On Board With: Tom and Tina Osborne, Great Loopers

The Great Loop is packed with a variety of amazing experiences.
Osbornes on their boat
Tom and Tina Osborne traveled the Great Loop aboard their 2004 Sea Ray 450 Express Bridge. Courtesy Lisa Farmer, Tellico Village

Tommy and Tina Osborne had been boaters for decades when they finally decided to take on the famous Great Loop, also known as the Great Circle Route, a 6,000-mile journey that they started from their home in Tellico Village, Tennessee. They spent a year on the water, venturing down the Mississippi River, through the Gulf of Mexico, up the Atlantic Coast and through the Great Lakes and back down before arriving back home to Tellico. We asked them about their adventure.

What first inspired you to try the entire Great Loop?

Being a boat owner since I was 15, I always dreamed of traveling the rivers of America as Tom Sawyer did. Moved the boat to the Tennessee River in 2006 from the landlocked Cumberland Lake in Kentucky. Now the boat was on navigable waters and open to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

What made you finally decide to go for it after thinking about it for so many years?

Family events, passing at young ages, and realizing how short our time can be. Retirement in July of 2021, the support of a bride with a sense of adventure were all drivers to get moving. Tina was packing supplies for our boat one day and I commented on the large volume of these supplies. She said we are going on a boat trip. I’m thinking about a few weeks as we had done in the past. She said no, you have talked about “The Loop” for a long time; now’s the time. So off we went in October of 2021—with not much experience.

Aboard what kind of boat did you make the journey?

Our 2004 Sea Ray 450 Express Bridge.

Did the trip require detailed planning or could you leave room for spontaneity?

Good question. Over the years I had planned The Great Loop journey. Tina called me the Spreadsheet King. I planned where we would go, what time of year we would be in this or that location, even where we would stop for fuel. By the time we had gotten to Mobile Bay in November less than two months into the trip, we trashed “The Plan.” The rest of the trip was very spontaneous. Always being mindful of the seasons and weather conditions. Winter in the south, summer in the north. Example: We had planned to go to the Florida Keys when leaving Knoxville, and decided to go to the Bahamas instead. Never thought about Washington DC, and decided as we sailed up the Atlantic coast. Talking to other Loopers, AGLCA group and local folks drove a great deal of spontaneity.

Is there any particular stretch of water or experience that stands out?

We get asked this question often and it is a challenge to answer. Every stretch of water has its beauty and uniqueness—rivers and the locks, coastal waters with tides, sea turtles and watching feeding dolphins. Large exposed open waters of the Gulf, Atlantic, and The Great Lakes all stand out, as well as the people you meet and their willingness to help. Although we had a great relationship before we left, it has grown stronger as we journeyed by depending and counting on each other.

How long have you both been boaters?

I (Tommy) have been for 50-plus years. Tina has been around sailboats and schooners for many years that other people owned. Really on her own boat for the last 10 years.

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How much boating experience do you think the trip requires?

More importantly, the type of boating experience. If all your boating has been on protected lakes or all on tidal waters, or all in oceans you may not be ready for other types of waters. We met people that had never owned a boat, hired a captain for a few months and did just fine on The Loop. We saw “experienced” boaters hit rocks or get grounded due to not understanding the type of waters they were on. Not knowing what you don’t know can cause heartbreak regardless of years of boating.

Anything you wish you knew before you started?

Understanding the importance of an anchor bridal in tidal waters. How to secure to a mooring ball, or how to plan for the unexpected, like your galley sink falling out.

From start to finish, how long did the adventure take you?

364 days.

Would you do it again?

Yes! You can do the Loop multiple times and still have a different adventure.

How do you normally like to boat? What’s your typical weekend like at Tellico?

Friends all around on anchor rafting off together. Spending weekdays on the water with fewer boats. We enjoy fishing, swimming, exploring, seeing the sunrise, sunset and watching the skies at night.