Can I get by with just a few general charts for a trip from Tampa to the Chesapeake?
Tom Wood Responds:
Depending on your draft, you can opt to go through the Okeechobee Waterway, through the Keys just south of Marathon, or all the way to Key West, depending on the time available. The trip to the Chesapeake Bay's entrance at Norfolk, VA, is generally a pretty fast one because of the Gulf Stream adding two to three knots to your speed. But you don't say what time of year this trip will occupy: late summer is hurricane-prone and winter can be really foul. Keep in mind that especially for the portion of the trip around (or across if you're brave) the shallows off Cape Hatteras, the weather plays a vital role.
Choosing individual charts is always a challenge due to the cost. At $16.00 apiece, you can spend over $1,000 to make this trip. If you scrimp, though, you risk putting yourself in danger. An unexpected duck into a port along the route due to deteriorating weather, health, boat-gear failure, or a family emergency will leave you offshore without the necessary information to get back inside.
But there is a simpler way. You can buy three or four mid-scale charts of the coast for $50.00 or $60.00, and then buy the two-and-a-half Maptech chart kits that give the details. The half-kit from Tampa to the Keys, the full kit from the Keys to Jacksonville, and the kit from Jacksonville to Norfolk will fill the bill for less than $250. They don't provide details on every single inlet, but all the major (read as, "easy, large shipping inlets") are there. Then if you have to bail out in Beaufort, NC, you'll at least have a basic chart. If you really want to be ready, buy the Chesapeake Chart Kit too.
Good luck to you.