|CrystalblueoceanSailing and Diving Around the World|
sailing and diving around the world
The length of the ICW runs from just north of Boston, Massachusetts, to Brownsville, Texas. There are boaters, called ‘Loopers,’ who travel north, along the section that I recently traveled through. The ‘Great Loop,’ is a boat run, in US waters, that allows boaters to run up the east coast, to the New York canal system, through the Great Lakes, and down the rivers running through the centre of the country, down into the Gulf of Mexico. Usually, boaters will do the ‘loop’ counter clockwise, because that allows them to take advantage of the downstream currents on the Illinois, Mississippi, Tombigbee, and Black Warrior rivers.
For me, the ICW is always a beautiful experience. I don’t look at it as ‘work.’ Rather, it is simply an exploration, an adventure. Sure, there are many miles of desolate sections, with no signs of human activity, but a desolate stretch suddenly turns into something quite beautiful, as you can see in the videos and photos I’ve uploaded. The marinas and anchorages seemed to be located about every 15 to 20 miles or so, so it’s pretty easy to plan your stops. However, I always make marina reservations ahead of time. On the off-season, you can even call the same day, but do it as early in the morning as possible.
We left Solomons Island at 5pm, did an overnight sail, and 150 miles later, arrived in Coinjock at around 3pm. Once past Norfolk, we continued south along the Elizabeth River, passing the entrance to Deep Creek, 4 miles north of Great Bridge. You would turn into Deep Creek it you were going into the 26-mile-long Dismal Swamp Canal. Past Deep Creek, the Elizabeth River swings west, taking you to the Great Bridge lock, 11.5 miles south of mile 0, in Norfolk, and then into the ‘Virginia Cut,’ and beyond. The lock at Great Bridge was a snap, and our timing to get under the three bridges right after was pretty good. While we were waiting for one of the bridges to open, I actually snagged the hull on an underwater stump, or something. I just barely grazed it, so it wasn't a problem. Just a reminder to stay in the middle of the channels. It's a good idea to try to time your arrival at the bridges that have scheduled openings, so you don't have wait for a long time.
While waiting for a bridge to open, the wind will play havoc with the bow, and you'll have to constantly tweak the controls to stay in deep water. It gets really 'interesting' when there are quite a few boats, bunged up together :) It is particularly tricky when you've got strong currents to deal with. What I like to do, if I've arrived at a bridge way too early, and there is a strong current, is find a comfortable spot near the bridge, but not too close, and then turn into the current and find the speed to counter it. I may need to adjust the rudder occasionally, but I can just sit there and hover as long as I need to. Rules dictate that boats traveling with the current pass under the bridge first, but not everyone knows that, so be careful. There are many fixed bridges, too, and most guidebooks provide all of the pertinent info about them that you'll need. The official overhead clearance is 65 feet above mean high water. But, the Wilkerson Bridge, which crosses the Alligator River/Pungo Canal, has a 64’ clearance, and the Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge, in Miami, has 56’. So, some sailboats will have to do some sections on the outside. This means that some vessels, bound for Miami, that need more than 56’, have to leave the ICW at Ft. Lauderdale, and re-enter at Government Cut, Miami.
Remembering to keep currents in mind, you should always be alert when approaching bridges. There are height scales at the base of each bridge, indicating how much air you've got above you. Don't ever try to 'squeeze' under. Proceed only if you know you can make it. So, you should definitely know how much air draft you have. Don't forget to add to your height, any antennas and navigation lights. I was on one boat, where the owner insisted that I try to get under a bridge, and we got stuck. I had to put the dinghy in the water, flood it, attach it to the main halyard, and then hoist it up to get us heeled over enough to back out. Major pain in the butt :)
I've approached bridges where it's sometimes hard to tell which span to go under. In general, the proper span has fenders on the insides of it. But, if they aren't there, look for navigation buoys, and the light that is usually hanging down in the centre, at the top. Also, always line up the span as soon as you can. With strong currents, it can be tricky to try get yourself aligned when you are right up close to the bridge. You'll have more control if you're already centred, and straight, and you get knocked off course by a current or gust of wind.
Except for the stretch from Great Bridge, Virginia, to about Morehead City, North Carolina, the ICW’s waters are tidal. The Carolinas and Georgia, specifically, are known for combined forces of tides and currents. In Georgia, for example, it isn’t uncommon to see 8 to 9’ tidal ranges, and some of the strongest currents in the entire ICW. That’s why a lot of people choose to travel on the outside of the ICW when they get close to S Carolina and Georgia.
When approaching an 'upon request' bridge, call ahead, about a mile or so away, and say, for example, "Gilmerton Lift Bridge, this is sailing vessel so and so." You'll get a response like, " I see you, Captain, I'll open as you approach." Or, the bridge operator might only say, "Gilmerton Bridge." Then you can say something like, " Gilmerton Bridge, we are 1/4 mile away, approaching southbound, requesting a bridge opening." Make sure to always be polite, even though some of the bridge operators can be a little surly. I always thank the operator as I pass through and say, "so and so is clear." Also, be sure to use the correct bridge name. Sometimes they change the bridge name, so you could be using the old name, and they can be looking right at you, but they won't open until you use the correct name. Another thing.... just because the boat ahead of you has requested a bridge opening, don't assume that you can safely pass, following behind them. Even if 3 boats ahead of you have notified the bridge operator of their desire to pass under the bridge, you should still get on the radio and let the operator know you're there. too. The hailing channel for bridges is usually 9 or 13. Always wait till the bridge is fully opened before beginning to pass through. The bridge, partially opened, may very well allow you to pass under safely, if you're dead centre in the span, but what if a current pushes you over a foot or two, when you're only halfway under the bridge?
Back to the journey.... after the Great Bridge Lock, you'll be in the part of the ICW known as the 'Virginia Cut.' From there, Coinjock is about 43 miles away. We stayed in Coinjock for a night. There aren't any cleats on the dock, so you'll be tying up to pilings. There is usually someone there waiting to help you dock. From Coinjock, we continued south along the ICW and came out into the North River, which brought us out into the eastern extremity of Albemarle Sound. We crossed the Albemarle and went into Alligator River, and anchored just inside where the river turns west. It is the first anchorage indicated on most nav charts. Crab pots are all over the place, so be careful. And don't be surprised if the fishermen who own come by for a visit, at 3am, shining their powerful flashlights all over the place. We weighted anchor at around 7am, bound for Beaufort, NC. About 12 miles from the anchorage, we entered the Alligator River/Pungo Canal. It's about 20 miles long. When you exit the canal, into the Pungo River, you'll notice that the starboard markers change from red to green. They don't switch back till you get to the south side of of Pamlico River. Belhaven, not far from the Alligator River/Pungo canal exit, is a good place to stop. We continued out of the Pungo River, to Goose Creek, and came out into Bay River, which is off Pamlico Sound. We then continued east and then south, down around into the Neuse River, passing Oriental, also a good stop, and entered Adams Creek. A short while later, we arrived at Jarrett Bay Boatworks, in north Beaufort, at 5:30pm, 97 miles from the Alligator Creek anchorage, and stayed the night.
We departed at 7am, the next morning, bound for Wrightsville, NC, 85 miles away. From Adams Creek, we entered Bogue Sound, passing Morehead, along the way. There were 4 restricted bridges on this run, so we had to time it to arrive at each one just before the opening. Again, you have to watch your depth sounder, closely, and be prepared to slow down or stop. Sometimes you have to search for the deep water, especially at the inlets. There was at least one large yacht aground as we passed through. The yacht was too large for us to have been any assistance to them, so they had to wait for a towboat. Lockwoods Folly Inlet can be tricky. I always slow down at the inlets, and proceed very carefully. We arrived at Bridge Tender Marina, in Wrightsville, NC, at 4pm. The next day, we left at 8am, headed for North Myrtle Beach, SC, 67 miles away. Cape Fear River was an absolute pleasure because it’s wide and over 40’ in the channel, and I seem to recall a 3-knot current, which really sped us up. Once we were out of Cape Fear River, however, we had to watch our depths carefully again. We stayed overnight at Barefoot Landing Marina.
We departed at 8am, the next morning, bound for Georgetown, SC, 50 miles away. The Waccamaw River was a snap, too, because, like Cape Fear River, it is wide and deep. We arrived at Dry Stack Marina, Georgetown, at 2pm. We left Georgetown, at 7am, and arrived in Charleston, SC, at 4pm. We tied up to the face dock at Ashley Marina. From Charleston, we did an overnight passage, to St. Augustine, 180 miles. We left at noon, and arrived 1:45pm, the next day, and took a slip at St. Augustine City Dock. We got back into the ICW through St. John ’s River, near Jacksonville, FL. The St. John’s River takes you into Jacksonville.
We left St. Augustine at 8am, and headed for New Smyrna Beach, FL, about 68 miles away. We departed New Smyrna Beach at 8:30am, bound for Melbourne, FL, and arrived at 4:45pm. The next day, we left for Stuart, FL, at 6:45am, and arrived at American Custom Yachts, minutes away from the St. Lucie Lock, at 4pm. We took on 450 gallons of fuel, at a cool $1200. The next morning we departed Stuart at 7am, and arrived at Moore Haven, on the west side of Lake Okeechobee, at 3:15pm. We stayed at the Moore Haven City Docks. We departed Moore Haven, the next morning, at 7:30 and arrived at Fort Myers Yacht Basin Marina at 2pm. We traveled 1235 miles, from Solomons Island, Fort Myers.
A quick word on steering, or, another way to put it, a quick word on how to avoid running aground. Try to avoid using the autopilot. The only time I used it was in very wide rivers or canals, where there weren’t any sharp turns or in the straightaways. I would hand-steer all other times. Don’t steer from one marker, straight to the other. Follow the bends by staying in the middle, keeping in mind that the deepest part of the bend is usually on the inside. Water slows down on the outside, and slows down enough to allow deposits to fall out and settle on the bottom. Don’t pass close to the markers. The markers indicated where deep water ends, so why would you want to be that close to shallow water? Also, sometimes when marker are replaced, the old pilings are left there, in the water. Finally, when approaching inlets, slow down and approach carefully. If you do end up on a sand bar, don’t panic. First, try to reverse out in the same direction you went in. We grounded twice, and both times we were able to get ourselves off and back into deeper water. When I grounded, I simply didn’t slow down enough to be able to follow the deep water. Lockwoods Folly is famous for groundings. I was doing about 7 knots. It was an interesting experience for me because I had never grounded before. I expected it to be a violent and abrupt stop, but it wasn’t. It was a gentle stop. The fact that it was sand made a big difference too. Had it been coral, I would have heart a gut-wrenching crunch. The second time we grounded, I wasn’t at the helm, so I can’t tell you much about it, other than it took us about twenty minutes to get back into deeper water, by simply feeling our way around, so to speak. We reversed and floated for about 2 seconds and were on the sand bar behind us. Just as I was ready to jump into the water, the wind pushed us over far enough to get us into 3’ of water, and we were able to creep along till the water was deep enough for us to continue.
You’ll be passing other boats and other, faster boats will be passing you. A typical situation is where you’re coming up to a slower boat and you want to overtake it. Call the boat on the VHF. I almost always overtook the other boat on it’s port side. This is what it would sound like… “Holiday, this is Namaste, coming up behind you.” “Namaste, this is Holiday.” “Holiday, I’d like to pass on your two whistles. Would you like a slow pass?” “Perfect, Namaste. I’ll back off the throttles for a slow pass.”
Speaking of slow passes, I always slow down, if the vessel I’m on creates a big wake, when passing people fishing in their boats. I do the same for paddle boarders, or any other small craft. You’ll see a lot of people fishing in their little boats, all along the ICW. A lot of them have children with them.
For me, any time I’m in the US, especially on the ICW, it is a tour through history. Many of the ports along the way- Norfolk, Wilmington, Raleigh, Columbia, Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, etc- are places with incredible historical significance. And many of these cities have so much to see, including preserved forts, old Spanish Galleons, and museums galore. I also love the fact that there is so much wildlife to see, like swans and ducks, with their little babies following behind them in single file, ospreys, hawks, bald eagles, deer, muskrats, bears, alligators, snakes, dolphins, tarpons, manatees, and wild horses. Heck, I’ve even seen cows grazing along the banks of the ICW.
The most rewarding thing about traveling along the ICW, or I should say, traveling in general, are the great people that you meet. Some of the people that come to mind are Elizabeth, Steve, Andrea, Roger, Spyder and his lady, Pat, Ondrea, Allen, John, John, Melissa, Cassandra, Marilyn, Jesse, Tyler, Rex, Ursula, Tim, Mike, Darcy, Bob, Sue, Greg, Bev, Dave, Larry, and a whole bunch more that I can't think of right now, because my head is still so full of the other details of this trip that I've had to call to mind in order to do this post.
The only ‘complaint,’ for lack of a better word, which I had during any of the time I’ve spent on the ICW, was the lack of wifi signal strength. Many of the marinas boast that they’ve got ‘free wifi on the dock,’ but, much of the time, the signal wasn’t strong enough to be able to use it on the boat. So, those of you who need to be ‘connected,’ for work, or to maintain websites, like me, you might want to think about that.
Too tired to do a spellcheck right now. I'll check later.