Why We Love the ICW
09 December 2015 | ICW
So we are now nearly 900 miles into a thousand mile ICW trek. We would not have done it any other way. The sites we've viewed, the experiences we've shared, and the people we have met are more than memorable. I don't think we could have had them in any other venue. In many instances, we have traveled a water highway through a U.S. that isn't accessible any other way. Words don't do the experience justice, so I'm putting a picture gallery together that will hopefully share the remarkable scenery of the ICW.
For the non-boaters, the ICW is the Atlantic InterCoastal Waterway. It is an alternative to going 'offshore' or out into the Atlantic ocean to make the trip from Norfolk, Virginia to the Florida Keys. Some of the waterway is natural, rivers and lakes, but much of it is man-made canals, dredged out of swamp and marsh to allow sufficient depth for boats to transit. The entire route is marked with red and green buoys to guide the way between the shallow spots or the meandering creeks and rivers. Our chartplotter has a 'magenta line' that is a guideline of the route as well. Sometimes that magenta line is accurate and sometimes it shows us on dry land. Our charts as well sometimes don't agree with what we see before us, as currents and weather can change the underwater landscape on a daily basis. Thus, we've learned to follow the buoys rather than stay true to the magenta line.
Another challenge for us Great Lakes sailors is learning how to deal with the tides. In Georgia we experienced 9 foot rise and fall of the water level due to full moon tides. With our 4 1/2 foot draft (that is how much water we need under the boat to not hit bottom) we were always within the posted limits of the ICW, but had to be careful at low tide in areas that had shoaled in. Talking with the 'locals' often gave us a 'heads up' to areas we needed to avoid at low tide. The tides also produced lots of current, which sometimes made docking a challenge. It also gave us some wild rides, as the current can boost your boat speed if you are running with it. We saw 11-12 MPH in the Cape Fear River that way even though the engine speed was averaging 7-8 MPH. (GL sailors, the ICW works in MPH not knots).
Along the way we can stop in larger cities, such as Charleston and St Augustine, or lovely small towns, such as Bellhaven and Beaufort, to stay at marinas and visit the local attractions. We typically travel 30-40 miles per day. On other days, we opt to anchor out wherever there is calm water of an appropriate depth. The anchorages have offered surprises to us, who are used to the small coves of trees and rocks in the North Channel. The first time we anchored out in a marsh with miles of open space and water was disconcerting. But we learned to trust our anchoring instincts and found plenty of secure, peaceful places to "drop the hook". We've been fortunate that no storms have materialized to test our anchoring skills. We were in the marina at St Augustine when strong northeasters came through, and even there, the surge was sufficient to cause our dockmate to get seasick in the boat at the dock!
We meet people from all parts of the country in all types of boats. power and sail. Most of them are retirees, like ourselves, but surprisingly there are many younger people out for the adventure before they establish themselves in homes with families. Some make the trek down, and back up, the ICW each year, the traditional 'snowbirds'. Others, like us, are taking the boat south to get away from the rigors of the northern winters. Everyone has experiences to share, advice to give, and willingness to led a hand if needed. At marinas there is often an evening cocktail hour or a potluck supper to share. We chat, share boat cards and friend each other on Facebook so we can keep in touch.
The memories continue to pile up. I'll do my best to get the picture gallery online with expalnations of the remarkable places we've been.