sara, a student at Hilton Head Christian Academy; and daughter-inlaw Stacey, who is married to Tristan.
Originally from London, Will and Pamela lived on four continents – Africa, Australia, England and America – before settling on Hilton Head Island. The family is looking abroad for their next adventure. “The waterways of Europe would be just lovely,” she said. “Although it is lovely to be home with family and so many dear friends.”