Category Archives: Cruising Practica

Favorite A-ICW Stops

I was asked recently to comment on our “favorite places” to visit as we cruised along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Following was our response. There are many more places we also stop, but these are the “highlights” we think will also appeal to others.

As a reminder, the ICW is measured in Statute Miles, not Nautical Miles. Statute miles are 5280 feet, what we all know and love in a car as miles, with speed measured in miles per hour. Nautical miles are longer than Statute miles; the conversion factor is 1.1508, so 5280 x 1.15 = 6076 feet (rounded).

Below in this text, I use the following abbreviations:
MM – mile marker
StM – Statute mile (vs Nautical Mile)

Portsmouth, VA: Located immediately south of the Chesapeake Bay, this is an excellent place to rest and relax after transiting the Bay, particularly if the weather has had the Bay “a bit disturbed.” Portsmouth is at MM0 – the start of – the Atlantic ICW. Southbound, Norfolk is to Port and Portsmouth is to STBD. There is an anchorage known as “Hospital Point” at MM0, but dinghy docks are scarce for those who’d want to go ashore. Waterside Marina is a good marina stop in Norfolk, VA. It’s located within walking distance to the USS Wisconsin, a WWII Battleship museum. One quarter mile south of MM0 are Tidewater Marina and Ocean Marine on the Portsmouth side. There are also two first-come, first-served public basins on the Portsmouth side where cruisers can tie up free; there are no services. These spaces fill up fast if bad weather is forecast or in progress for the lower Chesapeake Bay, as they are great places to wait on weather. Storm tides here will come over the docks, so you may get your feet wet. From the High Street basin, it’s an easy walk to the museum Light Ship Portsmouth. There are two small but nice museums surrounding that basin. Along high street, there are several mostly “bar food” restaurants; our particular favorite is the German Biergarten, about a 6 block walk.

Elizabeth City, NC, and the “Albemarle Loop:” Elizabeth City at MM 51 on the Dismal Swamp ICW Route is the “anchor town” of the ICW southbound from Norfolk/Portsmouth.  Elizabeth City has a marvelous small museum dedicated to the maritime and economic history of the region.  The Elizabeth City Public Wharf is the “Harbor of Hospitality.”  Docks are free, albeit without services.  This is a favorite stop for us to relax and refresh.

South lies the Albemarle sound, a shallow body of water where the “deep water” range is 12′ – 18′.  These waters are home to many crab fishermen; crab pot floats are to be found virtually throughout the sound.  The sound lies geographically East-West, and the prevailing winds are from the West and Southwest.  Winds greater than 15 kts can raise uncomfortable beam seas for North-South crossings.  Winds greater that 20 kts can produce uncomfortable chop in all directions.

While not technically part of the ICW, the Albemarle “loop” is centered around the two ICW Routes between Norfolk/Portsmouth and the southbound ICW at the Alligator River in North Carolina.  The “Albemarle Loop” is a cruising route that touches some wonderful and oft-overlooked venues.  On the Crystal Coast, the towns of Manteo and Ocracoke are excellent stops.  On the Western Albemarle, the towns of Edenton and Plymouth are delightful.  The history of the Albemarle dates to the earliest English colonists.  At Matteo, visit the Lost Colony Plantation.  At Edenton, visit the revolutionary period Chowan County Courthouse, St. Paul’s Church, learn of the “Tea Party” that the ladies of Edenton hosted, and visit many local historical sites.

Here is a link to information on the Albemarle Loop:

Beaufort, NC: This is a vintage seaport town just East of Morehead City, MM204; it’s a very pleasant, laid-back, “chillaxin'” place with a small but well done Maritime Museum, many shoppes and some nice local restaurants.  Stay at the Beaufort City Docks. This marina is pricy for a municipal marina, but convenient for walking access to town. For those who might enjoy a short off-shore (maybe 10 miles) jaunt, depart the Beaufort Inlet and head out the the bight at the Cape Lookout National Seashore.  It is a large, well protected anchorage, with dinghy access to the beach for campfires and swimming.  The bight itself is well protected from ocean winds and sea states, but the trip out and back can be too much for some if the wind offshore is up.  Plan accordingly.

Charleston, SC: magnificent old southern city with many points-of-interest and fine restaurants. Our visit strategy is to immediately take a tour bus around the city that is new to us.  We look for a tour company that has same-day on-and-off privileges.  (We do this every time we arrive somewhere we’ve not been before, including Canada).  We take the entire tour circuit first, then go back to places that we think we’d like to know more about.

In Charleston, MM465, our preferred marina is the Charleston Maritime Center, located on the Cooper River, on the north side of the city, on the Cooper River. The CMC basin can be choppy in heavy weather, but we feel the relative convenience of the location is offsetting. We suggest advance reservations, as this is a popular marina with a relatively small capacity for transient visitors.

At Charleston, start the city tour at the downtown Welcome Center.  Or, take a tour boat to Fort Sumpter. There is a nice aquarium near the Ft. Sumpter ferry docks.  There is a water taxi from the Charleston Maritime Center that goes back and forth to Patriot Point, which is where the USS Yorktown museum ship is located.  There is a large Harris-Teeter grocery about two city blocks from the Maritime Center.

There are several architecture tours and many weekly and seasonal activities for visitors.

Beaufort, SC: from the Beaufort Downtown Marina, take a carriage tour through the historic ante-bellum homes in the area.  Our preferred marina stop here is Port Royal Landing Marina. From the docks, it’s a long walk to shore, but the hospitality at PRL is like no other.  Beaufort’s downtown is friendly with many shoppes and good small town restaurant options. Rent a car here and visit the nearby Gullah Geechee historical and cultural corridor, the Penn School (founded in 1862) and Fort Fremont.

Savannah, GA: In Savannah, cruisers can stay on the Savannah River, in downtown Savannah, at either the municipal docks or at private marinas. The Savannah waterfront is very interesting, with its large riverwalk, wonderful park overlooking the River, and a mix of large shipping, commercial traffic and every kind of small-boat and pleasure craft.  The tidal range here is about 8′ – 9′, and at low tide, boats are significantly below the adjacent public riverwalk, where pedestrians are fascinated by the boats and often look down at boats moored on the municipal dock. The downtown docks are in a “No Wake Zone,” so for the most part, wakes are not an issue. Throughout the season, there are events and activities along the riverwalk, and we’ve found it quite interesting and fun.

Alternatively, cruisers can stay at Thunderbolt or Isle of Hope. From both locations, city busses run to the downtown Savannah Welcome Center. My Admiral prefers the quiet and relative privacy of this alternative. In Thunderbolt, there are a couple of fun “pub food” restaurants and a fine marine chandlery caller River Supply.

In Savannah, there is a nice live stage theater within walking distance of the downtown waterfront (  There are several architecture tours and many weekly and seasonal activities for visitors.  From Savannah, boaters can rent a car to visit Bonaventure Cemetery (an amazing place, the film site for the movie, “Garden of Good and Evil”), Tybee Island (the Tybee Island Lighthouse and grounds are open to the public) and Fort Pulaski.

Fernandina Beach, FL: The downtown of this lovely small city is right at the foot of the docks at the Fernandina Harbor Marina.  Take the tour to Civil War era Fort Clinch.  Visit the house where the Pippi Longstocking movie was filmed.  Visit Billy Burbank’s trawl net factory. The trawl net “factory” makes shrimp nets, but the modern history of this business is instructive to anyone interested in entrepreneurship. Burbank’s is open to the public for tours, and it’s a very interesting afternoon.

St. Augustine, FL: We prefer to stop at the St. Augustine City Marina. Tidal currents here are swift; boat handling skills and careful attention to the dockmaster’s instructions are essential. Wait for slack if unsure; caution is essential. The Catholic Cathedral Basilica would be of architectural interest to all. The Fortification overlooking the river – Castillo de San Marcos – is wonderful, and the docents that do the historical interpretation are excellent.  There are many restaurants – ranging from fine dining to pub food – within walking distance of the St. Augustine City Marina.  We particularly like the a1a Ale House.  Rent a car or take a shuttle bus to the St. Augustine lighthouse, which is open to the public. Young’uns traveling with you would also enjoy the Alligator Farm.

Titusville, FL: Not really remarkable as a destination in itself, but the Titusville City Marina is an excellent place for boaters to stay in order to visit NASA at Cape Canaveral; the public areas and displays at Canaveral are excellent.  It’s also a great place to watch a launch, if one is scheduled.

Comments on ICW cruising conditions:

For a more thorough discussion of cruising conditions, hints, tips, suggestions and warnings, please see our related article on the A-ICE on this website, here:

There are many areas of shallow water throughout the Southeast region.  The very best resource for current data on low water (shoaling) and caution areas is available via  Two other websites that all ICW travelers should know about are and  Waterway Guide publishes a series of excellent waterway guide books and maintains cruising information on their website and on tablet and smartphone apps. The “Salty Southeast Cruiser’s Net (SSECN) is really a boating group, founded by Claiborne Young.  After Claiborne’s untimely loss, the group has continued in operation.  The Cruiser’s Net website specializes on the US Southeast.  SSECN has apps for both tablet and smartphones. There is some duplication of material between the WWG site and the SSECN site, but there is unique value to both.  Both are excellent resources for fuel prices, marinas and anchorages.  All three of these websites require users to register, but all three are free, and all are very useful to ICW boaters.

There are some generalizations that apply to the ICW between Georgetown, SC, to and through St. Augustine, FL. This entire stretch has high tidal ranges; from 5′ at St. Augustine to as much as 9′ in Savannah/Beaufort/Charleston.  The high tidal ranges create swift tidal currents, and especially for first-timers, docking is easiest in the 1/2 hour before and after slack. In some of those areas, boats drawing more than 4′ will want to consider not traveling at low tide; especially celestial low tides.  There are some well-known “trouble spots” in the region, including the Dahoo River at MM490/500, the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff at MM 518, Fields Cut at MM573, Hell Gate at MM600, the Little Mud River at MM650, Jekyll Creek at MM680/685, and several spots on the Amelia River/South Amelia River below Fernandina Beach. There are some local knowledge bypasses around some shoal areas.  In others, the only choice is to wait for the tide to provide deeper water. All of the cruising sites above can provide additional detail.

The US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for dredging the ICW.  USACE is funded through state congressional delegations.  In recent years, the money congress allocated to dredging has been diverted by these state delegations to “more pressing needs,” with the consequence that many areas of the ICW are shoaling. In fact, the ICW resource is slowly being lost… allowed to die, really… by congress.  There is a not-for-profit organization called the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association that tries to improve the situation.  The Executive Director is Brad Pickel at

Renting a car in any of the above venues greatly expands what a cruising visitor can see and do.  Some, but not all, marinas have courtesy cars.  Generally, courtesy cars can’t be used for long periods of time, but they are useful for re-provisioning and maintenance runs.

Anchoring Rights

In this post, I’ll summarize what I think I know about anchoring rights. I feel all boaters should at least be aware of this context, since it is what actually gives us our “rights” at law, and that we risk losing if we fail, as citizens, to pay attention, become and be involved.

All materials in this post are taken from sources that are assumed to be in the public domain.  If any copyrighted material is contained within these pages, that material will be removed immediately upon receipt of notification.


The customs and traditions of mariners and navigation pre-dates Roman law back to the Phoenicians. Roman jurists regarded the sea and the foreshores as res communes; i.e., property which could be used by all, but which was incapable of private ownership. This ancient rule derives from the historical fact that for most of the history of civilization, goods and people moved mainly by water. Navigable waters were the public highways of the day, and their inherent public character was recognized and protected by the laws of England, Spain and ancient Rome.

The modern Public Trust Doctrine actually originated in English common law. Lord Hale in his treatise, De Jure Marls, distinguished between the proprietary interests of the sovereign (King) and the rights of the public in tidal waters. Hale referred to the former as jus privatum and the latter as jus publicum.

In the United States, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Article III, Section 2 enumerates the powers of the federal courts, to include “4. Cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.” Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled in 1848 (decision authored by Justice Joseph P. Bradley) that all Navigable Waters in the US are the jurisdiction of the Federal Government under Article I, Section 8 (specifically, the Commerce Clause) of the Constitution, and that lawmaking related to admiralty and maritime matters was the role of the Federal Congress. (Citation 1:; citation 2: And of course, international treaties, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), as adopted by Congress, have the same force of law as the Constitution itself.

In the US, the Public Trust Doctrine emerged in nineteenth-century America. It imposed substantial restrictions on the power of federal and state governments to abridge public rights of navigation and fishing or to alienate lands beneath navigable waters. The development of the Public Trust Doctrine can be traced in a series of United States Supreme Court cases beginning with Martin v. Waddell, decided in 1842. According to the Court, “When the revolution took place the people of each state became themselves sovereign, and in that character hold the absolute right to all their navigable waters in the soils under them for their own common use, subject only to the rights since surrendered by the constitution to the general government.”

Thus, the various states continue to have the primary responsibility for defining the limits of the public trust doctrine and formulating a policy concerning the disposition of sovereignty submerged lands within their respective boundaries. The states “own” the tidelands and beds under navigable waters.

The character of Public Trust land ownership differs in many respects from that of a private owner. In its modem form, the Public Trust Doctrine limits the power of states to dispose of lands under tidal waters. The doctrine has traditionally been employed to protect public rights to navigation, commerce and fishing, but in some states it has also been utilized, along with other concepts, to protect the public’s access to upland beach areas for recreational purposes.

(Citation: The above paragraphs of historical background were extracted and summarized in the main from this document:


In the State of Florida, the Public Trust Doctrine is set out in Article X, section 11 of the Florida Constitution. This state constitutional provision codified the existing common law, which said title to navigable lakes and streams was held by the state in trust for use by the people. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, Florida became the title-holder of all water bodies “navigable in fact” within its boundaries when the territory attained its sovereign status as a state in 1845. Title vested in the new state by operation of law, without the necessity of any deed, inventory, patent, or survey. As explained by the Florida Supreme Court, these navigable waters “passed to the state in its sovereign capacity to be held by it in trust for the people thereof.” Because of the inherently public character of navigable waters, the essential feature of the trust is that navigable waters are not held for purposes of sale into private ownership, but instead must be held by the state for the use and enjoyment of the public. (Citation: Broward, 50 So. at 829)


Citation: 65 C.J.S. Navigable Waters s. 22, at p. 135.: “… Moreover, public rights on navigable waters are not generally restricted to navigation in the strict sense but also encompass such incidental rights as are necessary to render the broader rights reasonably available, including the right of the navigator to anchor and to moor without unreasonably obstructing others’ navigation rights.” Legal Definition – Corpus Juris Secundum; n; An authoritative legal encyclopedia that provides general background knowledge of the law with footnoted citation to relevant case law. Abbreviated C.J.S.

Specific to the State of Florida is an Attorney General’s Opinion that states, “These incidental rights include the right of the vessel to anchor so long as it does not unreasonably obstruct navigation. The common-law includes rights of anchorage as an element of the exercise of rights of navigation.” (Citation: Florida AGO 85-45.) NB: this AGO does not extend to the aesthetic interests of wealthy waterfront landowners.


As I read and “understand” the above, anchoring by cruising yachts in St. Augustine, or at Jensen Beach, or at Sarasota, or ANYWHERE else in Florida, in a manner that does not obstruct adjacent waterways, and in conformance with other applicable federal and state laws, should be entirely permissible under the Public Trust Doctrine. Or, for that matter, ANYWHERE ELSE in the United States of America.

So, then, where does that leave us?

In general, the right to anchor indefinitely in one place is probably NOT unlimited, and may well be within state’s right to regulate. And it is undeniable that there are vessels that are now derelict, and other vessels in the process of becoming derelict, now anchored in Florida waters. Both public and private parties have an interest in controlling and removing such vessels.

For those of us who care about anchoring rights, and for those of us who try to influence government to make reasonable anchoring rules, the real issue is to focus on what is reasonable, and where the lines are between reasonable and unreasonable. It is probably not unreasonable to have a limit on the length of time a vessel can be anchored on any one place. It is probably not unreasonable to specify a minimum safe distance that a vessel must maintain between itself and nearby structures. The trick is to agree to a definition of these criteria that is reasonable to all involved. In many, many areas of modern public life, it seems to me, “we the people” have a lot of trouble coming to reasonable accommodation with one another’s interests. That may be why, in Florida, this particular issue never seems to get settled. And why it is spreading so rapidly to other states, too.

Yacht Club Reciprocity

Individual Yacht Clubs are private-membership organizations, not considered “places of public accommodation” under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yacht Clubs generally operate as corporations formed under state corporate laws, and their own locally established by-laws. They establish their own operating “rules-and-regulations.” In many parts of the country, there are regional associations of yacht clubs.  Within these region affiliations, local customs and practices are usually similar from club-to-club. Examples include the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Clubs Association (CBYCA), The Florida Council of Yacht Clubs FCYC) and in the Hudson Valley, the Hudson River Boat and Yacht Club Association (HRBYCA) and the Mohawk-Hudson Council of Yacht Clubs (MHCYC). Similar associations exist across the country. There are also national associations of yacht clubs. One national association of yacht clubs is the “Yachting Club of America.”

Cruisers should view reciprocity as a courtesy extended to visitor’s by a local yacht club.  Local rules surrounding non-member visitors reflect the attitude of the club’s members and are adopted by each individual club’s Board of Directors. Yachting Club of America member clubs are not “required” to offer reciprocity; the choice is up to the local club.  Reciprocity is not guaranteed.  Local yacht clubs may or may not allow persons not affiliated with a home yacht club to visit and use their facilities. The terms and conditions of reciprocity plans vary widely, often based loosely on “regional custom and practice.”  Some clubs do not choose to offer reciprocity in any form, some offer reciprocity only to members of specific sister clubs, some restrict reciprocity to members of “any other” yacht club, and some choose to admit transient cruisers. Unless there are specific arrangements in place between specific clubs, reciprocity usually means the hosting club will extend the use of their docks, and sometimes their other facilities, to visitors affiliated with other yacht clubs.

“Reciprocity” does not mean “free.”  Dockage fees are often comparable to fees at regional marinas.  Most yacht clubs have very limited slip capacity available for transients, so advanced planning and reservations are sometimes helpful.  Not all clubs accept advance reservations.  Many yacht clubs are some distance away from towns and/or shopping, and more often than not, have limited dining facilities, if any at all.

In New England, based on our cruising experience, we concluded it was the regional norm (custom and practice) for yacht cubs to accept transients for dockage/mooring without requiring affiliation with a home club.  We were usually welcomed to use club facilities, but at Point Independence Yacht Club, Onset, MA, we were told transients could not use their club house facilities.

On the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Clubs Association follows regional interests affecting yacht clubs. On the Chesapeake, particularly the northern Bay, it’s more the norm for clubs to restrict transient visitors to those cruisers who have membership in a home yacht club.  Annapolis is a destination port, and the Annapolis Yacht Club will not welcome transients from Chesapeake Bay clubs located within 100 miles of Annapolis.  Capital Yacht Club, Washington, DC, is a very welcoming club. Slip availability is highly constrained by demand, and advance planning is essential.  The weekly dockage rate at CYC equaled regional marina transient rates, and they do offer a modest discount for members of other CBYCA clubs and for weeklong stays. Hampton Yacht Club, Hampton, VA, is an extraordinarily friendly and welcoming club on the southern Bay.

Chicago Yacht Club welcomed us.  CYC requires transient visitors to be members of a home yacht club.  Weekday rates are less than weekend rates. There are restrictions on length-of-stay (three nights maybe) during their “peak season,” but we arrived after Labor Day, and those restrictions were waived at that time of year. CYC has a van service, free to use, that transported us to several areas museums and grocery shopping, and picked us up again by pre-arrangement with the driver.  We couldn’t have felt more welcome.   We observed generally that yacht clubs on the great inland rivers tended to welcome transient cruisers.

Florida has a regional organization called the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs.  Not all Florida clubs belong to FCYC.  Among themselves, FCYC member clubs have special reciprocity arrangements for members of other FCYC clubs.  Membership in the council is fee-based for member clubs, and yacht club members pay for the FCYC reciprocity arrangement through their membership fees in their home clubs.  Many Florida Council clubs and non-council clubs will accept transient visitors from out-of-state yacht clubs, as always, based on slip availability.  They usually charge a dockage fee, sometimes approaching that of local marinas, sometimes a bit less.  Some clubs, like Halifax River Yacht Club, Daytona, are very welcoming and friendly. Others are neither.  There is little way – other than personal reference – to know in advance how welcome you’ll be.

Payment practices for dockage and services vary from club-to-club. Many clubs are structured to avoid handling cash, so they require either credit cards or inter-club billing. The Florida Council clubs prefer inter-club billing. Most clubs will accept credit cards from out-of-state transients.  At one Florida Council club, local practice was to accept checks for dockage, but only inter-club billing in their dining room. Inter-club billing is not the norm for our home club or region. On one visit to a Florida Council club, we had dinner in the dining room. They insisted on billing the dinner check through our home yacht club.  I told them at the time-of-service that my club was not set up to handle it.  Several months later (maybe 6 months), I got a “dear deadbeat” call from the Florida club’s Vice Commodore.  I explained the background and what we had experienced at the time-of-visit. Of course, I offered to send him a check.  He accepted, but it all would have been much easier if they had accepted payment by credit card at the time-of-service.

Nationwide, yacht clubs in many areas are experiencing membership and budget pressures. Not every yacht club, of course, but some are finding that welcoming transient visitors helps their revenues.  Traveling cruisers should inquire about availability if a local yacht club appears to meet the cruiser’s travel needs.  The worst that can happen is that they either have no space available or they say “no,” and that can happen at marinas, too.

Finally, I don’t believe yacht cub membership for the purpose of eligibility for reciprocity would provide any financial benefit to cruisers.  Reciprocity might get  cruisers access in some areas, usually at local transient prices.

The Hudson River

Both Peg and I were born and raised in New York State.  Although we were raised in very different regions of the state, we know NY state very well.  From the highlands of Western New York, to the wine country of the Finger Lakes, to the ancient forests of the Adirondacks and the peneplain of the Catskills, and to Long Island Sound, the state is a wonderland of natural beauties, if not political common sense.  The Hudson River Valley was our home for more than 25 years.  It was a wonderful place to live, work and raise our children.  The Hudson River is an extraordinary natural wonderland.  We loved New York State.  But, we are “country mice,” not “city mice.”  This monograph is offered from these perspectives.

Davidson Laboratory, Stevens Institute

Davidson Laboratory, Stevens Institute

Northbound from New Jersey, cruisers should consult the website of the Urban Ocean Observatory of the Davidson Laboratory at the Maritime College of Stevens Institute.  This site offers a very complete and robust mathmetical model of the ocean and estuary systems from the Delaware Bay to Rhode Island Sound, including the New York Bight and the Hudson River Estuary.  The section of the website that shows “Surface Currents” will be invaluable to helping cruisers manage transit times around ebb and flood currents on the coastal Atlantic shelf off New Jersey, and transits of the Hudson River, East River, Harlem River and Long Island Sound.  Here is the site link: here:

Tidal currents in NY Harbor and the Hudson River can run to 2 – 3 kts.  In addition to tidal currents, the Hudson River watershed produces a substantial south-flowing current in it’s own right.  The result is that the strength and period of ebb exceeds that of flood.  Ebb will be 1/2 to 1 kt stronger, and usually runs 7 to 7-1/2 hours while flood runs for 5 hours or less.  Plan accordingly; modestly-powered boats heading northbound against the ebb will find progress to be slow and tedious.  The Stevens Institute website can help cruisers locate and run in northbound eddies even when the river is ebbing.  These eddies can be of substantial help if one MUST run north against the ebb.  Be alert for large flotsam in the river, particularly in the early spring and after periods of heavy rainfall in the upper-Hudson watershed.

New York Bight

New York Bight

Northbound from New Jersey, all cruisers – regardless of boat speed and design – must travel offshore in the Atlantic Ocean from at least New Jersey’s Manasquan Inlet to the New York’s Verrazano Narrows.  This route rounds the major New Jersey land feature, Sandy Hook, and continues northeasterly across Raritan Bay to New York.  The route crosses the ship entrance to New York Harbor (the “Ambrose Channel”).  In these waters, smart pleasure boat operators can safely and easily operate  outside of marked channels, staying well clear of commercial traffic. It’s an area where commercial traffic and day fishermen are visible at significant distance.  It’s also an area where ocean-going ships operate at speed, so there can be significant bow and stern wakes from those behemoths for those too close to their channels.  These waters require careful watch-standing, but visibility is 360° and transit will not be any more challenging than any other busy harbor waters on the US East Coast.

“New York Harbor” is comprised of two  bays: the “Lower Bay” and the “Upper Bay.”  The Verrazano Narrows (“The Narrows”) is the divide between Staten Island and Long Island, and is the demarcation between the Lower Bay and the Upper Bay.   The waters south the “Narrows” and north of a line from the southern tip of Staten Island to Coney Island, Brooklyn, are known and charted as the “Lower Bay.”  Except for Gravesend Bay, where there is a good pleasure craft anchorage, the Lower Bay is largely open water.  The impact of tidal currents is less in the Lower Bay than north of the narrows.  The most important “hazards” to pleasure craft in the Lower Bay arise from Day Boat traffic and Fast Cat ferries that operate between Atlantic Highlands and the East River ferry terminal.

Northbound from Manasquan, NJ, upon rounding Sandy Hook, cruisers have several transit and destination options:
1.  come around Sandy Hook, steer back to the southern end of Sandy Hook Bay, and stay at Atlantic Highlands, NJ; or,
2. as above, but anchor behind Sandy Hook if prevailing weather conditions are suitable; or,
3.  steer northwest to the mid-point of the southeast shore of Staten Island and anchor or stay at a marina or yacht club in Great Kills Harbor; or
4.  continue northbound to and through “The Narrows” to stay at either Jersey City, NJ, or in NYC.

The Narrows, via hand-held camera, from LLSP

The Narrows, via hand-held camera, from LLSP

Great Kills Harbor on Staten Island is a well protected harbor with several marina facilities.  Sanctuary and crew have enjoyed the hospitality of the friendly and welcoming folks at Great Kills Yacht Club.  GKYC has a special rate for members of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA), and will accept other transients on a space-available basis.  From GKYC, there are convenient bus connections into New York for those planning to visit the city.   Great Kills is an excellent place to ride out heavy weather.


New York harbor is one of the largest and busiest seaports in the world.  For visitors, especially first-time visitors, navigating  the Upper Bay of New York Harbor is a special case by any comparative standard; very large harbor size, very complex locale, multiplicity of connecting river and creek systems, swift tidal currents, large variety and speed variations of commercial traffic, abundant official traffic from many agencies, variety of pleasure craft (very large to very small), charter traffic (sight-seeing and tour boat), occasional large flotsam in the water, several security zones, multitude of local knowledge place names, and more.

The entire area north of the Narrows, from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the Battery of lower Manhattan, is the “Upper Bay” of New York Harbor.  The Upper Bay is more narrow and very much busier than the Lower Bay, with a wider variety of navigational challenges and watercraft.  Staying out of marked channels is highly advisable and not always clear to those unfamiliar with these waters.  The Upper Bay has commercial facilities, docks and commercial traffic literally 360º from almost any point along the through north-south route.  In the south-center of the Upper Bay basin, there is a very large commercial anchorage for ships and large ocean-going barges.  The area can be busy with working tugs.  From a line between the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island north to the W. 70s of Manhattan, ferry traffic and water taxis rule.  The professional captains of these vessels operate on schedules, know where they’re going and are not impressed or distracted by the skyline of NYC or the figure and form of the Statue of Liberty.  Cruisers MUST be alert to these vessels, which approach quickly, from every direction, and often turn abruptly to proceed across the bow of slower vessels.

In general in the Upper Bay, it has been our experience that there is less commercial maritime traffic, and especially less tug, tow and large ship traffic, on the eastern shore of the harbor (Brooklyn shore) from “The Narrows” north to Governor’s Island, then across the mouth of the East River approaching lower Manhattan.  That is our preferred route through the harbor.  After we round the battery into the Hudson River, we favor the eastern shore, but stay 1000 feet or so offshore.  That gives water taxis space to maneuver around us without our “being in their way.”   We try to time our passages through the Upper Bay and lower Hudson River to be between the hours of 10h00 and 15h00.  Sundays have the least water taxi traffic, but generally during mid-day hours, water taxi traffic is “minimized.”  There are very high speed catamaran ferries that come to lower Manhattan from Atlantic Highlands, NJ, so MAKE SURE TO KEEP WATCH BEHIND YOU.  These fast ferries can appear in remarkably short time, and they throw large wakes for which cruisers will want to be prepared.

Those planning to transit the East River to Long Island Sound must consider the state of the tide and tidal currents.  The currents in the East River, particularly between Roosevelt Island and Hell Gate, run to 8 knots or more at ebb and flood.  It’s way safer to have that current with you than against you; especially for us, as we are only a 7.5 kt boat to begin with.  Second, in the day or two preceding your planned passage, make certain there are no heads-of-state visiting the UN.  For some, including the President of the United States, the Coast Guard will close the river to all traffic.  For lesser dignitaries, the main channel will be closed, forcing pleasure craft and through commercial traffic to use the alternative channel.  That channel is fine, but slightly more of a pilotage challenge in swift current conditions.

If the East River is closed, there is an alternative route to Long Island Sound, around the north end of Manhattan, via the Harlem River.  Pilotage is no problem, but there is a complex of road and railroad bridges across the western mouth of the Harlem River (called “Spuyten Duyvil” on charts).  The bridges are remotely operated based on train traffic.  Delays can be significant and train traffic varies throughout the day.  Obtain current local knowledge for the Spuyten Duyvil if planning to use this route.

Aboard Sanctuary, we do not find AIS and RADAR to be useful in NY Harbor or adjacent waterways.  In the case of AIS, there are simply too many targets to be helpful.  Proximity alarms are useless.  Water taxis and other vessels that might actually represent a navigation hazard do not carry AIS transponders.  We turn our AIS off because it’s more of a distraction than a help.


Aboard Sanctuary, we always monitor BOTH VHF Ch. 16 and VHF Ch. 13.  The  commercial chatter will be mostly “obscure” in NY Harbor unless one is familiar with local landmarks (“the narrows,” “the gate,” “the Kill,” “the race”).  DO NOT WASTE TIME CALLING COMMERCIAL VESSELS; THEY WILL NOT ANSWER!  JUST LOOK OUT THE WINDOWS, MAINTAIN A VIGILANT VISUAL WATCH, AND BE PREPARED AT ALL TIMES TO YIELD.

Within the Upper Bay, both the New Jersey and New York shores have marina facilities.  Marinas in this region are expensive.  All marina facilities in the Upper Bay and lower Hudson are exposed to large wakes, particularly during the daytime hours.

Statue of Liberty LightSo, then, what do we do?  Sanctuary and crew typically depart Manasquan Inlet and proceed north offshore, to and through the Narrows, and into the anchorage at Liberty Landing State Park, behind the Statue of Liberty (N 40.69617 W -74.06443).  That transit is a distance of 45 StM.  There, we anchor in peace and quiet.  The LLSP anchorage is mostly a fair-weather anchorage, exposed to the south and east, and with only mediocre holding in soft silt.  Water depths at LLSP range from 5’ to 12’ at MLLW.  There is room for 4 – 6 boats.  There are few wakes.  In truly fair weather conditions, cruisers can anchor in the Upper Bay in a large, charted anchorage off the Statue of Liberty.  The night-time “city-scape” vista from here is truly spectacular.  However, this anchorage is exposed to ever-present large wakes from water taxis, ferries and other commercial traffic, so is not for those prone to motion sickness.  LLSP is a great staging point from which to run North up the Hudson River or East out the East River towards Long Island Sound.

Cruising authors Alan and Susan McKibben, who’s book we like and recommend, use a Statute Mile reference system which they credit to an earlier cruising guide author, Arthur G. Adams.  In this system, New York’s famous 42nd Street is “Hudson River mile zero.”  In this monograph, I have adopted that same mileage reference system.

Tug 'n Tow at the Bear Mountain Bridge

Tug ‘n Tow at the Bear Mountain Bridge

Northbound, we always try to depart NY Harbor when there is a flooding component to the tide.  Fighting the ebb is a waste of time and energy.  Northbound, the cruiser is treated to spectacular views of the New York City skyline.  North of the city, vistas of the New Jersey Palisades are magnificent.  North of the Palisades, the river widens for a while.  The widest section is at the Tappan Zee Bridge (Mile 23.2; locally known as, “the Tap”).  In this area, there are marinas at Tarrytown that offer commuter railroad access to NYC. We continue north to Haverstraw Bay (mile 30.5), on the East shore of the river, where we anchor in 7’ – 12’ of water in a sandy bottom with excellent holding.  Croton-On-Hudson is on the West shore (mile 32.0) and offers marina and anchorage opportunities.  Haverstraw Bay is exposed to the North and West, so if conditions are not favorable, we continue another 5 miles or so North, above Peekskill.  We anchor on the West (South) shore of the Hudson River, on a mud shelf (mile 41.5), in about 12 – 15’ of water with good holding.  This locations is about a mile south of the Bear Mountain Bridge.  The shelf shoals quickly, so mind your sounder.  The vistas here are stunning as one looks up at “Anthony’s Nose.”

United States Military Academy, West Point, NY

United States Military Academy, West Point, NY

Above Bear Mountain is the stretch of the Hudson that is home to the United States Military Academy at West Point (mile 47.0).  There is a marina there which we understand is available for retired or active duty military, but there are no marinas in that area for the cruising public.

North, between West Point and the city of Newburgh, NY, on the East shore, is Pollepel Island.  This private island is home to “Bannerman’s Castle.”  The island is closed to the public.  The “castle” is in ruin and is definitely unsafe.  There is a peaceful and scenic fair weather anchorage between the island and the eastern shore (mile 53.0).  Enter the anchorage from the south via the correctly charted deep water channel that is very near the shore.  Holding is good in depths of 8′ – 12′.  Swing room is adequate, and there is room for several boats.  There are heavily trafficked passenger railroad tracks along the entire length of the East shore of the Hudson.  There will be some train noise in this anchorage.

"Bannerman's Castle," Pollepel Island

“Bannerman’s Castle,” Pollepel Island

Northbound from West Point, although there are commercial marina choices in the Newburgh (mile 56.0) and Poughkeepsie (mile 70.5)  area, we suggest through cruisers stop at the Poughkeepsie Yacht Club (mile 78.6).  Rent a car.  By car:
1. visit West Point; two forms of picture ID are advised,
2. eat at one of the 5-star restaurants of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA); make advance reservations, and
3. visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt home and Presidential Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion at nearby Hyde Park, NY.
These venues are not accessible from the water, so a car is necessary.

Rondout Lighthouse, Rondout Creek, Hudson River, Kingston, NY

Rondout Lighthouse, Rondout Creek, Hudson River, Kingston, NY

The city of Kingston, NY, was the first capitol of New York State.  The original “Senate House” is located in the “uptown” historic “Stockade District.”  Visit Kingston via the Rondout Creek (mile 86.3).  The entrance to Rondout Creek is marked by the Rondout Lighthouse.  Follow the well marked entrance channel.  There are two marinas in the Rondout Creek that cater to transients.  These facilities have different pros and cons.  The Rondout Yacht Basin is a full service marina facility.  RYB has gasoline and diesel fuel, pump out, pool, floating docks and all of the normally expected marina amenities.  When entering the inside basin there, mind the current in the Rondout Creek, which will try to sweep the unsuspecting cruiser sideways in the basin entrance.  The other dockage facility in the Rondout Creek is the Kingston City Dock.  The City Dock has short floating finger piers.  There are heads and modern, clean showers, but no laundry and no wi-fi.  There is no fuel or pump out.

2012-07-09_05-38-22_27The City Dock has the significant advantage of being located within the downtown Rondout Historic District of Kingston.  From these docks, it’s an easy walk to several excellent restaurants, gift shoppes, a wine store and the small but unique Hudson River Maritime Museum.  The Rondout Yacht Basin is located across the Rondout Creek and 1/2 mile upstream, on the East shore.  Access to the Historic District from RYB requires a dinghy ride, a taxi/car, or bicycles.  Very hardy cyclists can bike to the Historic District.  The bike ride is at least 1-1/2 miles, and involves significant hills.  All things considered, we personally prefer the City Docks for their convenience and location in the Historic District.

Hudson River Maritime Museum on the Rondout

Hudson River Maritime Museum on the Rondout

Upon departure from Kingston, northbound, Sanctuary and crew run to Waterford, NY.  Waterford is the gateway village to the NYS Canal System.  There are marinas along the Hudson, at Catskill, NY (mile 107.2), Athens, NY (mile 111.2), Coeyman’s Landing, NY (mile 127.5), and Albany, NY (mile 139.5).  All of the communities of the mid-Hudson Valley are 19th Century working villages.  In general, we don’t stop after Kingston until we get to Waterford.  Albany is NY’s capitol city.   We’ve seen it.  The Port of Albany is not difficult for cruiser’s to transit.  The Albany Yacht Club (mile 139.4) in downtown Albany has a deserved good reputation, with floating docks and a small ships store.  It is within walking distance of local pub food and pizza sources.  Ground transportation would be needed to get to grocery shopping.

Troy Federal Lock - US Army Corps of Engineers

Troy Federal Lock – US Army Corps of Engineers

Above Albany, cruisers pass through the “Federal Lock” at Troy (mile 147.7).  That lock gets it’s moniker because it is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers rather than the NYS Canal Corporation (“feds;” get it?).  That lock and dam stops the tide level variations on the Hudson.  Once north of the Federal Lock, cruisers are in the NYS Canal System.  At Waterford, the route divides; one goes North to and through Lake Champlain, the other goes West towards the Mohawk Valley on the historic Erie Canal.

Erie Canal Visitor's Center, Waterford, NY

Erie Canal Visitor’s Center, Waterford, NY

Waterford, NY, is a great stop for cruising visitors, with free, first-come, first served, floating docks with 30A and 50A power and water, and serviceable if crude heads and showers.  Some years, the NYS Canal System length-of-stay limit (48 hours) is enforced, and other years, not.  Check with the friendly folks at the Visitor’s Center.  There is also a high wall at Waterford that can be used for alongside dockage.  Shore access on that wall may require substantial agility depending on the design and free-board of the boat involved.  Immediately West of the Visitor’s Center is the “flight” of five locks that mark the beginning of the Erie Canal and the transition from the Hudson to the Mohawk River.

The headwaters of the Hudson River follow the Champlain Canal north to Lock C7, and then the river wanders off to the NW into the Adirondack Park to wilderness venues like North Creek and Newcomb, where it becomes a magnificent, pristine mountain creek instead of just a magnificent, deep-water river-estuary.   The transit from the New Jersey Palisades north through the Catskills to Albany and again north to and through Lake Champlain is every bit as beautiful as the Georgian Bay region of Canada or the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee.  Do not rush this area thinking better things are ahead.  That would be a great under-estimation of what this region has to offer!

Two cruising guides we particularly like for this region include:
1.  “Cruising Guide to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River,” by Alan and Susan McKibben, The Lake Champlain Publishing Company, Burlington, VT, 2006
2.  “Hudson River Guide (2014),” Lawrence Zeitlin, self-published,

Albemarle Sound & Edenton, NC

Roanoke Inlet in the early 18th Century

Roanoke Inlet carried ship draft depths in the 18th Century, enabling a robust shipping trade at Edenton.

Not very many cruising boats visit Edenton, NC. We presume the size and reputation of the Albemarle Sound is a significant deterrent to many cruisers. Those who do, however, get to enjoy a true gem. Edenton’s first settlers arrived from Jamestown in 1658 and the town was incorporated in 1722. Edenton was North Carolina’s first capitol city. Settling citizens include a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Joseph Hewes), a signer of the United States Constitution (Dr. Hugh Williamson), the first United States Senator from North Carolina (Samuel Johnston) and one of the first Associate Justices of the United States Supreme Court (James Iredell), appointed by President George Washington. Edenton was second to Wilmington as the state’s largest colonial sea port. Shipping here included a robust trade with England and the West Indies. Access to Edenton by ocean-going ships was via the Roanoke Inlet until it was closed by a Hurricane in 1795. Prior to Emancipation, Edenton provided slaves with a means of escape via the Maritime Underground Railroad. For those interested in American History and/or architecture, there is a lot to see and learn here.

Sanctuary and Roanoke River Lighthouse at Edenton Harbor

Sanctuary and Roanoke River Lighthouse at Edenton Harbor

In the years we aboard Sanctuary have been migrating north and south with the seasons, we have often heard that Edenton is an extraordinary place to visit. Edenton is a town of 5000 residents located on the north shore at the western end of the Albemarle Sound. From the Alligator River Marina at the Alligator River Swing Bridge, the cruise to Edenton is 49 StM. From Elizabeth City, the cruise to Edenton is 55 StM. Sanctuary and crew have always been “in too much of a hurry” to add several additional days to our migration travel itinerary. “’Too much of a hurry’ to do what,” I ask in hindsight? To visit Edenton, slow cruisers need to allocate two travel days to their itinerary, plus length-of-stay-at-Edenton days. Cruisers would want a nice, stable air mass to travel, or the willingness to “hunker down” and wait for the arrival of a comfortable travel-weather window. In 2014, for us, the necessary conditions came together, and we made the cruise in May. What we found was the most welcoming place I think we have ever been.

Albemarle Sound navigation

Albemarle Sound navigation

The Albemarle Sound is a very significant body of water that is worthy of the utmost respect. The Sound is shallow, with an average depth of 12 – 13 feet. It lies east/west, with prevailing winds from the southwest and west. Any winds over 15 knots can produce steep, uncomfortable seas, but especially so along the east/west fetch of the Sound. Strong cold fronts, nor’easters and summer thunderstorms can produce serious anxiety. There are large, charted military security zones on both the south and north shores.  The restricted area on the north shore is the inactive Harvey Point target range which has been disestablished as a danger zone. The area is open to public access for recreational and commercial uses, except that “dredging, clamming, crabbing, seining, and anchoring of all vessels and any other activity which could result in disturbing or penetrating the bottom” is prohibited.  There are large, fixed platforms in this area.  The larger area on the south shore is open to the public for navigation except when military exercises are being conducted.  To avoid these security zones, through-cruisers are funneled away from shore toward the central one-third of the Sound. There is a 65-foot vertical clearance fixed bridge, and a 94-foot vertical clearance electrical primary distribution line that cross the western end of the sound, north-to-south. Neither pose a problem for cruising boats. Both have “official” marked channels at mid-span, but it’s likely that any span a mile or more offshore would be acceptable for cruisers. The Albemarle must also be a fertile fishing ground, because all parts of it are blessed with lines of crab pot floats. Because of the abundance of floats, I would recommend against traveling at night.

Tea Party Memorial

Edenton Tea Party Memorial

The entrance channel to Edenton Harbor is charted at 7-1/2 feet, but we saw no less than 12 feet. The Edenton City Docks are part of a large recreational park ground. The yacht basin is surrounded by a concrete breakwater to protect it from seas rolling in from the sound. The breakwater has a 6 foot or so opening on the east end, which does result in some wave action within the basin. There is no tide, but winds can affect water levels at the margins. Entering Edenton Harbor, the channel hooks from north to west, and the city docks are immediately to starboard. To the west of the property, the Roanoke River Lighthouse is the prominent land feature. Boat access to the basin is from the west end.

c 1750 Barker House seen from Edenton Harbor

c 1750 Barker House seen from Edenton Harbor

At our arrival, we had excellent docking assistance. Dock pedestals provide 30A and 50A power and potable water. In-slip depths are 8 feet. Docks are fixed wooden structures, aging, but structurally sound. Rest rooms and showers are available in a building adjoining to the park. These facilities are showing some age. Wi-Fi is available, free and open; no passwords. The wi-fi is sufficient for email and browsing. The dockmaster provides a “Welcome Package” with guidebooks and maps of the town. The dockmaster also provides a pickup truck, “City of Edenton, State of North Carolina” logo on the side and with yellow light atop, that she lends to cruisers as a complimentary courtesy car. Without doubt, it’s the most unique courtesy car we’ve ever used! The marina offers the first two nights of dockage without charge, but with a $6.00 charge for electricity. Thereafter, dockage is $1.00/foot. We thought that was an excellent offer, reminiscent of many towns along New York State’s Canal System.

The most unusual courtesy car we have ever had

The most unusual courtesy car we have ever had

Edenton is very special for its extensive historic district of surviving 18th Century Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival architecture. Immediately across the street from the marina is the c. 1782 Barker House, one of several homes dating to the early 18th century. In town is the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, a National Historic Landmark. Also in the downtown, within walking distance, are the 1736 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1758 Cupola House and gardens, and the 1800/1827 James Iredell House. There is much, much more. The Chowan County Courthouse is still used today by the County, NC District Court, and the State Supreme Court. Two 18th Century “Customs Houses” that supported merchant shipping and trade still stand in Edenton.

c 1766 St. Paul's Episcopal Church

c 1736 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Most Americans (well, most Americans in our generation of cruisers) know about the “Boston Tea Party” in response to the “Tea Act of 1773.” The Provincial Deputies of North Carolina supported their countrymen in Boston by resolving to boycott all British tea and cloth received in the North Carolina colony after September 10, 1774. We learned in Edenton that there were several towns in colonial America that held tea parties in sympathy with the people of Boston. Edenton was just one such town, but it was unique. The Edenton Tea Party was one of the earliest organized women’s political action protests in United States history. On October 25, 1774, Mrs. Penelope Barker organized, at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth King, 51 women of Edenton. They formed an alliance supporting the American cause against “taxation without representation.” Political resistance was common in that day, but political resistance by women was not. The action of these 51 women got significant notice in England.

1767 Chowan County Courthouse National Landmark

1767 Chowan County Courthouse National Landmark

Walking around Edenton, it was very obvious we were tourists. Grasped in our hands, and managed clumsily, were our walking tour guidebook, street map and camera. Many nice folks asked us if they could help us find something. Many nice folks wanted to know where we were from. Many were amazed and engaged by our lifestyle choice to actually live on our boat. Merchants and restauranteurs were friendly, cheerful and obviously appreciated our visit and our business. We enjoyed dinner at “The Downtown Café and Soda Shoppe” (American) and at “Kristy’s Place” (Italian). Our meals were excellent value; simple, delicious, featured good service, and were inexpensive by any contemporary standard.

Edenton is truly a delight. We highly recommend it as a cruising destination!

St. John’s River, Jacksonville, FL

Imagine the portion of the St. John’s River – between the ICW crossroads at Sister’s Creek/Pablo Creek and the intersection of the Ortega River southwest of the City of Jacksonville – as shaped like a hockey stick.   Imagine the handle oriented mainly east/west and the paddle turned

St. Johns River from ICW crossroads to Ortega River

St. Johns River from ICW crossroads to Ortega River

south.  Imagine Jacksonville city located at the transition from the handle and the paddle.  This 24-mile stretch of the St. John’s River offers an eclectic mix of vistas which include expansive bridges and overhead power lines, a coal-fired electric generating station that has cooling towers resembling those of a nuclear power plant, large scale military and civilian shipping/seaport infrastructure, large southern mansions, residential neighborhoods with docks lining the shoreline, and undeveloped marshlands.  Quite a mix.

Between the ICW crossroads and the City of Jacksonville, virtually all of the commercial seaport infrastructure is on the “north” shoreline.  This includes cargo terminals and fuel terminals with docks that extend well into the river.  By contrast, the “south” shore has very little large-scale commercial development.  Jacksonville city itself occupies both sides of the river.  Beyond Jacksonville city, the river turns south, widens and shallows.

The current in the St. John’s can run to 3 knots at ebb, which can be of significant help or hindrance to slow and/or low-power vessels.  Navigation of the river can be very easy.  Along commercial channels, Sanctuary and crew prefer to operate just outside the shipping channel lateral markers.  On the St. John’s, we chose to run the “south” shoreline.  That keeps us well away from the various security zones along the commercial “north” shore.  However, on the south side, we did encounter numerous crab pots, some in as much as 40’ – 50’ of water.

Crowley triple-decker

Crowley triple-decker barge, tugs fore and aft.

Concentration and situational awareness are essential on the St. John’s.  Vessels encountered on the river will include open rowboats, kayaks and canoes, all variety of pleasure craft, large and small cruise liners, very large tows, research, military and commercial cargo vessels.  The large Crowley barge tows accommodate 3 levels of tractor-trailer and RR freight car-sized vehicles.  These very large barges are managed by multiple towboats, with one tug pulling the barge, via cable, and one or more tugs handling the stern swing of the barge.  Via AIS, they appear as a tight cluster of slow-moving vessels, but they definitely occupy a lot of river.

Feds on patrol.

Feds on patrol.

As might be imagined, there are many law enforcement swift boats from several agencies, including US navy and USCG patrol boats, Customs & Border Protection, Immigration and a plethora of state and local authorities.

On the north shore of the St. John’s, approximately 7 miles east of downtown, is Trout Creek.  This creek offers anchorage and marina options to cruising boats.  Just east of downtown, there is a public marina with floating docks, power and water.  Dockage is free; power is $8.50/day.  The stay limit is 72 hours.

Downtown at Jacksonville Landing, cruisers can tie up to a free wall.  This location is a no-wake zone.  There are no services, but it’s fine for the self-sufficient cruiser.  Local attractions at the location include Chicago Pizza, Hooters and a variety of local eateries.

FEC Railroad bridge opening

FEC Railroad bridge, Jacksonville Landing, viewed inbound from under I-95, caught in the act of  opening.

Just to the west of Jacksonville Landing is the Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad bridge.  This bascule bridge is normally open except when a train is approaching.  Virtually everyone will need this bridge to be open.  There is a lighted sign that tells boaters the approximate wait time.  If that time is long, tie up at Jacksonville Landing and “stretch your legs.”

Proceeding southwest through the FEC RR bridge, the St. John’s turns south and the character of the river changes.  It’s just a short 2 – 3 mile run to the Ortega River.  The Ortega River is reached by turning to the southwest (260°) at approximate position  30°17.35’ N, 081°40.6′ W.  There are no obvious landmarks except for a large, square building on the western shoreline.  The Ortega is marked red-right-returning, and boats coming from the St. Johns are “returning.”  Honor the markers.

Ortega River Bascule bridge

Ortega River Bascule bridge

The Ortega River boat channel carries 10’ – 12’ and is well marked.  There is a road bridge (Ortega River Bridge)  that most boaters will need opened.  Depending upon final destination, there is a CSX/Amtrak railroad bridge that boaters may need opened.  The road bridge is not restricted.  The RR bridge is normally opened except when a train is approaching. The RR bridge is an old single-track bridge that carries the classic Amtrak east coast passenger services, like the Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Auto-train. The RR bridge periodically experiences operational problems.  Plan accordingly.

CSX/Amtrack RR Bascule Bridge, Ortega River

CSX/Amtrak RR Bascule Bridge, viewed outbound, Ortega River

There are several large marina and boatyard operations along the Ortega River.  Note particularly Lamb’s Yacht Center, which has a 100-ton boat lift and a large, well stocked onsite chandlery.  Lamb’s allows liveaboards, and the folks there – staff and residents – are very friendly and helpful.

I would suggest that this area is not truly a “destination” in itself, but if planning to have work done or needing to take cover from nasty weather, it is a good, safe, secure refuge.  There is a full-scale shopping center within walking distance.  The shopping center boasts a Publix, CVS, UPS Store, West Marine, Belks, and several restaurants.  The “Metro restaurant” is especially good for breakfast.  “Tom and Betty’s” is great for home cooking at reasonable prices.  There is a large marine consignment operation (“Sailor’s Exchange;” and a large “used book” store operation (“Chamblin’s Book Mine;” in that immediate neighborhood.  Bus service is available to downtown Jacksonville.  US Rt. 17 is less than 5 minutes from the Ortega River marinas.

Conway, SC; Upper Waccamaw River

DSCN1074Sanctuary and crew made our first visit to Conway, SC, on the Upper Waccamaw River, on October 29 and 30, 2013.  On the advice of the dockmaster at Osprey Marina, we departed the ICW at Enterprise Landing, at daymark G”1.”  The channel in that area is narrow, and shoals to 7-1/2 feet for a short distance.  Once past that area, the river widens and become a magnificent cypress swamp meandering stream.   Navigation planning was only slightly more complicated than usual.  “Standard” NOAA charts do not cover the upper Waccamaw.  The rule is, as always when upbound, “red, right, returning.”  The river is adequately marked with clearly visible daymarks.  Navigation is straight forward.  We stayed to the middle of the river on longer, straighter stretches, and favored the outside radius of turns and switchbacks.  From the ICW at Enterprise Landing to Conway, a cruise of approximately 16 StM, there are three shoal areas: first, just above G”1,” second, in the vicinity of R”12,” and third, in the vicinity of R”16.”   We never saw less than 7-1/2 feet in any of these areas.  There is a tidal ebb and flood, but these  currents are insignificant for cruising boats.

DSCN1094We stayed at the Conway City Marina.  The marina “basin” is on the west shore of the river.  Upbound, the marina entrance is on an eastward curving bend in the river.  The tidal range is about 18 inches.   Reports published elsewhere of shoaling across the marina entrance are correct.  Local guidance is to favor the green center-quarter of the marina entrance when entering and leaving the enclosed basin embayment.  We were in the red-center quarter upon arrival, and even though we arrived virtually at high tide, we plowed through soft mud in the immediate area (50 feet) of the basin entrance.  The second day of our visit, we chose high tide to relocate to another dock.  By favoring the green center-quarter at the entrance bar, we observed that the shoaling carries to the green side, but we cleared it in about 5-1/2 feet of water.  There is rip-rap on both the green and red outside-quarters of the entrance, so caution and slow approach speed is advised.

DSCN1106The Conway City Marina is a residential facility, not primarily a transient destination.  As first-timers to the area, we had excellent telephone support from the attendant, and we were certainly made welcome.  There is no docking assistance provided.  The marina offers three docking locations.  One is a floating face dock inside the marina entrance channel.  There is a small resident river tour boat on the north end of that dock, and there is also room on that dock for 2, 40′ cruising boats.  It’s actually a 1/4-mile walk to the office from this dock.   Outside the marina, 1/4-mile upstream of the entrance channel on the west shore of the Waccamaw, there are two 40′ floating docks immediately below the SC Rt. 905 road bridge.  These docks are part of an extensive and beautiful River Walk system.  It’s a 1/2-mile walk to the marina office from these docks.  All of the docks have 30A and 50A power.  None have potable water available.  The docks themselves are aging, and in a generally dilapidated state of repair.  Cleats on the in-river docks are loose and somewhat small for cruising boats.  That said, the in-river docks do have two obvious advantages: first, approach depths are better, and second, the walk to the town is much shorter and easier.  It is a very long walk to anywhere from the dock located in the marina entrance channel.

The City of Conway is the Horry County Seat (pronounced “Oar-ie;” the “H” is silent).  There is A LOT of government here in Conway; a lot, including a large jail complex and the county courthouse.  Discount coupons (“Discover Conway Downtown Shopping Card”) for visitors are available at the Visitor’s Center, 903 3rd Ave; (843) 248-1700.  Get several cards, because you give up the coupon when/as you use them.  History and architecture buffs will enjoy the city.  There is a 2-1/2 mile riverwalk and park complex for walkers/joggers.  There is a walking Heritage Trail of beautiful 19th century homes and the historic downtown.  The locals are friendly.  There are several good restaurant choices, and several nice, unique shoppes.  Grocery shopping and the post office are not within what I consider to be walkable distance.  Bikes would be an asset here.

Northern portion of Upper Waccamaw at Conway, SC

Northern portion of Upper Waccamaw at Conway, SC

When Sanctuary and crew made this side trip to Conway, in October, 2013, the daymarks in the river were in good condition.  In December, 2013, the USCG announced plans to permanently discontinue the lateral daymarks on the upper Waccamaw River.  There are, however, some large tributaries and embayments that intersect the river; some are large enough to be confusing to first time cruisers in the area.  Since there are no NOAA charts of the upper Waccamaw that cover the River, I superimposed Sanctuary’s GPS track on a road map of the area.  I hope this will be useful in portraying the through-route of the river to Conway.

Southern Portion of Upper Waccamaw at Enterprise Landing, StM 375.

Southern Portion of Upper Waccamaw at Enterprise Landing, StM 375.

Clicking on these picture graphics will display them in a full-screen view.  Further clicking will magnify them and allow scrolling.  They are of high enough resolution that detail should be easily visible.


Despite some facility limitations and walking-distance challenges, this river trip is exquisite.  It is unique, beautiful and well worth the effort.

East Coast ICW Overview

Sanctuary and crew have made the southbound and northbound migrations from the Chesapeake Bay to Florida for the last 10 years.  Our Home Port is near Baltimore, MD.  From Baltimore to Punta Gorda, FL, via the Atlantic ICW (A-ICW, or just “ICW”) and the Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) is 1400 miles.  From Baltimore to Miami, FL, is 1200 miles.  Punta Gorda is almost 600 miles west of Baltimore, in the western part of the Eastern Time Zone.  Punta Gorda has about an hour more daylight than Baltimore in December-March, almost all of that in the evening.

We generally depart southbound from Baltimore around the 25th of October.  Many boaters have insurance restrictions and can’t move south of the Chesapeake Bay – or perhaps Cape Hatteras – until the 1st of November, sometimes as late as the 15th of November.  In 2012, we got a late start southbound because of Hurricane Sandy.  Weather along the ICW in November is often comfortable “Indian Summer,” but it can be quite chilly.  Daytime average temperatures have highs in the high 60s, nighttime lows in the high 40s. Following the passage of Sandy, it was cold and cloudy all the way from Baltimore to Cocoa Beach.  We had frost in Brunswick, GA; not average at all for that time of year.

After the time changes from DST back to EST, sunrise will be around 07h00 local and sunset will be around 17h30 – 18h00 local. Thus, cruisers will have 11 hours of daylight to allocate to travel. DO NOT TRAVEL THE ICW IN THE DARK. There are both marina and anchorage choices in most areas.  In 2013, budget $1.75/ft/day for marinas, and $15 additional for electric, as a nominal planning average.  Some marinas will be lower, some higher.  Cruisers who can anchor, and like anchoring, will encounter just a few areas where it’s inconvenient or space isn’t readily available.

Sanctuary’s average speed-over-ground is 7.3 knots, or 8.4 SttM.  We travel on average between 50 – 70 miles per day, so 8 – 10 hours. Some people prefer less. On average, the travel time required for Sanctuary to transit between Pasadena, MD, and Punta Gorda, FL, is 20 travel days. Add to that some rest days and weather delays for an average elapsed calendar time of 25 – 28 days.

Sanctuary is a diesel fueled boat with a cruising range of 500-600 statute miles or better.  The best-price fuel stops in recent years have been:

  • Top Rack Marina, Elizabeth River, Norfolk;
  • sometimes one of the marinas in Swansboro, NC;
  • New River Marina, New River Inlet, NC;
  • Myrtle Beach Yacht Club and Osprey Marina, both in Northern SC;
  • Two-Way Fish Camp, Brunswick, GA, and,
  • Brunswick Landing Marina, East River, Brunswick, GA.

The Carolinas and Georgia generally have better fuel prices than Florida because of state sales tax policy.  Northbound (not southbound), Fernandina Beach, FL, is almost competitive with Ocean Petroleum (Brunswick, GA), because Florida waives sales taxes on fuel for boats leaving the state. That is useful in the spring, but does not work in the fall.

From a navigation perspective, with just a couple of exceptions, the most shallow and tricky waters along the East Coast ICW are south of Georgetown, SC, throughout Georgia and north Florida.  In these waters, cruisers will have to deal with a combination of shoal waters and high tidal ranges. Both changing currents and low tides are concerns requiring forethought and planning. In many of these waters – Hell Gate, GA, Little Mud River, GA, Jekyll Creek, GA, Cumberland Dividings, GA, Amelia River, FL, many others – the actual navigation channel is deceptively narrow and irregular when viewed in comparison to the wide shore-to-shore appearance of the overall watercourse.  Plan carefully for tidal range, and regardless of tide, be diligent about staying in the channel.

Lateral markers along the ICW, and particularly in the southeast, mark shoal water (shallow water), not channel “edges.”  Red and green channel markers (lateral marks) are found most commonly in one of two forms.  Some markers – the majority – are mounted on posts/pilings; some are in the form of floating buoys. In general, stay well away from markers mounted on permanent posts, and stay relatively nearby to floating markers.  Markers on posts will sometimes be found on dry land at low tide.  Floating markers are used in areas that change frequently.  They generally are found at the edges of safe water.  In areas where they are placed, slow your speed-over-ground and proceed carefully.  In places like Brown’s Inlet (Camp Lejeune, NC), Shallot’s Inlet and Lockwood’s Folly, NC, the Ashepoo-Coosaw cutoff (Coosaw River junction, SC) and Hell Gate (StM 600, GA) don’t travel any faster than you’d want to make contact with the sandy bottom.

For many, many years, official NOAA charts of the Atlantic ICW have shown a “Magenta Line.”  That Magenta line gets it’s name from the color of the line as printed on the charts (well duh!).  Do not assume that line shows the best route or deepest water through any particular area!  It does not.  Every year in our travels, we see new and inexperienced boaters aground on the ICW.  They have assumed – incorrectly – that the magenta line shows the deepest water.  That Magenta line only shows the general route of the ICW.  There are many places where following that line will take the unwary boater out of the navigation channel and place the boat aground.  Local shoaling can and does cause the actual navigation channel to move around.  ALWAYS, ALWAYS…   HONOR THE MARKERS IN THE WATER.

Cruisers planning to cross Florida via Lake Okeechobee should keep track of lake depth conditions. In the early fall of 2013, lake water level was extraordinarily high, and water was being dumped by the US Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE,” sometimes “COE”). In the spring, often, water levels can be very low, and can present a problem for deep draft boats.

Excellent online cruising resources include:

Both the Cruiersnet and Waterway Guide sites are heavily populated with advertising graphics that make them slow and hard to use, especially when cruising with tethered cell phones or broadband air cards.  Both WWG and SSECN have smart phone apps that duplicate website informatin and are very useful on small-format devices.

Navigation charts are absolutely necessary.  We carry both paper and electronic navigation charts.  We rely primarily on the electronic charts, but would not be without paper versions.  Electronic charting systems have three principal alternatives.  First is a made-for-purpose marine chartplotter.  Second is a laptop running navigation software with navigation charts.  Third is a tablet PC/smartphone running one or more charting apps.  We have all three, and have posted some thoughts in this article.

The navigation equipment we find most useful includes:

  • depth sounder,
  • VHF,
  • chart plotter,
  • Radar, and
  • AIS-Receiver.

Boat equipment we most depend upon includes:

We subscribe to DirecTV from New York City, and use an azimuth-tracking antenna which we find quite adequate.  Our Internet connectivity is via 3G/4G “unlimited” Verizon Wireless broadband card.  ATT also has broadband service.  Broadband service coverage is pretty complete along the ICW.  There are some weak coverage areas in coastal Georgia, but even that has improved in recent years. Cruisers must have a way to keep track of marine weather. We have a satellite-based weather radio system from WxWorx.  The fall is generally peaceful, but we hate – and respect – thunderstorms when we’re on the water.  An excellent source of free weather information is Marv Market’s Marv’s Weather Service.  Custom weather forecasting and trip routing is available for a modest fee from Chris Parker.

For A-ICW first-timers, significant Points-of-Interest (POIs) include:

  • Norfolk/Portsmouth, VA,
  • Elizabeth City, NC,
  • Morehead City/Beaufort, NC,
  • Charleston, SC,
  • Beaufort, SC,
  • Savannah, GA,
  • Fernandina Beach, FL and
  • St. Augustine, FL.

There are major cities in Florida every 25 – 30 miles along the ICW, and all offer a-little-something for cruisers. Everyone will have their own preferences.

All cruisers should consider joining a Cruising Club, like Marine Trawler Owner’s Association.  The MTOA has an excellent and active Port Captain program and an extensive network of Port Captains.  As you travel, use the MTOA Website to identify nearby Port Captains and call them for general assistance, ideas on where to stay/what to see, dockage help, maintenance emergencies, and virtually any kind of support you may need.

Cruising conditions along the route vary greatly, from protected creeks and streams to “big water,” and from narrow, shallow and shoal waters to wide ‘n easy. The Chesapeake Bay is “big water,” and “deep” by ICW standards. The Albemarle Sound is, for example, a large, shallow body of water that lies east/west, which can blow up fast into a very nasty short period chop.  The Neuse River (NC) has a definite personality. Rather than go into all of that detail here, let me direct the reader to the region-specific posts here on our website.  These articles are intended for those with little or no prior East Coast or ICW cruising experience. They are generally organized by state and cruising area, and will be a useful introduction to what one can expect.

For a preview or our favorite stops on the A-ICW, see our related post on this site.

We wish you safe travels!

Chart Plotter Places The Boat Ashore

Periodically, in a narrow waterway with land on each side, the position of our boat as shown on our chart plotters appears as if we were on land.  Sometimes, it appears ashore by several hundred feet.  All cruisers have been “assured” that modern GPS technology and the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) can place the boat within a few feet of it’s true position on the surface of the earth.  Well, as in many things in life, I’ll give a qualified “yes,” and a definite “maybe…”

The easiest and most optimistic explanation for the boat appearing ashore is that the chart (or map) drawing does not show the land feature (waterway or roadway) in its true, correct location; i.e., there can be surveying and chart layout errors in the chart or road map drawings.  Over time, however, one expects those kinds of errors would be discovered and corrected.

There can also be equipment-unique anomalies in individual manufacturers GPS and plotter equipment.  For example, there is a power plant on the Oswego Canal that drove my Garmin GPS/chart plotter nuts, but did not affect my Raymarine GPS/chart plotter.  Conundrum of the day: which unit operated “correctly?”  Was the Garmin “wrong?”  Should the Raymarine have been “affected?”  We don’t know.

There is another much more complex, likely and difficult to compensate and correct explanation.  Charts are flat pieces of paper which represent of a section of a spherical physical object; the earth.

Mercator projection of the earth

Mercator projection of the earth

Mercator projections are taken from the point-of-view on an imaginary cylinder aligned parallel to the earth’s axis.  Since the imaginary cylinder is in contact with the earth’s surface at the equator, at that level, there is very little positional error between what appears on the earth’s surface and on the surface of the projected cylinder.  But as the projection point-of-view moves north or south from the equator, the altitude of the cylinder surface gets farther and farther above the surface of the earth at the observation point, and more and more latitudinal position distortion is introduced.  The figure at the left shows a Mercator projection of the earth.  The horizontal and vertical grey lines show the latitudinal distortion that the Mercator methodology creates.  Longitudinal distortion changes very little, but latitudinal distortion changes very significantly.  To see that, compare the height of the block containing S. Florida with the height of the block containing the NYS Canal System.  Significantly greater positional distortion is present.

There are several projection techniques that chart-makers use to minimize the kinds of positional distortion reflected above.  All of these techniques are used in an attempt to accurately represent the spherical surface of the earth on a flat piece of paper.  Conceptual portrayals of three common charting techniques are shown below.

Standard Mercator:              Transverse Mercator:                         Polyconic:

Mercator Projection                    Transverse Mercator Projection               Polyconic Projection

Each of these techniques solves problems with positional distortion and introduces other problems with positional distortion, so the use of these techniques varies, and each brings pros and cons with them.

Electronic anomaly shows  boat's track over land, typical example, this one happens to be in the Oswego Canal,

Electronic anomaly shows boat’s track over land, typical example, this one happens to be in the Oswego Canal, New York State Canal System.

Positional distortion with standard Mercator projection, as we have seen above, is minimal at the earth’s equator, but becomes a significant problem by +/- 40º of latitude.  Forty degrees North latitude encompasses large areas of the US, the boundary regions of the US and Canadian Great Lakes, and large areas of Canada.  In analyzing the NOAA and CHS charts I have in my eChart portfolio, I observe that along the Erie Canal, along the St. Lawrence Seaway, and in many places along the Canadian Canals Systems, two adjoining charts can be and often are done in different projections.  Commonly, Mercator Projection charts are adjacent to Polyconic Projection charts.  Each of these charts have different positional distortion characteristics.  Where adjoining chart edges meet, chart features will not align perfectly.

"Quilting" distortion at the joint between two different charts, typical, this one on the Mohawk River, Erie Canal, New York

“Quilting” distortion at the joint between two different charts, typical, this one on the Mohawk River, Erie Canal, New York

As a young Scoutmaster in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I often lead our troop on “overland, through-the-woods” map ‘n compass hikes, and 50-mile canoe trips, in the Adirondack Mountains of North-Central New York State.  To show the traveling party where we would be going, and to show parents where we had been, I assembled a large overview of the geography of the trip from several separate, individual topographic maps of the region.  The experience was a great learning opportunity for our Scouts, because if one aligns adjacent features at the top of adjoining edges of topo maps, features at the bottom edge of the maps will simply not align.  Asking Scouts to explain “why” set off the most wonderful and eye opening analytical insights in their young minds!  So, a compromise is always necessary in aligning adjacent charts, and user understanding of the phenomena is essential.

The inevitable conclusion is, the same issues with correct feature alignment occur with adjacent eCharts along “adjoining chart edges.”  The “quilting” function of modern chart plotters and eCharting software is analogous to the hiker who tries to align the adjoining edge of paper topo maps on a table top.  In one area, they align fine, but positional distortion makes it impossible for them to correctly align at all points along adjoining edges.  They are, after all, flat pieces of paper representing the spherical surface of the earth.

eChart files are electronic representations of the contents on the projection of a local area at whatever chart scale is involved.  Conceptually, the chart plotter firmware or computer software places objects on the chart plotter screen by calculating the position of the object from its “x” and “y” offset from the chart file’s index location.  The latitude and longitude data coming from the GPS sensor is also calculated as an “x” and “y” offset from the index location.  The index location is usually one “corner,” mathematically “0,0” of the chart’s boundary.  Because of positional distortion, there will be some small positional errors with each chart/map.  The farther the chart location is – in space – from the chart boundary’s index location, the more error is introduced.  With chart plotters and computer software that support “quilting,” – the automatic overlaying and alignment of adjacent charts at adjacent chart boundaries – small visual discontinuities may actually be visible where land objects appear slightly offset from one another at the quilt boundary.  We see this phenomena with different charts on our two chart plotters on the Erie Canal.

Depending on where a boat is on the chart grid, there may be proportionally more error on the “x”-axis than on the “y”-axis.  Chart quilting also confuses that, because at different scales, there may be differing proportional error quantities associated with different scale charts.

Check out “Mercator projection” here: and here:  As you will see, the small element geometry is quite complex.  The conclusion is, object misplacement may be caused either in creating the chart or in interpreting and presenting chart objects.  But small element placement errors are definitely possible.

So, our boat appears ashore.  What do we do?  Simple safety and USCG Navigation Rules require that we all maintain an effective visual watch; we all simply must look out the windows.  We must resist the temptation to rely solely on our electronic devices; gadgets, gizmos, and gilhickies.  Just look out the windows.

The farther north we get (46 degrees in the North Channel), the more small position anomalies are likely to occur.  On the Canadian Shield, there are rocks, not mud, to greet the boat that strays askance. TREAT CHARTS AS A GUIDE. THEY ARE ONLY A GUIDE. THEY ARE A GOOD GUIDE, BUT NOT A PERFECT GUIDE.  When piloting a boat, look out the windows.  On the US East Coast, DO NOT assume the ICW “magenta line” is accurate.  In Canada, DO NOT assume that the “recommended sailing line” is accurate.  DO NOT use a buoy in the water as a waypoint, as we may just get lucky and hit it.  And in the above discussion, if we try to pilot the boat to its position on a chart plotter, we may indeed wind up aground.  Always, always, look out the windows.  What you see out the windows always takes precedence over what the chart plotter says, unless you have specific knowledge from a reliable source – like a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) or Local Notice to Mariners (LNM) – that a given marker is off-station.

Great Loop Chart ‘n Guide Recommendations

DISCLAIMER:  We are advocates of cruisers having paper charts aboard.  This article describes how we accomplished that for our Great Loop cruise.  This article focuses on paper charts and print Cruising Guide resources, not on the many digital electronic resources that are available to loopers in 2015.

Generally, I recommend the Richardson’s chart books for the rivers and Great Lakes and the Maptech Chartkits for the US East Coast.  These chart books cost only a small fraction of the price of individual charts and the chart books are far easier to handle than individual NOAA charts.  At the 2007 AGLCA Penetenguishine Rendezvous, one of the presenters recommended that the group run right out and get the official Canadian Hydrologic Service (CHS) paper charts for the Georgian Bay and North Channel.  Sanctuary and crew had not planned to do that, and of course, the stampede that presentation created caused the local chandlery to run out of charts almost immediately; definitely before we got there.  That was fortuitous for us, in hindsight.

We used the Richardson’s “Lake Huron” book, and we had absolutely no problems at all.  We found that the level of the water in both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan (Richardson’s “Lake Michigan” book) were almost exactly at chart datum in 2007.  Although there is a lot of discussion about the Lake datum levels being low, apparently the lakes were also low when they were charted.  For us in 2007, the chart soundings were correct and reliable for use as-is.

One recommendation we do make is to mark your Richardson’s chart books ahead of time with significant navigation and marker  information.  The Richardson chart books are printed in shades of gray.  We used green, yellow and red florescent markers to highlight all channel markers (yellow for the Canadian system “Cardinal” markers).  I also took a red pencil-point marker and highlighted the red “preferred channel” lines on the printed CHS charts.  They represent the “small boat channel.”  Read the notes that Richardson’s published on the CHS charts.  One thing you discover is that the arrows on the “preferred channel” lines tell you which side the markers are on.  If you are headed in the direction of the arrows, it’s “red-right-returning.”  That’s very helpful to know, since you’ll be on multiple “preferred lines” as you travel the canals, Georgian Bay and the North Channel, and some will be opposite your direction of travel.

All “Skipper Bob” books should be considered mandatory.  There is nothing else as simple and concise to use.

The “Great Lakes” Edition of The Waterway Guide is the best overall coverage of the Great Loop in one book.  Its coverage of the Cumberland and Tennessee river systems was sparse in 2007.  You may also want the “Southern,” “Atlantic ICW” and “Chesapeake Bay” editions of the Waterway Guides for regional coverage.  If you cruise directly from New Jersey into New York Harbor and north on the Hudson River, you do not need the “Northern” Edition.  If you plan to cruise Long Island Sound, however, the “Northern” Edition will be very useful.

The New York State Canal Corp publishes an excellent “Cruising Guide for the NYS Canal System.”  We recommend it.  If you get that cruising guide, you do not need the NOAA book of charts for the Erie Canal.  The NOAA book contains official NOAA navigation charts, but the NYS guide shows all the navigation marker information you need, gives substantial local point-of-interest information plus bridge heights, pool levels, lock phone numbers, etc.  For me, the value for the money was with the NYS guide book.  We never opened the NOAA chart book.

There is an excellent regional book called a “Cruising Guide to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain & the St. Lawrence River” which I highly recommend.  A new edition was published carrying a 2006 date, and it has a blue cover.  It covers the waterways from NYC to Montréal (west) and Québec City (east), including the Richelieu River and Chambly Canal.  It’s excellent!

In Canada, there are several guide books published by Lakeland “Ports-‘o-Call.”  They are excellent, focus on Canadian shoreline communities, have overhead pictures of anchorages and channels, as well as lots of interesting local points-of-interest information.  Look for these on the Internet, and decide what coverage you want.  They may be available locally on the loop, but you can’t depend on that.

For each of the Great Lakes, in the US, there are PORTS guides (referred to by locals as “the PORTS book”).  They are similar to the Canadian books, but focus on the US shore line communities.  They contain excellent local points-of-interest information and overhead pictures of anchorages.  As above, look for these on the Internet before you depart.

For the inland river system, we used the collection of chart books published by the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  There are chart books for each of the river in the inland river system.

Finally, if you really want to “do it up right” (I would have if I had known about this at the time), you can join a group called the “Great Lakes Cruising Association.”  Membership in 2007 was $250.  The major membership benefit was that these folks have “port captains” in virtually every little town everywhere on the great lakes.  They have locally-created charts for lots and lots of harbor approaches and local anchorages, and these are available on a CD.  They do not allow copying the CD, and they only sell the CD to members, but if you’re going to spend much time cruising on the great lakes, this seems to me to be a potentially valuable resource for storm safety and finding cool places that are “off the beaten track.”