Thankful for the ICW
18 March 2019 | Cumberland Island, GA
Edward Schwiebert | Overcast, cool, and windy
We returned to the USA on March 12, 2019 after about two months in the Bahamas. We love the Bahamas, the people, the crystal clear and turquoise waters, the fish, and the wonderful cruisers we meet. However, in view of the fact that dear friends could not join us for health reasons and other sailing friends have returned their boat to FL to sell her, we had no real reasons to stay (other than to continue enjoying ourselves!) and we decided that we would head home to HHI a bit earlier than planned. (We barely got moved in before we took off on this cruise, so there still is more to do (e.g. pictures to hang, etc.) and we decided we missed HHI and wanted to get back.) As well, we had a terrific weather window to cross the Gulf Stream — no wind (which is not great for sailors) but no waves to boot!
Shortly after our return to the States, the weather clocked around, as it is wont to do, and the winds have been strong and from the wrong quarter (i.e. the North). So, it was a good thing we left when we did because (a) we would have been in the Abacos, where the weather is forecast to be awful, and (b) we would have been delayed (not beyond our original calendar, but later than we now prefer). Of course, winds from the N mean we cannot go “outside” and sail up the Atlantic coast to HHI, which is a more direct, and thus faster, route than the Intracoastal Waterway (“ICW”), where we now find ourselves.
As described in Wikipedia, “The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a 3,000-mile (4,800 km) inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States, running from Boston, Massachusetts, southward along the Atlantic Seaboard and around the southern tip of Florida, then following the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. Some sections of the waterway consist of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays, and sounds, while others are artificial canals. It provides a navigable route along its length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.” (Cited March 18, 2019)
The ICW is an incredible resource as evidenced by its use by boaters, fishermen, commercial ventures, and the myriad of communities that have sprung up along its shores. The maintenance of the waterway (primarily dredging) is funded by fuel tax. Again, per Wikipedia, “Today, federal law provides for the waterway to be maintained at a minimum depth of 12 feet (3.7 m) for most of its length, but inadequate funding has prevented that. Consequently, for larger ships, shoaling or shallow waters are encountered along several sections of the waterway, with these having 7-foot (2.1 m) or 9-foot (2.7 m) minimum depths from earlier improvements.” Indeed, on our various trips up and down the ICW, we have encountered depths much less than 12, 9, or even 7 feet. Today, we were stopped dead in our tracks (and we draw 5’2”) at a spot notorious for its shoaling. Meanwhile, we encountered dredges up and down the offending sections, making new channels or old channels deeper. It is a never ending task, but one so worth the undertaking.
And so, despite its shortcomings, and underfunded efforts to maintain it as provided in law, the ICW is an essential resource and one that will enable us to get home.