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Suggestions For The ICW

By The Ithaka - Published November 04, 2005 - Viewed 1300 times

Suggestions For The ICW

Peter L. wrote that he's doing the Intracoastal Waterway next year on his new Beneteau 44, and asked if we had any suggestions for him.

From Bernadette: First, we suggest you get the latest editions of the following three books: the Waterway Guide (for the regions you will travel), The Intracoastal Waterway - A Cockpit Cruising Handbook (Jan and Bill Moeller), and Anchorages Along the ICW (Skipper Bob). Each has a lot to offer, especially if your boat has a six-foot draft, as our's does; anchorages of sufficient depth are not as common as you might hope. We wish we'd used John Kettlewell's chart book of the ICW, rather than the larger-format Maptech Chart Kit, which is a little unwieldy. Many ICW veterans we met had switched to the Kettlewell book, as it's a great size to handle in the cockpit.

We enjoyed the waterway from Norfolk, Virginia, to Beaufort, North Carolina, where it winds through lovely natural vistas that narrow enough to bird-watch, and then that open up into vast rivers and brisk sailing - a wonderful balance. Beaufort is a lovely little town to hang out for a day or two to regroup, get mail, provision, use the free car at the Mariner's Museum and just poke around. Beaufort also is a great place from which to jump out to the St. Mary's inlet (three nights offshore). We tired of waiting for a weather window at Beaufort that would allow us to sail outside, so we stayed in the waterway to Southport, North Carolina, and hopped out from there to St. Mary's, a terrific two-day run of 300 miles.

St Mary's, on the border between Georgia and Florida, is huge and clearly marked, and takes you into either Fernandina to the south (don't stop in Fernandina, the stench from the factories is nauseating) or the magnificent anchorage at Cumberland Island, to the north, where it's worth spending as many nights as tickle your fancy. The island is part of the national park system. The beaches are white and long; there are great hiking trails and the woods are filled with zillions of armadillos and lots of wild horses. From there, make tracks to St. Augustine - a city of lovely old Spanish architecture, good shopping and fun restaurants. You can go outside from the cut, but everyone suggests this is done only with some up-to-date shoal and buoy knowledge-obtainable via VHF from the Coast Guard or Boat Tow US or locals.

From St. Augustine, run south or head down a little further inside and go out again at Cape Canaveral. We were surprised by how few inlets along the ICW are clear and deep enough to use confidently without up-to-date local information; shoaling is a major factor for keelboats trying to get in or out of the waterway. The biggest piece of advice we can offer you, however, is to do the ICW earlier in the season than we did, say mid-September. We left it too late and, as you know if you've been suffering through our columns over the past month, we got hammered by a tight procession of arctic cold fronts - not all that uncommon at the end of November and into December.

One last word on the ICW, be sure to get towing insurance before you go. As careful as you might be to stay within the channel markers, the waterway shoals naturally and needs to be dredged constantly, so going aground is not a rare event. Most times, you can just back off the mud, but if you ever need a tow from one of the professional towing services, the cost is exorbitant. We met a couple who had just paid $1,000 to be towed off the hard, mostly because the towing service had to come rescue them from such a great distance, and they charge by the hour. We have Boat Tow US insurance (about $100 a year), and we're happy with them. We've never needed to use their towing service (touch wood), but all the cruisers call them on the VHF before using any of the inlets, or before entering such shallow channels as Beaufort, and the Boat US folks are more than happy to tell you where any new shoaling may have occurred. They are real pros, and extremely helpful to cruisers who require the latest skinny anywhere along the waterway, whether you use their insurance or not.

NOTE: This was written after our voyage south in 2000. In 2003, we sailed north and entered the ICW again. This time, in the late summer and early fall, the ICW was a delight, especially through the marshlands of Georgia. To read about that area, please see our Log Of Ithaka numbers 133, 134, and 135, on the www.BoatUS.com website, for our impressions.

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