The maiden voyage of Loose Wire, Don Larsen’s Riviera 525 SUV (now the 545 SUV), proved to be a spectacular inland adventure as she cruised to her home port through the Midwest of the United States.
After Loose Wire arrived in New York from Australia, Don skippered his motor yacht 1,500 nautical miles west through a series of rivers, canals, locks and lakes to bring her home to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The 12-day cruise took Don and his crewmate, Rich Popovich, through some of the most iconic inland waterways in the United States: the historic Erie, Oswego and Welland Canals, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron, the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Michigan.
“We left New York heading north on the Hudson River to the Erie Canal through 24 locks to get to the Oswego Canal and another seven locks to Lake Ontario. From there we ran the length of Lake Ontario westbound to the Welland Canal,” says Don.
The construction in the early 19th century of the Erie and Welland Canal systems enabled the fastest most efficient transportation of goods to New York, giving the port city a significant advantage and propelling its tremendous development.
The Welland Canal skirts Niagara Falls by ascending and descending the Niagara Escarpment, thus connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
“The commercial lock is 1,000 feet long, and Loose Wire was lifted 326 feet vertically through seven locks, and a final eighth lock to level with Lake Erie,” says Don.
“It can be nerve-wracking if you have people next to you that aren’t confident because we’re rafting up often with two or three other boats in almost all of the locks.”
LEFT: The woodwork is one of the Larsen’s favourite features on their 525 SUV. RIGHT: The Larsens particularly enjoy great visibility from the helm.
Midwest waters were familiar territory
Fortunately, Don is no stranger to boating in the Midwest.
“I was born on Lake Michigan. I’ve been on boats since I was a week-and-a-half old for my first fishing trip. In a lock, most of the work is about monitoring water flow, holding the boat in position and not being bumped around.”
The Riviera 525 SUV, just like the 545 SUV, features twin Volvo D11 IPS 950 turbo diesel engines and joystick control.
“The Volvos are incredibly easy to handle. The response is instantaneous. The boat does exactly what you tell her. It couldn’t be more simple.”
Of the 12-day trip, five days were spent waiting at flooded locks. Once on the open water, Don made up for the lost time.
“We were trying to get back home ahead of the tall ships transiting the area at the time. Once they get into the lock system, they have priority, so we were hustling to get ahead of them. On the lakes, we cruised at 31 knots. The fuel economy is excellent. I’m getting the same economy on the Riviera that I did on my previous boat, which was smaller.”
Loose Wire used 2,800 gallons of fuel from New York to Kenosha.
There are all kinds of luxurious boats around, but what I think Riviera brings to the table is that it’s a robust build and seaworthy, plus it has all the amenities.
LEFT: Ships raft up in the Welland Canal lock system. CENTRE: Don says the Guillotine lock is just like it sounds, going under the door you sure wonder if the shackles have been checked! RIGHT: Crewmate Rich checking the fenders in a snug lock.
Refuelling the ‘thirsty crew’
Staying on the US side of Lake Erie, Don and Rich ran through the night, making Lake St. Clair just before sunrise and passing under the Detroit Bridge. There, they refuelled before continuing the length of Lake Huron to Mackinaw City, tying up just before the kitchen closed to ‘refuel the thirsty crew’.
“The 38-hour run made up for the stir-crazy days waiting for the flood waters to recede. On July 1, we ran south the length of Lake Michigan and were tied up behind our house by 20:00 hours.”
Don and his wife Maureen ‘did a whole lot of study’ before they landed on the Riviera.
“We wanted a quality motor yacht with more amenities as well. There are all kinds of luxurious boats around, but what I think Riviera brings to the table is that it’s a robust build and seaworthy, plus it has all the amenities. For me, the sea-keeping and rough water capability were the priorities. It may not seem like it, but it gets extremely rough on the Lakes.”
Prone to sudden and severe storms and sailed at least since the 17th century, the Great Lakes account for a large proportion of shipwrecks, with Lake Erie dubiously boasting the highest concentration of wrecks in the world.
“The blue-water hull design, the method of manufacturing, and the engineering is all evident in the Riviera. They’re a heavier vessel for their size, and with the engines lower in the hull there’s a lower centre of gravity for a more stable ride.”
Fascination for boat engineering
Boat engineering is a hobby for Don. Maureen has diagnosed his fascination with boat construction as Boat Rehabilitation Disorder (BRD).
“I’ve taken several boats down to the hulls to refit them from the keel up,” says Don.
“Maureen loves the openness and the view, even skylights. You can sit or stand anywhere on the boat and have a view outside. It makes for nice piloting too, and you don’t worry about blind spots.”
When in Australia for the shakedown cruise, Don and Maureen toured Riviera’s state-of-the-art boatbuilding facility on the Gold Coast.
“After touring the Riviera site and seeing the boats being built, I not only love the beauty of the boats, but now appreciate the quality and care that goes into crafting them too,” says Maureen.
They also appreciate the quality of the woodwork, the low-maintenance flooring, the seating arrangements and all the single-level entertaining.
“We had 10 people on board at an air show and it never felt crowded.”
Loose Wire’s inland journey doesn’t end here. Her summers will continue to be on the Great Lakes, but in winter, when the Lakes freeze over, Don will captain his motor yacht south to the balmy climes of Florida. This will take them another 1,400 nautical miles through Chicago, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee-Tombigbee waters and to the Gulf – an adventure to retell another day.
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