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Zeeland family to set sail for 'America's Great Loop', year-long adventure

The route encircles much of the Eastern US, from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic to the Great Lakes.

ZEELAND, Mich. — In under 24 hours, a West Michigan family will embark on the adventure of a lifetime. 

A sailboat voyage via a route fewer take every year than climb Mount Everest: America's Great Loop.

The route encircles much of the Eastern US, from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic to the Great Lakes.

The Major clan’s biggest adventure yet initially received mixed reactions from friends and family.  

“Everybody's super excited about it,” Chris Major noted. “Some people have trouble wrapping their heads around it and that's fair.”

The family, Chris' wife, Alison said, loves exploring the outdoors, but were mainly camping folks until a friend introduced them to sailing.

“They said, hey, this is what we're looking at, either buying a camper or buying a sailboat and we're like, wait a second, wait a second, a sailboat,” she laughed.

Despite the initial incredulity, the couple gave it a try, purchasing a boat of their own.

“Last summer, we spent a month on the boat… it was kind of our test, like, okay, can we do this? Do we like it,” Alison related.

“We realized when we were done with that trip that like okay, this, this is really—we’re onto something here,” Chris added.

Several voyages in, they soon became accustomed to the lifestyle. A lifestyle, Chris, who grew up on a farm, never thought was attainable.

“That just was never even {part of} my thought process,” he said. “It's really exciting to see that there are opportunities out there.”

They’ll be taking the new family hobby a step further in the coming days, however, when the family embarks upon a storied route known as ‘America’s Great Loop.’

They estimate the journey will take up the better part of a year. Alison has worked remotely for a decade or more and Chris recently launched a photography business that enables him to take the trip.

From the Major’s anchorage in Virginia, they’ll sail north into the Hudson River before navigating the Erie Canal and entering the Great Lakes. Later, they’ll make their way into the Chicago River, following the Mississippi downstream and into the Gulf of Mexico before rounding the Florida Peninsula and ‘crossing their wake’ on the return trip to Virginia.

Credit: 'Sailing Fika'

A 43’ Beneteau 423 sailboat named ‘Fika’—a Swedish word that, loosely translated, means ‘coffee with friends’--will be the family’s cozy quarters during the year away.

The Major kids—10-year-old Ewan and 8-year-old Gwynnie--have been homeschooled by mom and dad since the pandemic.

While the goal is a fun, family adventure, Alison says the journey itself will teach life skills her crew wouldn’t find back on shore.

“The family is the crew so they have to figure out how to help us sail the boat,” she laughed. “We're going to have them involved in that, boat maintenance and keeping things clean and tidy and helping cook in the galley. Problem-Solving… nothing always goes 100 percent when you're on a boat. You have to do a lot of problem-solving. And a lot of those different things we're going to encounter are going to be really good confidence builders for them.”

And when they make it back to Virginia, where they began, the Majors are confident they won’t return the same family that weighed anchor a year earlier.

“I think that’s the right way to enter into it,” Chris mused. “I think that if we all embrace the fact that we will all be different in some way, and knowing that difference will be a positive outcome, it's going to be fantastic.”

The Majors depart for Virginia Saturday to put their preparations in place prior to the voyage. They intended to set sail on May 5.

To follow along with their journey, visit the family’s website.

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