Sailing Adventures

The Intracoastal Waterway


The Intracoastal waterway, aka as the ICW, is an amazing engineering feat. It is a 3,000 mile inland waterway that runs from New Jersey to Miami then around the Florida peninsula and up the Gulf coast to Brownsville, Texas. One of the earliest portions, through the Great Dismal Swamp, was originally surveyed by George Washington. The ICW allows small to medium vessels to transit most of the East Coast without ever entering the Atlantic Ocean.

We entered the ICW at West Palm Beach. We had just launched Orion after a couple of weeks on the hard where we painted the bottom with a fresh coat of antifoulant bottom paint. This paint is toxic to sea life and keeps all the barnacles and other creatures from taking up housekeeping on the hull. Unfortunately our departure was not auspicious within a quarter mile of the Old Port Cove marina, home to a large fleet of Nordhavns and many friends, our Captain got confused over the myriad markers designating the channels and ran us aground. What an idiot! We docked him a months pay. Fortunately the tide was coming in and after half an hour of embarrassment we were on our way up the narrow, winding channel and under a series of bridges.

The Florida bridges split between draw bridges and high spans. In WPB there is a series of draw bridges which open in a staggered sequence. If you can catch the timing right, you can motor right through. If your timing is wrong, you can spend a lot of time trying to keep a large boat under control in a narrow channel with tides and traffic.

We spent a lot of time in Florida during our working lives and were never very impressed with it. Driving in Florida is like driving through a thousand miles of strip malls, separated only by megamalls and fringed by tall storage compartments for the elderly, otherwise known as condos. To appreciate Florida, you must travel it via the interwoven and branching waterways.
WPB is a wealthy community and the mansions lining the ICW reflect it. One after another, the beautiful homes go by decorated with large porticos, stately columns, multiple balconies, statuary, masonry, and (of course) boats. Every home has a boat or two, many suspended in slings to keep them out of the muddy water. Later we found out why the ICW Smile is a condition that happens to any boat that spends much time in the polluted water. The bow gets covered with a sticky stain in a mustache shape.


We thought we were good at sailing in tight quarters, having sailed the Columbia and Snake Rivers a few years ago to Lewiston, Idaho. But the ICW was a different challenge. The waters are so shallow and the channels are often so narrow that we began experience a ground effect on the rudder. As the prop turned, half the blades were compressing the water between the hull and the bottom. This made the steering wonky and made the autopilot completely ineffective. Some portions of the ICW are not well marked and we scraped bottom several times, finishing the damage to our new bottom paint job that was begun when we grounded near Old Port Cove. Gradually we figured it out and things got easier over time.

At Fort Pierce Eleanor got to visit with her friend Cleo, an older black standard poodle. We met Cleo and her parents in Clarence Town Harbour in the Bahamas when we were all weather-bound with little to do. Karen and John are Australians and brought Cleo from Australia to the Florida where they bought a sailboat. Several years later they were ready to sell the boat and return Down Under. Unfortunately, although Cleo is from Australia, she cannot return without going through a lengthy quarantine. So instead the family moved to Thailand where they will stay until after Cleo goes on to the great Dog Park in the sky.


A couple of days later we followed a big blue trawler named "Family Times" up the ICW for several hours. We started conversing over the VHF radio with one of the young crew named Grayson. Later we tied up near each other in Daytona Beach and met the rest of the family. Thus began one of those wonderful friendships that are so typical in the sea gypsy community. Over the next several months we leapfrogged with Family Times up the East Coast to New York City. Then they went north and we went south. Who knows when our wakes may cross again? But they surely will. Our community is like that. We drift like flotsam around the edges of the continents of the world, continually meeting friends or friends of friends and making new ones. The world is surprisingly small.

After a couple of weeks navigating the narrow, twisting ICW, we remembered something really important. Orion is an ocean going vessel. She doesn't belong in shallow muddy water surrounded by busy little watercraft. We headed out to sea at Cape Fear, set the autopilot to a waypoint 100 miles away, and pried our tired, stiff fingers off the wheel. The ICW was an interesting once in a lifetime experience (as in Never Again!)