It's a chilly, rainy day here at Saint Augustine, and when my brother gets here at about 10 a.m. I hope to get underway. Just 21 miles to his home in Palm Coast, about a 4-hour motor down the ICW, so I have two hours to get the boat ready to go.
I thought this might be a good time to post some of my observations about the trip. First and foremost, going solo down the ICW is not without mixed emotions. Much of the length, at least from Florida to Norfolk, can be very lonely in October. I left the Chesapeake's upper reaches October 2nd, which as it turns out, was prior to the departure of most of the waterway's snowbird population. Consequently, for much of the past 1077 miles I have been the only boat in sight. This can be a bit disconcerting, particularly when the weather gets nasty, or thoughts begin running through your mind that it could be a huge problem if the engine suddenly died. This would be a bad situation in those stretches of waterway where the channel is 100-feet wide at best and the currents are running at 4 knots. No place to anchor, lots of snags and rocks, bugs big as hummingbirds, and of course, the ever present no-se-ums.
If your boat draft is more than 5 feet, there are lots of places, particularly in Georgia and North Carolina, where you WILL run aground. No question about it. Additionally, there are markers and buoys off station, bridge schedules to contend with, and worst of all, charts that are decades out of date. A quality GPS Plotter is an absolute necessity, both for offshore and in the ICW. However, because of the problems associated with charts being out of date, you must keep in mind that those charts are the exact, same charts that have been loaded into your GPS/Plotter, therefore the accuracy is the same. The big difference is with the GPS you have the ability to look directly at your position while winding through a very, very narrow waterway. This observation reinforces what many will tell you - trying to run the ICW in darkness is insane. I've had just one occasion to do a short segment, a couple miles, in darkness. It's frightening at best.
Offshore, the GPS/Plotter charts are far more accurate, but there are still hazards. You can run aground 4 miles from shore, often in an area that shows 20 feet on the charts. We did that about 130 miles north of Saint Augustine. Fortunately, a shrimper called on the radio and told us which direction to head and we were able to get free very quickly with no damage.
Communications of several forms is a must. A VHF in the cockpit is your best friend, which in my case is a handheld, waterproof model that can reach out about a mile or so to the bridges and marinas. The VHF in the cabin at the map table is just about useless when your alone on the ICW or offshore in nasty weather. Cellular connection is fair to good in most locations, however, there are locations where there is NO cellular connection. My cell phone died yesterday, and at this point I have only intermittent connection at best. Looks as if the marine moisture got to the innards, and there's a distinct possibility that I'll be purchasing a new one this afternoon.
Keeping in touch with the family and friends back home is as easy as the touch of the OK button on my Spot Satellite Messenger. This is one of the best invenstments any cruiser can make. When my cell phone crashed I was able to let the wife and children know that I hadn't vanished from the face of the earth.
Internet connections with a tiny antenna inserted into the USB port have been fair to frustrating. Many places offer WI-FI, but the systems are frequently overloaded and slow. When my cell died I was able to also let my wife know I was OK by sending her an email and telling her why I hadn't called.
These are just MY obversations, and I'm sure there are folks out there with other opinions. I would really enjoy reading some posts from individuals that have actually made this trip during the past 5 years. I've always felt that any knowledge I can garner is helpful, especially from those that have preceded me in their cruise down the ICW.