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lreinbach 08-16-2009 11:06 AM

Newbies sailing south on the ICW
My husband and I are new sailors. We've both taken basic sailing 101 but don't have a lot of sailing hours under our belts. Our boat is a Morgan 382. We were thinking about sailing south on the icw from Portsmouth, NH to FL. Is that too daunting a task for new sailors? Would the sections from Portsmouth on down that are not part of the icw be too difficult for us? Is this a stupid idea or a good way to gain experience?

AlanBrown 08-16-2009 12:34 PM

Most cruisers enter the ICW just below Norfolk, VA. It's a great trip and a very relaxed and scenic way to get to FL.

Your trip from Portsmouth to Norfolk will be the most demanding part of your trip. You can make long offshore passages that will quickly bring you to Norfolk or you can take your time and make the trip in short hops.

Given your stated level of experience, I'd suggest traveling slowly at first until you get your sea legs and get to know your boat better. Don't be in a hurry! This trip is going to be a perpetual "Kodak Moment", so enjoy yourself. Make sure you've got lots of time and set no deadlines for yourself. Wait for the right weather and if it's questionable, stay put.

If you choose the short hop method, your longest offshore stretch will be the coast of New Jersey. You will have to do some overnight sailing here, as other than Atlantic City and Cape May, there aren't any practical places for you to duck into once you've left Sandy Hook.

From Cape May, you've got a choice; continue offshore to Norfolk or head up the Delaware River to the C&D Canal. This route will connect you to the northern end of Chesapeake Bay.

Personally, I loved Chesapeake Bay (other than the stinging jellyfish!) when I passed through on my way south back in 1999. If you've got the time, I recommend you take this route. I liken Chesapeake Bay to a Thomas' English muffin, with "lots of nooks and crannies" to explore. You could spend years cruising the Bay and not see it all.

Once you reach Norfolk, you'll have a choice of ICW routes; the eastern route through Virginia Cut, or the western route through the Dismal Swamp Canal. The draft of your vessel may require you to choose one over the other. We chose to take the Canal route to Elizabeth City and absolutely loved it. Read your cruising guides and reports from other cruisers to help you make a decision.

As far as traveling the ICW goes, watch your depths, stay in the marked channels, and expect to bump bottom from time to time. Also, plan to motor most of the time. Skipper Bob's ICW cruising guides are very highly-rated by cruisers and you should have these aboard.

You're going to embark upon a great adventure. Have fun and be safe!

Gary M 08-16-2009 12:51 PM

Make sure you have a good understanding of tides and a method of predicting them onboard. At least some chart plotters have the tides displayed very nicely.
As a sailor from the Great Lakes who did part of this trip last spring it became obvious that the tides can be a big help or hindrance. A little planning for them goes a long way.

Have Fun

CaptainForce 08-16-2009 01:13 PM

We're in Buzzards Bay with our Morgan now, southbound after six weeks in Maine. We do the short hops,- Blynman Canal;Cape Cod Canal; East River; Point Pleasant Canal inside at Manasquan & out at Atlantic City; Cape May Canal; C&D Canal. It's debatable which path requires more experience. Our path requires much more attention to currents and tides as well as more inlets and bridges. Offshore is a longer committment, but pleasant in nice weather. We are often anchored ny two in the afternoon and we play with three months for north or south bound. In any case, choose your weather. Our only rough passages are when we decide to travel in marginal weather. 'take care and joy, Aythya crew

lreinbach 08-16-2009 01:22 PM

I think doing short hops would suit us better at this point. So along the NJ coast, we can stop in atlantic city and cape may instead of overnighting?
We have an older Eldridge's. We'll need to get a current 2009 version, correct?
BTW, we are currently moored in Mattapoisett at the boatyard.
So this trip is doable with our limited experience? We are in no rush and can take our time. When must you be out of the northeast?

speciald 08-16-2009 01:42 PM

You won't be doing much sailing in the ICW. Count on motoring about 8hrs/day. There are few outside jumps to consider - Beufort to Mayboro, Caoe fear to Charleston, Hilton Head to St. Simon' Island, St Simon's to Fernadina, Fernadina to St. Augustine. These are all close to coast Jumps and should be made with one overnight. The run up Delaware Bay to the C&D canal can be a bear but it gets you into the Chesapeake. It would be about 150 miles to Norfolk but thjere are lots of stops on the Bay. The other course is to run the DelMarVa peninsula withfew palces to stop. You should plan on being in the Chesapeake befor November.

NautiG 08-16-2009 02:33 PM


It's not the dumbest idea, you will gain a lot of experience very quickly. If the trip does become overwhelming, or something critical breaks on the boat, you can always stop at a marina. I can think of worse things than having to spend the winter on a boat in say, Baltimore.

I had a lot more sailing experience than you when I went down the icw. But I did it on a new to me boat. In retrospect, I really wish I had lived and cruised on it for a season at home, before setting off down the icw. It took a while for me to get familiar with all the systems on the boat (electrical, plumbing, etc.), and to get things set up the way I wanted for cruising. Cruising is more than just sailing. It's like sailing the house you live in.

If you do go, I would leave NOW! You want to be in the Chesapeake in October and on the icw in November. The weather is gorgeous on the Chesapeake in October, with the leaves changing and all. In November, conditions on the Chesapeake can get downright nasty. Many an ocean sailor has said the worst sailing conditions he has ever seen were on the Chesapeake.

If you go, I guarantee it will be one of the most exciting (and hopefully best) things you do in your life. Shameless self promotion: I wrote a book about my trip. It's available on amazon at Captain's Blog with Comments: Scott Englehart: Books

Gemini Catamaran Split Decision

NautiG 08-16-2009 04:39 PM


I looked at your profile. You have a website! Home : Sea Hobo You didn't mention that you are cruising with four young children and a pit bull mutt on your 38 foot boat. One of the children is a newborn. Mazel Tov!

You are psychotic. Please continue posting on sailnet. This has the potential to be a truly classic thread.

Gemini Catamaran Split Decision

lreinbach 08-16-2009 06:51 PM

We're not ready to leave right NOW now. So I wonder if it would be more prudent to just wait until next year to do this. I don't want to be pressed for time if we get a late start.

NautiG 08-16-2009 07:10 PM


I don't want to discourage you from the trip. I apologize for calling you psychotic. But I'm sure you well know that you have responsibilities with the kids. I don't know what your alternative plans would be, but you could start sailing and see how far south you can get.

I'm sure myself and others on this forum would be willing to help you with advice and as much practical help as we could.

Gemini Catamaran Split Decision

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