Proudly checking off sailing The Intracoastal Waterway, a.k.a “ICW”, a.k.a “The Ditch”. Check. 🙂
The ICW is basically the superhighway for boats! This waterway allows cruisers to travel along the east coast without having to enter the Atlantic Ocean. The plus side to this passage is that it provides protection from the ocean since it’s located inland. However, there are some other challenges that you face such as bridges, tides, incorrect markers, and shoaling.
Before beginning our week long journey North, we spent a few days on land relaxing in the charming town of Jensen Beach, FL. Where we reunited with family, re-provisioned at a regular grocery store (Yay, Publix!) and washed what felt like at least 10 loads of laundry. Aside from our post crossing errands, it was sooo nice having Brent’s mom take care us! Haha. Comfy bed, home cooked meals, and strawberry daiquiris – Deb’s the best.
It was recommended to us that we pick up a copy of the 2018 Waterway Guide in addition to our charts and navigation. Honestly, I’m glad we had this guide and it really is full of great info. But there are definitely inaccuracies that even caused us to run aground, twice! Hitting the bottom may be one of the worst “oh shit” feelings, especially when you’re in a narrow channel with lots of other boat traffic. No damage was caused but it sure sucked getting stuck! Most times you just have to wait for the tides but Brent maneuvered us off the sandbar by throttling us in forward and reverse. Ha! Whoever was watching this I’m sure they thought we were crazy. The motor boats particularly didn’t seem to care about other traffic coming through so we endured quite a bit of wake. Which is something we were kinda shocked by. In the Bahamas, people are very courteous of other cruisers but we didn’t see much of that on the ICW. Our worst encounter was with a small fishing boat, two guys that decided to pull in front of us and stop so that they could reel in a fish!! A very tiny fish I might add!
Surprisingly, the bridges are almost evenly split between high level fixed bridges (65ft) and operating bridges. We cleared over 30 of them on our way to Jacksonville. Our mast is 62 ft, from the deck it looks super close to touching! The first few times are pretty nerve wracking. Luckily the bridges have height markers so I’d stand on the bow and keep a look out before we approached the bridges. Seriously thinking about investing in a pair of binoculars! As for calling the bridge tenders it was super easy, the VHF channels were all listed in the guide, and we waited for only one to open up in St. Augustine so that another boat could come through with us.
As for weather, ugh it was so hot and humid. Not much wind and also mixed with a lot of random rain showers. The ICW is pretty calm and at times uneventful, we were averaging 5-6 knots most days and only motoring. However we experienced a bizarre thunderstorm near Melbourne, Fl. This was not something we expected while being on the ICW or had much time to prepare for once we received the weather advisory. Winds were around 30+ knots, waves, lightening and water spouts! That day we had our headsail out, unfortunately we weren’t able to get this rolled in fast enough due to our dinghy almost blowing off the front deck! For about 15 minutes all hell broke loose. I can only describe this period of time as mother nature’s wrath. The boat was heeling so hard due to the gust that the boat rails were in the water. Barely any visibility which was scary and everything below deck was a total wreck afterwards. Brent was at the bow and I’m behind the helm with the wheel all the way to starboard just getting pounded with rain and wind. Sadly, we had to cut the headsail free so we could gain control and get back on course. So a new headsail is now on our list!
Our time on the ICW was mostly business. Getting our boat from A to B as we prepared for our haul out. BUT we did manage to have some fun and enjoyed our stops along the way. More on that later! 🙂
Cheers from Florida!