Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: New Mexico, USA (Heron, Elephant Butte lakes); Arizona (Lake Pleasant)
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Dupek, the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway (ICW} should be just fine for most boats up to about 40 feet long with masts up to about 50 tall and still leave room for a radio antenna just above the mast (and many of the bridges are 65 feet tall). Some of the bridges swing or raise on certain schedules and you will want to get a guidebook that has information on the bridges and navigation of the waterway. Sometimes you call the bridge tender on the VHF radio to get the bridge to open, or you may be able to call a telephone number, or you may have to wait for the bridge to open at certain scheduled times.
A few ports have self-service mast-raising cranes that you and a couple of helpers could use to step your own mast. In other places you might be able to use a " gin pole " to step a mast for boats about 25 to 33 feet LOA. And for really large boats with tall masts that are keel-stepped you may have to pay a boatyard to step and rig your mast.
There are many ways to learn sailing and navigation. Classes, books, and videos are good. So is learning on a small boat; that is a very cheap and quick way to learn basic skills that are good for all sizes of boats.
Most yacht and sailing clubs have lists on their websites for people who want to crew on racing or cruising sailboats. This is a great way to learn. Of course hanging around marinas, looking at bulletin boards at boat supply stores, and joining an inexpensive sailing club, cooperative, or one of the less formal, less expensive, and more water-focused yacht clubs would also be good.
Some states require that younger boaters complete a boating safety class. These are good for all sailors. The classes usually are for one day (or can be taken on the computer) and teach the basic legal requirements for boat safety equipment, registration, and basic safe operation. They teach a little bit about buoys and navigation aids, reading nautical charts, navigation lights, and sound signals. The US Coast Guard and US Power Squadrons teach more extensive classes; these may meet for one evening a week for a couple of months or for a couple of weekends.
Once you have some more sailing experience, you might be able to get a crew position on a boat that is in a long-distance race or being delivered to a new location.