Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Florida, US northeast
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I did the trip from Monroe, Michigan to New Jersey, followed a couple of years later from NJ to the Bahamas. I did the Lakes part under power, since the mast was already down and I didn't think the relatively short stretch across Lake Erie was worth it. There is a place at the entrance to the Erie Canal that will take the mast down for the trip across the Canal. You should take the canal that bypasses the rapids of the Niagara River. I didn't know there was one and had a harrowing 12 knot ride behind a tour boat. In retrospect, it was pretty stupid but that wasn't the first stupid thing I have done.
The trip across the canal is pretty straightforward. You have to buy a three day pass for the locks and it took me 5 days to get across. The locks were pretty easy but, since I was singlehanding, it got a little busy with me sitting in the middle of the boat and handling both the bow and stern lines. One of the locks is really impressive, being either the highest or second highest lift in the world. Other than that, it's actually pretty dull. 50 or so feet wide all the way to the horizon. There were moments, like the time I met a cruise ship. Honestly! I saw this white blob on the horizon and, as he got closer, I saw this monster coming at me. I had just passed an emergency gate that isolates sections of the canal in case of a bank blowout and radioed the Captain, worried that he wouldn't fit. He, very politely, told me this wasn't his first trip and that his ship had been specially designed to do the half lap of America across the Canal, the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi to the Gulf, across to Florida, up the East Coast and the Hudson to start the trip all over again. One shining moment was the day a train engineer blew his horn at me and waved. I grew up next to the Pennsylvania Railroad in NJ and spent many days enviously waving at engineers. It was a kick to have one of them waving enviously at me. At the end of the Canal you go down the chain of locks that drops you to the Hudson. Another neat experience. You go through several locks in quick succession that lowers you several hundred feet to the river. A short way down the Hudson there is a yacht club that makes a nice income renting their crane to passing boaters that need to re-step their masts. Strictly do it yourself but there are usually other boats doing the same thing who will help.
The ride down the Hudson alone is worth the trip. First the magnificent passage through the mountains past West Point. It's a little disconcerting being in the middle of New York state, many miles from the ocean, and meeting an ocean going ship but the Hudson is navigable all the way to Albany. Manhattan from a your own boat is a once in a lifetime thrill.
The Jersey coast can be daunting. Once you pass Barnegat Inlet there are no ports worthy of the name until Atlantic City. I had crew on this leg and chose to go straight through from Sandy Hook to Cape May. The inlet at Barnegat shoals way offshore, so you have to stay way off to avoid them. I went down the east coast of Delmarva. Another big mistake unless you're going straight through to Norfolk. Again, no ports worthy of the name for a sailboat. Do the Chesapeake if you have the time.
Finally, there is the ICW. Much too much to say about this and I have already gone on too long. Suffice it to say that it's another great experience. Watch out for the sounds and large rivers in the northern part. They can get very rough. The passage through the Low Country of SC and Georgia is one of the most beautiful things I have seen. A sunrise over a South Carolina marsh looks just like their tourism logo. All pure black and pure orange.
There are plenty of guides that will give you all the info you need. I used the Waterway Guides and you'll need two editions, the Middle Atlantic and Southern. They contain info about bridges and their schedules (probably wrong, they change constantly), anchorages, fuel stops and towns along the way.
I've done this trip twice and look forward to doing it again. You'll need at least a month in a sailboat. I'll wind up with some of the issues that I found troublesome in my 30 footer.
Tankage. With a 20 gallon tank I had to refuel most days. I carried several gas cans and covered between 60 and 80 miles per day. Sometimes I could go two days between refueling but you will probably need to plan refueling stops carefully. Water wasn't a problem. 20 gallons on board and some jugs and we did just fine.
Waste. Empty early and often. It's illegal to discharge overboard and, in any event, I didn't have that capability. Many of the pump out stations had been "ruined by the hurricane" and hadn't been repaired. Apparently the Federal government paid for the initial installation of lots of pump outs and once they broke down the marinas didn't want to put out their own money for repairs.
Shopping and marinas are not an issue. There seems to always be someplace to buy food or a courtesy car or an offer of a ride.
Finally, I'd allow at least a month for the NY to Florida leg, and that's at a forced march pace. I don't know where you need to go in Florida but, once you get there, you aren't there yet. It is one damned long state.
Good luck on your project. If you choose to make the trip it will be one you won't forget.
On the hard in Florida