Category Archives: US East Coast

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: http://hudson.dl.stevens-tech.edu/maritimeforecast/traces/.

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.

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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.

DO NOT TRY TO NAVIGATE NY HARBOR FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE DARK OR IN POOR VISIBILITY!  THAT WOULD BE AN INVITATION TO ANXIETY AND UNWANTED ENCOUNTERS OF THE PHYSICAL KIND.  THERE WILL BE WAKES!

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, http://www.scribd.com

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;” http://www.sailors-exchange.com/) and a large “used book” store operation (“Chamblin’s Book Mine;” http://www.chamblinbookmine.com/default.aspx) 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.

North Carolina: Manteo, Ocracoke

As part of our Fall, 2010, southbound snow-bird migration, Sanctuary and crew diverted from the standard A-ICW route.  Instead, we transited from Elizabeth City, NC, to the North Carolina Outer Banks communities of Manteo and Ocracoke.  When we later departed Ocracoke, southbound, we crossed the Pamlico Sound to Oriental, NC.

Roanoak Marshes Light

Roanoak Marshes Light House, Manteo, NC

Manteo and Ocracoke are thoroughly enjoyable little towns.  This Outer Bank route is 20 miles shorter than the traditional A-ICW route from Coinjock, VA, to Oriental, NC.  It is, however, more exposed to open water on the Pamlico Sound.  The open-water Pamlico crossing is about 35 StM, so cruisers are reminded to pay particular attention to marine weather conditions and the near term weather forecast prior to departure from Ocracoke.   Because the Great Sounds of North Carolina are shallow, in most areas ranging from 10 to no more than 18 ft., winds of 15 – 20 kts will create short period, steep, uncomfortable seas.  Also, crab pots abound, and can be hard to spot if seas are up.  Sanctuary and crew recommend this route as an excellent “side-trip” and refreshing alternative to ICW route through the Alligator River, Alligator River Swing Bridge, and the boring and tedious Alligator-Pungo Canal.

DSCN7292

Weather reporting signal flags

We transited to Manteo by traversing the Albemarle Sound from Elizabeth City to Croatan Sound.  On this route, there are no navigation or piloting concerns, but we did encounter many, many crab pots.  On the Albemarle, the helm watchstander must be constantly vigilant and alert.  From the Albemarle, we entered the Croatan Sound Channel at its north end.  We proceeded southbound to the northwest end of Roanoke Island, and then turned east to follow the marked traverse eastbound across the northeast end of Roanoke Island, where it intersects the Roanoke Channel.  We turned south in the Roanoke Channel and followed it into Roanoak Sound to its intersection with the Manteo Harbor Entrance Channel.  Manteo Harbor is shallow and requires cruisers to stay in the network of marked channels.

Weather Tower, used to post weather report for marier's

Weather Tower, used to post weather

The Roanoke Channel, from it’s northern beginnings above Manteo, carries as little as 7 ft to it’s intersection with the Manteo Harbor Entrance Channel.  South of the Manteo Entrance Channel, the Roanoke Channel carries at least 9 ft for it’s entire length; in most areas, we saw 11ft to 14ft.  The sailing vessel Elizabeth II, which draws 8 ft, regularly uses this channel.  The channel is quite narrow, probably 100 ft.  It is not a “No Wake” area.  Thus, our plan was to “take our half out of the middle,” which was OK at 07h00 on a Monday morning.

There were, however, two areas that caused some confusion for our stalwart captain.  The first was a couple of miles south of Manteo, at the US64/US264, 65 ft fixed highway bridge.  As we emerged southbound from under that bridge, there is a square “No Wake” sign on a post just on the east side of the channel.  With the sun low on the morning horizon, I nearly mistook that sign, by shape, for a green lateral marker.  It is not a lateral marker; it is a “caution” sign.

Waterside Marina, Manteo, NC

Waterside Marina, Manteo, NC

The second area of confusion was another 2 – 3 miles south of the bridge, where there is a side-channel that runs off to the west, into the village of Wanchese (pronounced: WAN-cheese).  In that area, the south-running Roanoke Channel takes a modest dog-leg to the east, and then another, back to the south.  It took me a minute looking through the binoculars to actually realize there was a side-channel intersection there, and I found it momentarily confusing.  It’s also narrow.  The helmsman must carefully identify the markers for the Roanoke Channel.

At it’s south end, the Roanoke Channel turns sharply southwest.  In another mile, where the Oregon Inlet Channel intersects from the ocean, it becomes the Old House Channel.  There are several new markers there that were not mentioned in the then-current cruising guides, and were only reflected on electronic charts that had recent LNMs incorporated.  On the Roanoke channel, the new markers include 37A, 37, 36A, 36, 34A and 34.  At the entrance of the Old House Channel (which is just a continuation of the route from the Roanoke Channel into Pamlico Sound) there is a new green-over-red marker, “OH.”  The rest of the Old House route into Pamlico Sound is well marked and unremarkable.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The route across Pamlico Sound is, likewise, unremarkable.  Navigate the Pamlico Sound to the Big Foot Slough Channel that leads from the sound into Ocracoke’s harbor.  Note here that the North Carolina State Ferry System uses this channel.  Draft for pleasure craft in the channel is not a problem, but if cruisers encounter a ferry in that channel, carefully avoid the prop wash!  The prop wash is very, very strong, and definitely enough to set a cruising boat out of the channel.  There is a red-over-green junction marker just beyond R4 and G3.  Watch for the correctly charted shoal there, and turn 120º or so to port, into the entrance channel leading to Ocracoke harbor, called “Sliver Lake” on the charts.

Sunset at the National Park Service dock, Ocracoke, NC

Sunset at the National Park Service dock, Ocracoke, NC

In Silver Lake harbor, inexpensive dockage with 30A and 50A power and water is available at the US National Park Service docks.  At end-2014, beginning-2015, the NPS docks were upgraded.  They now have electric pedestals that are ground-fault protected (Equipment Protection Devices – EPD) to the newest National Electric Code requirements.  Some cruising boats may encounter problems if there are previously unknown, previously silent ground-faults or leakage-faults aboard the boat.  The NPS docks are adjacent to the NC State ferry docks.  In this harbor, there is plenty of room for 20 or more boats to anchor.  The harbor is very well protected from the strong periodic winds that frequent this island, located as it is about 20 miles off the mainland into the Atlantic.

North Carolina

North Carolina presents one of the longest stretches of single-state travel distance on the A-ICW.  The state has a wide diversity of maritime environments.  The southwest coast consists mainly of barrier islands and salt marshes.  The tidal range in the southwest region of the coast is 3 – 4 feet, less than at Charleston, but significant.  In the northeast sector of the state, the ICW transits man-made canals, the great inland sounds and their river tributaries.  Tidal ranges on the great sounds – the Pamlico and the Albemarle – and the great rivers – the Tar-Pamlico, the Pungo and the Neuse – is negligible.  Travel here is more often east-west than north-south.

There are several places in North Carolina where alternative cruising routes are available.  The A-ICW is the main through-route, but there are several delightful alternatives from which the cruiser can choose.

Entering North Carolina from South Carolina, northbound, cruiser’s are immediately faced with aternatives.  Option one is an easy offshore transit from Little River Inlet at the state line to the Cape Fear River entrance.  Option two follows the A-ICW route.  For Sanctuary and crew, the choice here is based, first and foremost, on wind and sea conditions offshore, and then on the state of the tide.  The offshore travel distance is in the range of 25 StM, and for us, takes 2-1/2 to 3 hours.  There are no significant offshore shoals or navigation concerns.  The offshore route rejoins the ICW through-route in the Cape Fear River, north of the city of Southport, NC.  The ICW travel distance from the state line to Southport is slightly shorter than the offshore route, but often takes more transit time because of currents, speed zones, inlet crossings and local boat traffic.  Local boat traffic can be quite tedious and challenging on summer weekends.

Alternate routes diverge:

Little River to Cape Fear - offshore vs. ICW alternatives

Little River to Cape Fear – offshore vs. ICW alternatives

The offshore route:

The Little River Inlet is used daily by commercial Casino Boats working from North Myrtle Beach.  The Little River Inlet entrance channel is wide and well marked.  The shallowest area is right at the intersection of the inlet with the ICW, at the “Calabash Crossroads.”  As with all meandering waterways, it is generally best to favor the outside radius on bends for best water depths.  Currents in this area can be swift at max flood and max ebb.

The Cape Fear Light

The Cape Fear Light

The offshore route to the Cape Fear River is straight and near-shore.  Entry to the Cape Fear can be done by staying very near shore and following the correctly charted “Western Bar Channel,” or by staying farther off the shoreline and intersecting the Cape Fear Entrance Channel.  Again, currents in the Cape Fear can be very swift – approaching 3 kts – at max flood and max ebb.  These swift currents will significantly impair or assist the progress of slow trawler/sailboat/cruiser-type vessels.

The ICW route:

The ICW route between the NC/SC border and the community of Southport, NC, does include two potentially challenging pilotage areas.  These are the well-known inlet crossings at Shallotte’s Inlet (at StM 331) and Lockwood’s Folly (at StM 322).  Because of the moderate tidal range and swift tidal currents in this region, conditions at these inlet crossings are highly variable and change rapidly.  Even soon after dredging, these areas shoal quickly.  The ICW in this area is marked with lateral daymarks placed on pilings, except at these inlet crossings, where there are floating red and green buoys arranged and placed as lateral markers.   The inlet crossings are not charted.  Do not depend upon the charted “accuracy” of the “ICW magenta line” anywhere, but especially, NOT in this area.

Cautions for new or occasional transient cruisers in these waters include:

  • A day or two ahead of your arrival in this area, ascertain for yourself the up-to-date, current state of these inlet crossings .  Do this in consultation with reliable online resources such as http://www.cruisersnet.net and http://www.waterwayguide.com.
  • Consult with TowBoat US or SeaTow by VHF Radio for current conditions and local advice.
  • As a precaution, try to plan your passage through this area at mid-tide or higher, rising if possible.
  • Make sure to identify and distinguish between ICW markers and inlet markers.  Confusing these markers can lead one to shoal waters.
  • Be very alert for swift cross-currents, which can sweep a boat sideways into shoal waters.  Although we can not know for certain, we believe swift cross-currents account for most groundings in this area.  All of the grounded captains we’ve talked with have thought they were “in the channel,” but when viewed from a slightly more distant perspective, they clearly were not.  Watch these cross-currents carefully, especially at mid-tide flood and ebb.
  • Be wary of fishermen in small craft.  Some are anchored immediately outside the ICW channel.  Others drift throughout the channel and will often make sudden moves.  These boats are highly maneuverable and generally know where cruising boats have to be.  We always prefer, and make an effort, to maintain wide clearances with local fishermen, and yield, to avoid “close encounters.”  However, the channel here is narrow, fishermen are often preoccupied with their own interests, and cross currents are unforgiving.  So, hold your course and speed, don’t worry about your wake, and pass fishermen by closely if you must, lest you get swept aground.

There are several marinas along the ICW approaching Southport from the south.  St. James Plantation at StM 315 is well protected from foul weather and is a very nice facility with floating docks.  There is a small onsite snack bar, but nothing else onsite or nearby.  Just north of the second high-rise bridge at StM 311.3 is South Harbor Village Marina.  This marina is on the ICW, and even though it’s in a “no wake” zone, the face dock is exposed to frequent wakes from passing boats.  Inside the basin, within the protection of their floating docks, it’s very nice.   There are two restaurants – one casual, one upscale – within easy walking distance.   There is little else nearby.  Southport Marina is in the village of Southport at StM 309.

The routes rejoin:

Once in the Cape Fear River, the ICW route follows the river north to Snow’s Cut.  There are large North Carolina State Ferries on this part of the Cape Fear, but the river is wide and they will not affect the alert captain.  Carolina Beach State Park is located at the southwest end of Snow’s Cut.  Carolina Beach State Park has floating docks with 30A and 50A power and water, and modern, clean shower facilities.  It is well protected from weather, but is not not within walking distance of shopping or restaurants.  CBSP has a published LOA limit of 40′, but are somewhat flexible about it.  This does not seem to be a popular stop, but we think it’s a gem for transient cruisers looking to overnight or wait out foul weather.

Cape Fear River and route to Wilmington, NC

Cape Fear River and route to Wilmington, NC

There is a great side trip to Wilmington, NC, 10 miles upriver from Snow’s Cut on the Cape Fear River.  There are several fine marinas in Wilmington.  The Wilmington Marine Center is just east at Marker G”59.”  This is a friendly and welcoming marina with a full-service yard and a full range of mechanical services.  Continue upriver past the commercial seaport to two new marinas on the downtown Wilmington waterfront.  There is an airport (ILG) at Wilmington that is useful for business and family travel and crew exchanges.  WARNING: both raster and vector charts of the area show a channel called the “Wilmington Short Cut.”  That charted channel leads northward from Snow’s Cut to the Cape Fear River.  Do not follow that channel; it is shoal with depths of 2′ or less at MLLW.  Instead, for safe water from Snow’s Cut to Wilmington, follow the marked ICW channel southwest to its intersection with the Cape Fear River Channel at ICW G”177,” navigate into a safe depth of Cape Fear River’s Upper Midnight Channel Range, and then turn 150º northbound towards Wilmington.

Snow’s Cut is a short man-made canal that connects the Cape Fear River portion of the A-ICW nearby the Carolina Beach Inlet.  At the east end of Snow’s Cut, just south of the A-ICW magenta line, there is a large embayment  at Carolina Beach labeled “Myrtle Grove” on the charts.  In Myrtle Grove, there is a new Town of Carolina Beach municipal mooring field.  Anchoring is possible in the north end of Myrtle Grove basin.  We aboard Sanctuary consider this to be a fair weather anchorage.

Northbound on the ICW above Snow’s Cut, it’s about 15 miles to Wrightsville Beach at StM 283, where both anchorages and marinas are available for cruisers.  About 3/4 mile west from the drawbridge is a mall with a West Marine store.  The drawbridge is restricted to hourly openings, on the hour.  South of the bridge, the waterway is narrow and can be very, very crowded.  North of the bridge, the waterway shoals quickly on both shores.  To us, this feels like a tourist trap.  We anchor occasionally in the pool to the east of the village, but we do not use the marinas.

North of the drawbridge at Wrightsville Beach, there are three two more drawbridges that many trawlers/cruisers and all sailboats will need to open: 1) Figure-of-Eight Island at StM 278, 2) Surf City at StM 261 and 3) Onslow Beach at StM 241.  (The drawbridge at Surf City has been replaced with a high rise bridge)  All of these bridges are restricted, and timing them is very important.  Currents in the region reverse as inlet creeks are passed, so what looks like a fair current in one place can and will turn foul in another couple of miles.  Generally, our strategy here is to run at speed until we are within about two miles of the bridge, then slow to time our arrival at the bridge about 5 minutes before its scheduled opening.  Station keeping at these bridges is both tedious and challenging in the narrow, exposed waterways.  Also, monitor the VHF (VHF-13) in this area, as all of these bridges will “adjust” their opening schedules to accommodate commercial traffic.  Sometimes, that means you can get through early.  Equally often, you may be delayed for a few minutes.   There are few places to stop or anchor in this stretch.  Plan accordingly.

Marine training operations at Camp Lejeune

Marine training operations at Camp Lejeune

At StM 244.5, there is a popular anchorage on the northwest side of the ICW at Mile Hammock Bay.  For your planning and awareness, this anchorage embayment is a US Marine Corps training area that is open for use by the public.  Rarely, the Marines close the bay to pleasure craft.  Occasionally, marine corps training maneuvers are conducted here, and can go on throughout the night.  We have anchored there and enjoyed beautiful, peaceful overnights.  However, we know cruisers who have rocked and rolled all night, too.

The Osprey in exercises at Camp Lejeune

The Osprey in exercises at Camp Lejeune

Between StM 237.5 and StM 235 is the US Marine Corps Training Base at Camp Lejeune.  Training operations at the base can cause full-stop closures of the ICW.  Monitor VHF-16 in the hours before you arrive in this area so you can plan around any scheduled closures.  Typically, the waterway will be closed from 08h00 – 12h00 and again from 13h00 through 17h00.  In the fall, it’s already dark by 17h00.  We learned the hard way that the bridge at Onslow Beach would open to allow traffic to proceed northbound…  about two miles…   whence we had to anchor in the channel for 3-1/2 hours.  That afternoon, the Navy and the Marines were working a coordinated live-fire exercise between a firing range inland at Lejeune and targets 20 miles offshore.  The gun reports were substantial.  Needless to say, we arrived at Swansboro, northbound, after sunset.  Occasionally, the range officer will allow boat traffic to proceed “at your best speed” through the training area.  If/when we get such a travel window, we hustle.  How often does all this happen?  Well over 10 years, about one transit in four, so not that often.  Southbound through here, our strategy is to depart Swansboro at “o dark thirty,” to be past Camp Lejeune before 08h00; before 07h30 is better!  At our hull speed, it’s also best to make the half-hour openings at Onslow Beach Bridge, which gives us 2-1/2 hours to make Sure City for their hourly openings. (As of 2018, no longer the case.)

At StM 229, there are two marinas in Swansboro.  One is Casper’s and the other is Dudley’s.  Both offer fuel at competitive pricing for the region.   Dudley’s is a combination marina and roadside mini-mart and gas station.  Both components are big businesses in their own rights.  There are restaurants in town, and the marinas will generally offer rides (but not use of a car).  There is a small but fairly exposed anchorage with good holding in the area below the road bridge in the White Oak River.  There are some small boat wakes, but that goes away after dark.

Above Swansboro lies Bogue Sound.  On charts, this body of water appears large, but it is very shallow and it is necessary to be meticulous about staying in the charted channel.  Many daymarks are well outside the channel, so don’t crowd the markers.

Morehead City, Beaufort, Newport River, Core Creek, Cape Lookout National Seashore

Morehead City, Beaufort, Newport River, Core Creek, Cape Lookout National Seashore

At StM 204 is the city of Morehead City.  The general area of Morehead City and Beaufort, NC, might well be considered a destination stop.  There are several marinas and restaurants in Morehead City in the “Peanut Island Channel.”  From Morehead City, there is access to the Beaufort Inlet and, offshore about 12 NM, the positively delightful bight at the Cape Lookout National Seashore.  There is a superb marine-oriented hardware store in the downtown at 600 Arundel St. called Ace Marine and Rigging.  These good folks stock stainless steel fittings, marine rigging materials, bulk anchor and dock line, and all kinds of maintenance items at very competitive pricing.  North of the NC State Seaport, immediately above the highrise highway bridge and railroad bridge, there is a small, narrow channel to the west that leads to the Morehead City Yacht Basin.  This facility is very well protected from heavy weather.  MCYB is a modern marina with floating docks, fuel, courtesy car and all cruiser amenities.  It is within easy walking distance to restaurants, ACE Marine and Rigging, a NAPA Auto Parts store, and a beautiful Methodist Church.

Four to five StM east of the ICW from Morehead City seaport, at downtown Beaufort, NC, is a modern and popular – if expensive – municipal marina.  There are several restaurant options in Beaufort, of which our personal favorite is Clausen’s.  There is also a North Carolina Maritime Museum, an excellent nautical book store, and a post office within walking distance.  Cruiser’s can anchor in Taylor Creek, but it is crowded with local boats, including some apparent derelicts.

North of Morehead City, the ICW transits the Newport River, Core Creek and Adams Creek northerly to the Neuse River.  The Newport River area is well marked, but very shoal.  Pay close attention to the markers in this area.

At the Neuse River, cruisers can turn to port to go upriver for a side trip to New Bern, NC, or proceed slightly stbd, across the river, to Oriental, NC.  New Bern is a very nice and historic coastal city with a welcoming waterfront, several marinas, a great hardware store (Mitchell’s) and many restaurant choices.  Oriental is a much smaller, quaint old town, but also offers several marinas.  Eight miles east of Oriental on the north shore of the Neuse River is Broad Creek, home to River Dunes Resort and Marina.  River Dunes has floating docks, fuel, a courtesy car and all marina amenities for cruisers.  It is very upscale, but also very affordable.  It is our stop-of-choice in this area, particularly to ride out heavy weather.

Alternate routes diverge:

Broad Creek to Coinjock or Elizabeth City - ICW vs Crystal Coast alternatives

Broad Creek to Coinjock or Elizabeth City – ICW vs Crystal Coast alternatives

From River Dunes or an anchorage on Broad Creek, there is a choice of two route alternatives for the cruiser.  Option one is to follow the ICW to Belhaven, NC, then to-and-through the Alligator-Pungo Canal to Columbia, NC, and then across the Albemarle, to either Coinjock, VA, or Elizabeth City, NC.  Option two is to depart from the ICW, cross the Pamlico Sound in a northeasterly direction to Ocracoke, NC, then transit from Ocracoke, NC, to Manteo, NC, then cross the Albemarle to either Coinjock, VA, or Elizabeth City, NC.  The Pamlico Sound route is actually shorter than the ICW route, but it does involve traversing the open waters of Pamlico Sound.  The Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds are shallow, in most areas no more than 17-18 ft.  The Pamlico Sound is well charted, and navigation is not a problem, but winds above 15 – 20 kts will create short period, steep, uncomfortable seas.

The ICW Route:

The “Option One” route from Oriental via the ICW route turns northwest into the Bay River and enters a man-made canal through Hobucken, NC.  The commercial seafood company, R. E. Mayo & Co., is located at StM 158.  Cruisers are welcome to overnight here.  Protection from weather is very good, but facilities are minimal, and so is the cost.

The Estuarium at Washington, NC

The Estuarium at Washington, NC

Continuing northbound at StM 149.5, cruisers enter the Pamlico River just above it’s mouth at the Pamlico Sound.  There is a wonderful side-trip here to the small cities of Bath, NC, and Washington, NC.  At Washington, there is a municipal marina with power and water on the riverwalk.  There are several shoppes and restaurant choices.  The North Carolina State Estuarium is on the Washington riverwalk.  It celebrates the Tar-Pamlico Estuary, and is well worth a visit!

Back on the ICW through-route, on the Pungo River at StM 140.5, to the east, is Slade Creek.  This wide creek contains anchorages that offer good holding and heavy weather protection from every compass point.

Belhaven Waterway Marine in Belhaven, NC.

Belhaven Waterway Marine in Belhaven, NC.

Belhaven, NC, is at StM 135.  Our favorite place to stay to ride out weather of just relax is at the Belhaven Waterway Marina.  Enter Pantego Creek through the Belhaven breakwater and stay at this wonderful, small, welcoming gem of a marina.  Here, you have a short walk to the small town, a hardware store, pharmacy, a local heritage museum and otherwise limited shopping and restaurant choices.  Marina owners Les and Brenda Porter can arrange a ride to the local Food Lion for re-provisioning and provide a full range of mechanical services if needed.   There is another local marina at the Belhaven breakwater which we do not recommend.

When departing Belhaven northbound, verify the acceptability of the weather forecast.  Between Belhaven and the Alligator River Bridge, there are no facilities and only fair weather anchorages.  The Alligator River Swing Bridge will not open if winds are consistently blowing 25 mph or more, so plan accordingly.

Marvelous private lighthouse, Alligator River Marina, Columbia, NC.

Marvelous private lighthouse, Alligator River Marina, Columbia, NC.

On the North side of the Alligator River Bridge, at ICW StM 84, on the western shore, is the very well protected Alligator River Marina.  Stop and visit Ms. Wanda.  Fuel prices here are frequently more competitive than regional averages.  There is an onsite restaurant that offers a limited down-home menu of excellent home-made “victuals.”  This stop positions cruisers heading north for an early morning crossing of the Albemarle Sound, which is often the most desirable time of day for the 25 mile crossing.  In the area north of the bridge, there are anchorages in the Little Alligator River, at Sandy Point on the Western Shore, and at East Lake/South Lake about 5 miles to the east of the ICW.  Northbound above the Alligator River Bridge and approaching Albemarle Sound, be alert to the shoals.  They change, and channel buoys are re-located from time-to-time.  In some areas, floating markers are in place, but can be difficult to find and see.  Cruisers must find them and honor them.  Use online resources for current information.

The Pamlico Sound Route:

The “Option Two” route from Oriental via the Pamlico Sound departs the Neuse River to the northeast.  Chart a course to Ocracoke, NC (42 StM).  There are large North Carolina State Ferries on this route.  Particularly in the Big Foot Slough Channel leading from the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke’s Sliver Lake harbor, be careful to avoid the backwash of their powerful engines.  The backwash is sufficient to sweep cruising boats out of the channel and into nearby shoals.

Ocracoke Light

Ocracoke Light

At Ocracoke, there is an inexpensive National Park Service dock in Silver Lake that offers power, water and toilet facilities, but not showers, to cruisers.  There is also a commercial marina available with a more complete package of amenities.  Sanctuary and crew stayed at the NPS dock.

We suggest cruisers rent a golf cart to tour around the island.  There is a wonderful local history and heritage museum, and a large former Coast Guard station that is now a private conference center.  There are many shoppes and choices of restaurants.   And of course, there is Ocracoke Light House.  The light house tower is not open to the public, but the grounds are available.

The cruise from Ocracoke to Manteo (67 StM) is documented on this blog as a separate entry.

Lost Colony Settlement

Lost Colony Settlement

Manteo, NC, is a very historic and wonderful cruising stop.  We highly recommend visiting here.  It is the Site of the first English Colony in North America, known today as the “Lost Colony.”  Manteo is the home port of Elizabeth II, a reproduction of the ship that brought those 117 colonists to the region in 1587, including John White, his daughter, Eleanor Dare, her husband Ananias Dare, and their daughter, Virginia.  The Roanoak Island Festival Park and Roanoak Adventure Museum includes a reproduction of the English Settlement and Indian Village, with crafts and demonstrations depicting life in a pre-colonial village.  The Plantation does a particularly good job of honoring the importance and contributions of the local Croatan Indian peoples.  Manteo is the home of the Roanoak Marshes Lighthouse, and a small boat-building museum.  There is a very nice marina, many shoppes and restaurants.

Departing from Manteo, travel north and turn west immediately north of Roanoak Island.  Proceed to the intersection of Croatan Sound, and turn north to the Albemarle.  Set your course to either Coinjock, VA, or Elizabeth City, NC (46 StM).

Georgia and South Carolina

In this region, a boat that drafts five feet will not have significant water depth problems on the A-ICW between Florida and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  As with all waterways, the captain must maintain a careful visual lookout.

Careful watch-keeping and disciplined concentration on the boat and the waterway is important in these waters.  The often narrow channels are not the place to manage email, monitor the performance trends of personal investments, or handle business matters by cellphone.  We frequently read posts from boaters who have “gone aground” while in mid-channel, and while on or closely near following the charted ICW “magenta line.”  No matter where you might be on the ICW, do not assume the magenta line correctly portrays the best route or the deepest water.  The charted “magenta line” is at best only a guide to the general direction of the recommended route.  It is a good guide, but it is not perfect and is not suitable for piloting a boat.  As the waterway changes, markers are added, relocated and removed.  Printed charts cannot and do not keep up with local changes to the actual waterway route.  Even the most current version of a chart can be years out-of-date.  It is therefore essential for helmsmen to maintain a careful watch.  The wise captain will also monitor daily US Coast Guard “Marine Safety and Information Broadcasts” for up-to-date information on missing or off-station markers and other hazards, but the general “rule” is, markers in the water always take precedence over charts.

There are some spots in this region that do require particular attention and careful planning, most especially in the time periods that bracket low tide, and certainly during periods of celestial low tides.  These spots include, South-to-North:

  • Cumberland Dividings, MM 704.2
  • Jekyll Creek, MM 684.5
  • Little Mud River, MM 653.0
  • Creighton Narrows, MM 640.0
  • Hell Gate, MM 601.9
  • Elba Island, MM 576.0
  • Fields Cut, MM 573.3
  • Ashpoo-Coosaw Cut, MM516.2
  • Fenwick Island Cut, MM 512.7
  • Watts Cut, 504.2

I do not recommend that first-timers to this region go offshore for the purpose of avoiding these shallow areas.  That advice may seem counter-intuitive, but I’d suggest first timers follow the A-ICW to have the opportunity to see and appreciate the “Low Country.”  Sanctuary and crew have navigated these waters at least 15 times, northbound and southbound; it’s always different, with lots to see.  And the truth is, the offshore alternatives are not necessarily easier, safer or more comfortable.  The piloting and navigation issues are just “different.”

Georgia ICW and offshore routes from Jacksonville to Doboy Sound

Georgia ICW and offshore routes from Jacksonville to Doboy Sound

Sanctuary has traveled offshore upon occasion.  Northbound, an easy outside run for slow trawlers is from St. Simons Island to Doboy Sound.  A long day in a trawler is from the crossroads of the ICW and the St. John River in Jacksonville, FL, to the Duplin River on Doboy Sound, GA.  A go-fast boat could easily run from Jacksonville or St. Simons Island to Tybee Roads (Savannah River).  However, qualitatively, every outside run looks like any/every other outside run.  If your interest is in quickly getting to a destination, or if you have transited the ICW many times and are trying to stay ahead of the approach of unfavorable weather, then an offshore run might be a fine choice.  But if you’re touring, and you want to see and learn about the countryside, or your interest is in the journey, that objective will be best accomplished by running inside on the ICW.

Seasonal hours-of-daylight can affect travel options in this region.  In the spring, morning twilight will start at 06h00, and sundown will be around 19h30.  In the late fall, after the time changes back to standard time, morning twilight will start at 07h00, and sundown will be around 17h00.  Travel in the fall will necessarily be foreshortened.  Do not travel these waters at night unless you are very, very familiar with the area.

We aboard Sanctuary are trawler people – a slow trawler at that – so we plan our travels around an average speed-over-ground (SOG) of 8.2 StM/hr.  For us, the optimum timing choice for a Northbound departure from Fernandina Beach, FL, is when the tide is rising and the immediate next high tide will occur around 07h00 at Fernandina Beach.  With this timing, we do sometimes encounter foul currents, but we don’t worry about unfavorable water depths.  Northbound, the high tide will be approximately 42 minutes later each day, so as we proceed north through the Low Country, we will have high water during the mid-day hours of our planned travel.  Fair and foul currents alternate throughout the day regardless.  When low tides occur at mid-day, that can result in concerns over shallow water, shortened travel days and anxiety along the way.

For the most up-to-date information on the known areas of concern (hazards) along the route from Fernandina Beach, FL, to Myrtle Beach, SC, there are three resources which we suggest all cruisers should utilize.  We recommend a tablet PC with an app that allows you to view Active Captain data (http://www.activecaptain.com) in real time.  One popular solution for that is an iPad with Garmin’s Bluechart Mobile app or the iNavX app.  As you move along, hazard markers will show you information on areas-of-concern in real time.  For daily navigation, route planning and personal preparation, I recommend consulting Claiborne Young’s Salty Southeast Cruiser’s Net (SSECN) web site (http://www.cruisersnet.net) and the Skipper Bob/Waterway Guide web site (http://www.waterwayguide.com).  There is a lot of overlap between these web-based resources, but there are often pearls on one that are not – at that time – available on the others, so I recommend referring to all three.

For charts, we use and prefer the Maptech paper chartkit books. This area is covered by the Regions for “Florida, East Coast and Keys,” and “Norfolk to Florida.”  Even if you have electronic charts aboard, we recommend having paper charts on hand, too.

Relative to fixed dayboards and markers on the A-ICW, the “rule” is to stay away from them; that is, do not cut too close to them. “Take your half out of the middle.”  These markers generally mark areas of shoal water, and some of them are actually dry at low tide.  Do not get too close to them.  Floating markers generally mark the edge of safe water, so it’s OK to get closer to them, but be cautious.  The A-ICW marking system is standardized; red markers are always to the inland side of the waterway, and green markers are always on the seaward side.  Therefore, Northbound, ICW red markers will be on your left.  At inlets and on bigger rivers, especially where there is commercial traffic, this scheme often reverts to the COLREGS system (red-right-returning), so make sure you can identify the yellow reflective A-ICW stickers on markers in harbor and river areas, and be alert to the arrangement of lateral markers.  If you confuse the COLREGS scheme with the A-ICW scheme, that can lead to a meeting of the close and personal nature with a local Tow BoatUS or SeaTow captain.

If going offshore, plan offshore route choices very carefully. The “rule” for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas is, no wind component from the north.  Running off the Georgia and South Carolina coast, the rule is, no wind component from the south.  Most of the coastal offshore run is in a northeasterly-southwesterly direction.  Any Southerly wind component will combine with onshore ocean swells to produce beam seas along the shallow offshore shelf waters.  These seas will be short period and choppy.  Also, make sure your route clears the many shoal areas of the offshore shelf.  In some places, you’ll have to be 10 miles offshore to be clear of shoal waters.  In nasty seas, near-shore water is more calm than farther out, but stay very alert and look well ahead (several miles) to be sure you’ll have safe water in your planned route when you get there.  Avoid finding yourself deep into a blind pocket (think: “box canyon”) in a shoal.

Doboy Sound and Sapelo Sound inlets are both fine for use by recreational boats.  They are routinely used by commercial shrimpers and local fishermen.  They are both well marked, although at Sapelo, the markers are quite widely spaced.  If you use Sapelo Inlet, find and identify the markers and make sure to honor them.  There is a significant onshore/offshore current at all SE inlets due to the high tidal ranges in the region.  Tidal currents probably won’t affect a go-fast boat much, but it’s a factor for trawlers.

The 40 ~ 50 miles north of Charleston again requires concentration and disciplined watch-keeping. The A-ICW from Charleston Harbor to Isle of Palms, SC, is very shallow at low tide.  A good strategy for us is to stay just north of Mt. Pleasant, like Isle of Palms, or to anchor at Inlet Creek or Dewees Creek, and then depart northbound at or just after an early morning (06h00) low tide. If you do that, you’ll have a fair current all the way to Myrtle Beach.  Even with a fair current, we can’t make it from Isle of Palms to Myrtle Beach in one day, but we can easily make it from Isle of Palms to Bucksport or Osprey Marina.

Historic Fernandina Beach, FL

Historic Fernandina Beach, FL

Over the years, we aboard Sanctuary have developed some preferences for places to overnight.  Much of what we do in this area depends on the specific timing or our transit and the local current and forecast weather.  We very much like Fernandina Beach, which is an historic and welcoming city that has easy access from the marina/mooring field and several nice restaurants.

Between Fernandina and Savannah, we anchor along the ICW, often at the Frederica River at Fort Frederica (MM 665.7), the Duplin River (MM 649.3) or at Walburg Creek (MM 619.0).  There are excellent marina choices in the Jekyll Island/Brunswick area.  There is an excellent source of diesel fuel at Ocean Petroleum on the east shore of the East River, past the state seaport and the shrimp fleeting area.

We like Thunderbolt, GA, where there are several marina choices, a great local marine chandlery (River Marine Supply), and a couple of OK restaurants.  From Thunderbolt, there is reasonably convenient Savannah city bus service for access to downtown Savannah.

Savannah River view from Savannah City Dock

Savannah River view from Savannah City Dock

In downtown Savannah, there is a good city dock facility right along the riverwalk.  It is in a mostly-honored no-wake zone, and there is tug, barge and commercial ship traffic in that channel.  The tidal range is 9 feet, +/-, and at low tide, the Admiral feels like she’s in a “fishbowl,” so she prefers T’bolt to Savannah.

Above Thunderbolt, depending on timing, we sometimes anchor at the Cooper River (MM 568.8), immediately above Ramshorn Creek.  Or, there are several marinas in Calibogue Sound at Hilton Head Island.

Antebellum Beaufort, SC

Antebellum Beaufort, SC

We very much enjoy Beaufort, SC.  Port Royal Landing Marina is a friendly and welcoming full-service marina.  A mile north, holding is good in the anchorage (MM 536.3) off the Beaufort Downtown City Docks.  Some cruising guides highlight the anchorage in Factory Creek, north of the Lady’s Island Swing Bridge, but it’s lined with businesses and homes, and even for our 36′ boat, I find it to be too narrow for my personal comfort.  The town of Beaufort is an antebellum architecture delight.  There is a carriage tour that is well worth the time, and there are several fair-to-good restaurant choices.  Currents in the Beaufort River are significant, reaching 3 knots at max ebb and flood.  I do not like the docking arrangements at the Downtown Marina docks, but the staff is very familiar with conditions there, and is able to help if you’re willing to listen to them.  Nevertheless, we prefer to anchor here.

We occasionally anchor at Church Creek (MM 488.2), below Charleston.

Charleston battery

Charleston battery

We love Charleston.  If we’re just passing through the area, we stay at St. Johns Yacht Harbor, immediately south of Elliott Cut.  St. John is a welcoming and friendly full-service marina.  In “downtown” Charleston (the “battery” area), we prefer the Charleston Maritime Center to all other local marinas, although the marina is exposed to harbor sea conditions and wakes from passing boats.  CMC is a welcoming and friendly full service marina.  It is located on the north shore of the Charleston battery, adjacent to the docks of the commercial seaport.  It is within easy walking access to the city, a large Harris-Teeter grocery store, the state aquarium, the National Park Service tour to Ft. Sumter, and great downtown restaurants.  We absolutely avoid the Charleston City Marina, located on the south shore of the Charleston battery near the Coast Guard Station.  At that location, there is a generally ignored no-wake zone.  The marina fairways are narrow and tight.  River currents are very strong.  We think that location is a recipe made for an insurance claim.  Finally, depending on our circumstances, we sometimes anchor at Inlet Creek (MM 461.0) or Dewees Creek (MM 454.9) in the A-ICW above Charleston.

Many cruisers consider Georgetown a must-stop.  The anchorage is crowded.  The marina choices are adequate but not inspiring.  It’s a “touristy” town, with  couple of OK restaurants.  We do recommend it, at least once.

We anchor at Butler Island (MM 396.0) or Bull Creek (MM 381.5), above Georgetown.

We quite like, and often stay at, Bucksport Plantation.  Osprey Marina often offers excellent fuel prices.

Barefoot Landing is an enjoyable stop, at the foot of an outlet mall.  There is often a great stage show at “America,” in the mall.

Governor's Light, Myrtle Beach, SC

Governor’s Light, Myrtle Beach, SC

There are several marina options in the basin behind Governor’s Light at N. Myrtle Beach, including Myrtle Beach Yacht Club, where good fuel prices are the rule.

There are lots of options in this region for the cruising boater!

Cruising Florida

Updated text, added detail and pictures: January, 2016

As always, readers are responsible to perform due diligence with official charts, cruising guides and online cruising resources to verify the navigation and piloting informations presented in this post.

There is a lot for the cruiser to see and do in Florida.  This is only a thumbnail sketch of what we think are the highlights.  We are not fans of big cities, which will be apparent.  We strongly suggest cruisers carry local AAA automotive travel/touring guides to supplement boating/cruising guides.  There are several excellent cruising guides available for the area, including several guides (“Eastern Florida,” the “Florida Keys,” and “Western Florida”) by Claiborne S. Young, and “The Waterway Guide,” Southern Edition.  For touring (touristing), we prefer the guides by Claiborne Young, as we think he does the best job with presenting local history and highlighting POIs and attractions that interest us.  In the wake of Claiborne’s untimely passing, some of that material is becoming obsolete, but we’re glad we have it available.  We also consider the ActiveCaptain website, http://www.activecaptain.com, to be an essential adjunct for cruising everywhere.  Bicycles will help you a lot in Florida.  This is not densely settled or hilly country; everything tends to be spread out.

Florida East Coast:

Starting clockwise from the GA/FL line:

DSCN1305

Fort Clinch, Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach – must see; wonderful 1920s era waterfront town with a local history that goes back to the 1560s.  There is easy access to town from the mooring field/anchorage and from the city marina.  The downtown is “walkable” from the city marina.  There are several nice restaurants and shoppes.  From Fernandina Beach, visitors can arrange a tour of Fort Clinch, a Civil War fortification.  Also, visit Billy Burbank’s Trawl Net company, where visitors are welcome.  This is the only remaining trawl net manufacturing company in the US, and they hold patents for shrimp net designs that avoid injury to bottle nose dolphin and sea turtles.  Very cool stuff.  Who knew?  The shrimping industry may not be doing all that well, but this small manufacturing company is actually doing quite well through their “sideline…”   making nets for professional sports stadium venues!

The Castillo de San Marcos

The Castillo de San Marcos

St. Augustine – must see; stay at the municipal mooring field or the city marina; reservations are suggested.  There is good public transportation by city bus.  As your very first activity, take a tour of the city to see what’s there; then, plan for what you want to see in more detail.  Definitely, visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and the historic Spanish Fortress, the Castillo de San Marcos, which are both within walking distance of the city marina.  The alligator farm is a must if you have young kids aboard; and, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum is available for the energetic.  Both are accessible by bus.  Eat at the A1A Ale House across from the city marina; that food is excellent.

 

Daytona – very nice waterfront area; nice museum.

View of Cape Kennedy from Titusville Municipal Marina

View of Cape Kennedy from Titusville Municipal Marina

Titusville – Kennedy Space Center; also, if so inclined, one can visit the “Mouse House” from here; ask about visiting Dixie Crossroads if you like shrimp/seafood.

 

 

 

 

 

Cocoa, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Ft. Pierce and Stuart – nice weather; Cocoa is home to SF Travis Hardware Co, probably the largest hardware store in the US, and one of the oldest in continuous operation.  A real treat for tool nuts!  No specific touring recommendations.

Crossing Lake Okeechobee vs. “Going Around the Bottom:”

Lake Okeechobee “vs.” The Keys – both regions are interesting, but they are very different from each other.  The travel distance from Stuart to Ft. Myers Beach is at least 250 StM farther via the “Florida Bay” route around the keys than across Lake Okeechobee via the Okeechobee Waterway.  In the winter season in North America,  weather fronts pass through south Florida every 7 – 10 days.  On average, these cold fronts are usually characterized by 12- 18 hours of intermittent storminess followed by a second day of relatively high winds.  Spring fronts often carry t’storms with strong outflow boundaries and very heavy local rains.

Rim Canal, Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston, FL

Rim Canal, Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston, FL

The Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) is very secure from bad weather.  The route passes through “working Florida” sugar cane and commercial agricultural lands.  The route transits through some old – and not particularly prosperous – towns (Labelle, Moore Haven, Clewiston) with very nice people, but not really “tourist” country.  The eastern end of the OWW is cut canal (St. Lucie Canal), and the western end is rural river which develops as one gets farther west (Caloosahatchee River).  Both routes will accommodate 6′ draft boats.  The OWW is marked following Intracoastal Waterway rules; that is, “red” toward the mainland, “green” toward the sea.  There are five US Army Corps of Engineer’s (USACE) locks on the OWW.

Typical lock gates, these at St. Lucie Lock, on OWW.

Typical lock gates, these at St. Lucie Lock, on OWW.

The design of the lock gates on the OWW system is very unique from others cruisers may have experienced in North America.  The locks at St. Lucie (eastern end) and Alva (west end) have inexpensive USACE boat dock “marina” facilities with power, water and shower facilities.  There are commercial marina options at Indiantown, Clewiston and Moore Haven.   Anchoring options are very limited on the east end, but fairly available on the western part.  Navigation depths of Lake “O” vary seasonally.  The navigation depth of the two primary routes across/around the lake can be found here: http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports/r-oke.html.  There is a RR bridge on the OWW route, at Port Mayaca, that limits max boat “air height” to about 50′.

There is a wind-driven “tide” on Lake Okeechobee.  Prolonged winds from the south can make the lake quite lumpy with short period seas.  These winds will drive water depths on the south end of the lake a foot less than the datum would otherwise suggest. North and NW winds will act oppositely.  Think “seiche,” as cruisers on the great lakes would.  Same phenomena.  The channel from Clewiston leading into the Lake is a dredged channel about 100′ wide on the south end. The seabed of the lake is limestone, a soft stone, but plenty hard enough to hurt props and rudders. It’s extremely important to stay in that channel and not get blown sideways.  The farther out of Clewiston one is, the farther apart the channel markers become. The prevailing winds on the lake will try to blow boats sideways out of the channel.  Pilots must be able to backsight the markers to be sure the boat stays in the channel.  The channel edges are VERY unforgiving, like the “Rock Pile” in Myrtle Beach.

“Going Around the Bottom:”

“The Keys” are wealthier than the OWW communities, with tourist-based economies.  The entire keys is the jurisdiction of Monroe County, Florida.  There is hyper-emphasis here on environmental and sanitary issues for boaters.  Even accidental grounding in coral or grass seabeds may cost boaters many thousands of dollars in fines.  “Sea stories” are told of aggressive and onerous Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and sheriff department officer’s monitoring and over-bearing enforcement activities.   There’s also more chance to run into crowds, rip-offs and snarly attitudes from locals in the keys, particularly “in season.”  Compared to “transiting” the OWW, transiting the Keys routes will cost more in time, fuel dining and dockage.  For those planning to “visit the keys,” there is certainly more to do from a tourist perspective than on the OWW.

Stick houses, Biscayne Bay

Stick houses, Biscayne Bay

There are route alternatives for those who choose the “Keys” route.  There are “inside” and “outside” routes from Key Biscayne National Seashore to Marathon and Key West.  The “outside route” follows the Hawk Channel.  This channel is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean from every direction except North, and exposed to the prevailing winter South and Southeast winds.  There are limited marina options, but there are some anchorage options and a Florida State Park (John Pennekamp Coral Reef).  The “inside route” follows the charted ICW along and through Florida Bay.  There are unlimited anchoring opportunities along the Florida Bay route.  The tidal range in Florida Bay is less than 6″; high tide will not help deep-draft boats.  There are excellent, fun stops at Key Largo and Islamorada.  Water depths on the Florida Bay “inside” route shallow to long distances (miles) of 5-1/2′ to 6′.  There are some places where it is possible to get from outside to inside, but they are shallow, infrequent and generally not recommended unless the pilot has local knowledge.

Skip Miami/Ft. Lauderdale; big cities

Boca Chita Light, Boca Chita Key, FL

Boca Chita Light, Boca Chita Key, FL

There are great anchorage harbors in Biscayne Bay, south of Miami, at No Name Harbor and Boca Chita Key.  Both are very popular, very crowded and very noisy on weekends.  Weekdays, arrive early in the day for the greatest choice of spots.  No Name Harbor is an anchorage with a wall on one side; at this writing (2013) a $15 fee is charged.  Pump out is available.  Boca Chita Key is a National Park System facility consisting of a basin surrounded by a concrete wall; docking is by along-side tie; no services; a $20 fee is charged ($10 with Golden Age Passport).

Key Largo is a good stop for cruisers.  At Key Largo, live evening music is available at Gilbert’s and nearby at Alabama Jacks.  These are very informal tiki hut style outdoor eateries vs. restaurants.  All Keys towns have attractions to take money from tourists.  Bicycles are helpful here.  There are great anchorages at Key Largo (Thursday Cove) and Islamorada (Upper Matecumbe Key bight).  At Islamorada, stop at Sportsman’s World, a huge sportsman’s store; fun to window shop.  Also boasts a life sized model of Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat, PilarLorelei’s is a very nice beach tiki hut style restaurant with live entertainment.

Miniature deer, Big Pine Key, FL

Miniature “Key-deer,” Big Pine Key

Cruisers have two route options between Key Largo and Marathon; one can travel “inside” Florida Bay on the charted ICW route or “outside” in the Hawk Channel.  Inside is scenic, interesting and shallow, with lots of crab pot floats.  Outside in the Hawk Channel, coastal offshore conditions prevail, and vary from smooth to dangerous depending on the winds and weather.

We suggest a visit to Marathon.  Boot Key Harbor has a large, very popular mooring field which fills up fast.  They maintain a waiting list; “in season,” it can take some time to get a mooring ball.  Visit Key West and the lower keys by bus from Marathon.  There is a $1.00 bus service that runs several time a day between Marathon and Key West.  Find superb pizza at No Name Pub on Big Pine Key (will need a car or a ride to do that).  Key West marina space is very expensive and very limited “in season.”  We suggest visiting Ft. Jefferson at Las Tortugas (the “Dry Tortugas”) via the fast Catamaran tour boat/ferry from Key West.  Cruisers can visit Key West and Las Tortugas with personal boats, of course.  Bicycles will help a lot in the Keys.

Ft. Jefferson Light, Dry Tortugas National Park

Ft. Jefferson Light, Dry Tortugas National Park

Cruisers who take their own boats to Las Tortugas must consult cruising guides and prepare with diligence and great care.  While visiting Las Tortugas, pleasure craft will be completely on their own and must be completely self-contained and self-sufficient. 

Las Tortugas is 70 statute miles from Key West, offshore.  The first 40 or so miles, water depths on the shelf are in the range of 40′ – 60′.  In the last 1/3rd of the trip, water depths fall off to 200′ and sea states change noticeable to more ocean-like conditions.  Prevailing SE winds can blow for several weeks between weather windows in the winter months, so advance planning is essential.  At Las Tortugas National Seashore anchoring is permitted only within 1 NM of Ft. Jefferson.  The seabed is mixed sand, gravel and rubble, and holding is moderate-at-best.  Boat permits are required, for a minimal fee, for all boats in the National Park.  There is a park entrance fee of $10 per person.  Mooring balls are for day-use only.  There is no dockage, no potable water, no pumpout, and no trash disposal; no facilities of any kind.  Las Tortugas National Park is a “no discharge zone.”  During daytime hours when tour boats are there and the park is open to the public, heads – but not showers – are available on the National Park Service dock.  Cruisers stuck waiting for a weather window can use the fast cat tour boat to get to Key West and back for emergency re-provisioning.

Florida West Coast:

Note:  The gulf coast of Florida experiences “diurnal” tides.   Diurnal tides occur when continental land masses create so much interference to global ocean water flow that there is only one high tide and one low tide per day.  In North America, diurnal tides only occur in the Gulf of Mexico and the coast of Alaska.  The result is, on Florida’s west coast, water depths are generally lowest in the morning and moderate to high in the mid-to-late afternoon.  Commonly, there is a 2 – 3 hour “flat spot” in the tide during the mid-day period.  This general guideline varies with spring and neap periods, and varies from place to place along the coast, but it is a useful generalization for departure planning.  If water depths are at all questionable, and you plan a morning departure, always consult locally for water depth and tide behavior. 

Cruisers have several route options when traveling from the mid-keys to the SW mainland coast at Cape Sable.  One route option, starting from Key Largo, is to follow the “Yacht Channel” NW through Florida Bay to the SW mainland Coast.  The Yacht Channel carries in the range of 5-1/2′ for many miles at MLLW, so draft is definitely a passage consideration.  Tides in Florida Bay are 6″ or less, so they won’t help, but they don’t hurt, either.  This route bypasses Marathon and the lower keys.  Traveling NW, stay just inside the charted Everglades National Wildlife Sanctuary boundary line in order to avoid crab pots.  Outside the park boundary, there are lots of them.  That route carries 6′ or slightly more water all the way.

A second route option is to cruise from Key Largo to Marathon via the Hawk Channel.  Visit Marathon, as mentioned above.  Just west of Marathon, turn north at the Seven Mile Bridge, and proceed to a secure and remote anchorage at the Little Shark River on the SW mainland coast.  The Hawk channel is exposed to the open waters of the Straights of Florida in all wind directions with a “South” component.  If the wind has been “up” for any period of time, seas can be uncomfortable.  Stay toward shore, in shallower water, for the best ride (but, of course, be alert).  There are no water depth concerns on the marked route from the Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon north toward Cape Sable.

A third route option for cruisers traveling from the mid-keys is to proceed all the way to Key West.  There are no water depth concerns on the outside, in the Hawk Channel.  The Florida Bay inside route is very shallow and may limit options for deeper draft boats.  Once at Key West,  turn northbound and travel to the SW mainland.  This option involves open water in both the Hawk Channel (Straights of Florida) and the Gulf of Mexico.  Attention to weather and prevailing winds is absolutely essential.

Via the Yacht Channel through Florida Bay, or northbound from Marathon or Key West, the first practical landfall on the SW mainland is a delightful, remote anchorage in the mangroves at the Little Shark River.  This is the southern limit of what is called regionally the “10,000 Islands.”  There is no place to land pets or people, but it’s a well protected, calm anchorage to overnight or to wait out passage of a storm front.  It’s also a great area to go dinghy-exploring.  Take a GPS; don’t get lost.  Shine a light along the mangroves at night and see all the alligator eyes watching for an unsuspecting tasty morsel to float by.  It would be wise to not go for a swim in these waters.

Between the Little Shark River and Marco Island along the SW Coast is the 10,000 Islands region. This is a superb cruising ground replete with remote, secluded anchorages!  Especially so at Panther Key and Indian Key.

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Rod & Gun Club, Everglades City, FL

Everglades City – must see; transit east from Indian Key into the Barron River to visit Everglades City.  The river is well marked and very scenic.  Celestial tides can create strong ebb and flood currents in the river.  This region  experiences “diurnal” tides.   Low tides are commonly in the early morning, and higher tides are more common in the mid-afternoon hours.  During lunar “spring tide” lows (those below MLLW), water depth in the Everglades City entrance channel can drop to 4 ft, so pilots must plan accordingly.  Stay at the Rod and Gun Club (aka, the Sportsman’s Club).  This business does NOT accept credit cards.  Cruisers can pay with cash or with personal checks!  There is a wonderful, if small, local heritage museum.  Everglades City is truly a glimpse of “Old Florida.”  More great dinghy exploring.

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G-ICW Route showing (top, left) Marco Island, Goodland and Coon Key Pass into Gullivan Bay (bottom, right).  Double-click the image to view it full screen.

Northbound from Everglades City, there are two options.  Deeper draft boats (over 5′) will want to run north to Marco Island/Naples/Ft. Myers offshore, around the Cape Romano shoals.  Boats drafting less than 5′ can go inside at Coon Key Pass and through Goodland to Marco Island via a remaining segment of the “old” G-ICW.  This inside route is shallow, like the Yacht Channel, but carries 5-1/2′ to 6′ depths throughout, and is much more interesting if draft permits.  The ICW navigation marker colors change side immediately East of the highway bridge at Marco Island.  DO NOT MISS THE RED “26″ MARKER TO THE SOUTH AND EAST OF THAT HIGHWAY BRIDGE!  R”26″ is hard to see against the background of the shoreline, but it’s essential to honor it to avoid  spoiling your day.  There is a nice, secluded anchorage in the mangroves at the correctly charted entrance to Rookery Bay, just north of Marco Island.

The SW Florida coastal towns (Marco Island, Naples, Estero, Ft. Myers Beach) are made for tourists; the best is Ft. Myers Beach, where there is a mooring field and a couple of marina choices.  The waters in this area are shallow, but generally carry 5′ at low tide; ICW tides here are 6″ because Gulf inlets are small and do not permit lots of water flow.  Reminiscent of the New Jersey barrier islands and inlets.
  Ft. Myers is a big city, but nearby Ft. Myers Beach gets “honorable mention” for several marina choices, some good restaurants, and the world class Thomas Edison Homestead and Museum.

Sanibel/Captiva are snooty and expensive.

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Cabbage Key resort and restaurant

Pine Island Sound is home to Cabbage Key at MM 22 on the G-ICW. Cabbage Key was Jimmy Buffet’s inspiration for his hit song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”  This is a must visit for us.  The basin at Cabbage Key carries 7′ of water at low tide throughout its length.  Several tour boats use the basin for day visitors, and 6′ draft boats will not have problems here.  Transients are welcomed to stop in for lunch.  Overnight stays in the marina are available.  Immediately across the ICW from the Cabbage Key entrance channel is a good anchorage that lies off Useppa Island.  Expect occasional large wakes during the daylight hours, but it quiets down after sunset.  If there is any concerns with Cabbage Key entrance or basin depths, anchor at Useppa and dinghy in.  The dockmaster here is “Jeff;” he is abrupt and intense, but we love him for his absolute cooperation getting us in and out.

Manatee mother with 2-week old calf

Manatee mother with 2-week old calf

Cayo Costa State Park and Pelican Bay are premier anchorage stops for cruisers in this entire region.  Pelican Bay is actually a “pass” between Cayo Costa Island to the west and Punta Blanco Island to the east.  The bay is well protected and has excellent holding.  It provides good protection to wait out the passage of all but the most severe weather.

“Local knowledge” is important to getting into and out of Pelican Bay without incident.  Neither the approach to the bay, nor its entrance channel, are marked with aids to navigation.   Cruisers should approach the entrance to Pelican Bay from the G-ICW.  Turn westward at a point south of G “75,” and about 200′ north of R “74.”  Just off the western shoreline, a Florida Speed Zone Sign, mounted on pilings, is visible hard against the background of the Cayo Costa Island shoreline.  Navigate toward that sign.  Just before reaching the sign, steer SW.  Hold a course parallel to the beach and hold the shore close by to stbd at 50′ – 75′.  Yes, just a boat length or slightly more off the beach line.  A “deep water channel” just off that beach carries 9′ of water.  The water shoals rapidly to the south (to port) off the north end of Punta Blanco Island.  Many, many unwary boats go aground on that shoal.   As you pass the beach, the Cayo Costa State Park docks will be visible at 11 o’clock, at a distance of about 1/2 to 3/4 miles.  When past the beach, set a rhumb line toward the State Park docks.  The shallowest water is 500 ~ 700 yards +/-.  There are slips on the State Park docks, but only the very outermost slips carry sufficient water depth for cruising boats.  The dock tee heads are reserved for tour boats, of which there are several that ply those waters.

Anchor in Pelican Bay.  The tidal range is only about 2′.  The rhumb line from the beach to the State Park docks will carry 5-1/2′ at MLLW.  At the State Park docks there will be 6-1/2′ at MLLW, or more.  There is a deep pool correctly charted on current NOAA charts that carries 9′ at MLLW.  That is the deepest water in Pelican Bay.  Some older charts that are still widely circulated do not show that 9′ pool correctly.  Charts that do not show the deep pool are not the current charts of the basin.  To the south from Pelican Bay, the water is shoal, and not navigable by cruising draft boats.  The only access back to the G-ICW from Pelican Bay is the one to the north of Punta Blanco Island, described above.  This a great place to dinghy around.  There are always manatee in the basin.  The Beach at Cayo Costa is also a favorite for collecting “sand dollars.”

The Charlotte Harbor towns of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte are nice.  Punta Gorda has a downtown, and is “doable” with a bicycle; Port Charlotte not so much.  There are several good restaurants near the water in Punta Gorda, and there is a fabulous Irish Pub called the “Celtic Ray.”  The pub was the inspiration for the song of the same name by Van Morrison.

Ringling Home, Ca'd Zan

Ringling Home, Ca’ d’ Zan

Sarasota – must see; other than St. Augustine, the only Florida “city” we recommend. Sarasota has a symphony orchestra and the John Ringling Home (Ca’ d’ Zan) and the Circus Museum.  The Ringling property is extraordinary and very much worth a visit.  Marina Jack is a good – if somewhat expensive – marina facility; they offer a courtesy shuttle 4 times per day.  The shuttle will take visitors to the Ringling Museum, Publix, West Marine, Walgreens, etc.

Skip Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater; big cities.

Tarpon Springs is a Greek settlement town with superb Greek food, sponge diving and a waterman’s economy.  It has a tourist flavor and is a very fun place.

There is no navigable protected inland waterway between Tarpon Springs and Carrabelle around the “Great Bend.”  Cruisers must run offshore in the Gulf of Mexico in this area.  From Tarpon Springs north around the Great Bend, research carefully using the cruising guides; in this region, there are only small communities, large, open, shallow waters and few safe harbors.  Crossing directly from Tarpon Springs to Carrabelle/Apalachicola is a 170+/- mile, overnight, 45 mile offshore run in 60 ft of water.   At trawler speeds, it will take 21 ~ 23 hours.  Attention to weather and prevailing winds is a must.  Seas are short period and can be uncomfortable in winds over 20 kts.

Carrabelle and Apalachicola are nice, small towns with mostly fishing and farming economies.
  We’re less familiar with what’s available in the panhandle towns, but Panama City, Destin, Ft. Walton Beach and Pensacola are all available from/via the G-ICW

Chesapeake Bay

Text added and updated: January, 2016

As always, readers are responsible to perform due diligence with official charts, cruising guides and online cruising resources to verify the navigation and piloting information presented in this post.

NAVIGATION AND PILOTING (for beginners):

The Atlantic-ICW transits the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River through Norfolk, VA, and Portsmouth, VA.   There is no practical way around it.  South-to-north, the portion of the Southern Branch from Deep Creek, VA, (south) to Willoughby Bay at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay (north) is one of the most active and busy commercial and heavy industrial waterways on the entire East Coast.

Sanctuary’s crew feels this stretch of the A-ICW greatly exceeds NY Harbor in piloting complexity.  This stretch is relatively narrow, the port facilities are closely quartered, and there is an extraordinary diversity of pleasure craft, commercial traffic and large-ship military maritime interests operating in the area.  There are all manner of large and small work boats, tugs alone, tugs with barges, harbor pilot boats, bulk cargo vessels, container ships, US Navy Warships, US Coast Guard operations, dredges and pipelines, tour boats and water taxis operating on the Elizabeth River.  There are oil, gasoline, coal, grain and quarry docks, and many dry goods dock facilities for large ships.  Added to that mix, there are also all sizes and speeds of pleasure craft.  For the pleasure craft operator who is not familiar with theses waters, a transit can be a time of high anxiety.

There are at least three automated railroad bridges that can delay river traffic for significant periods of time.  Of these, Norfolk & Southern Bridge #7 on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River is by far the most difficult remaining impediment to cruisers, as it affects the ICW route and accommodates a very busy and active mainline railroad freight route.  (N&S Bridge #5 is on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, and does NOT affect ICW passage.)  Another is the Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line RR Bridge, known locally as the “Belt Line Bridge.”  There is no place to anchor or tie up while railroad bridges are closed, so pleasure craft operators must be able to keep station, regardless of wind or weather conditions or tidal ebb and flood currents in the river.  Marine security in the area is high and visible.

VHF channels 16 and 13 are constantly a-squawk with the names of local landmarks, locations and piers that only local maritime professionals are likely to know.  These will largely mean nothing but anxiety to the visiting through-cruiser who is not local to this area.  Maintain a vigilant visual watch, expect large wakes, and always be prepared to yield to others.

Commercial traffic has no patience for pleasure craft, and except in “no wake” zones, will not slow for us.  Tug boat prop wash can easily throw a pleasure craft into a 360º spin or into a sideways slide off course.  Cruiser’s on this stretch of river waterway must be vigilant and always on high alert.  In practice, if not in law, when it comes to pleasure craft, the nav rules are trumped by local custom.  There is no such thing as “stand-on vessel” or “right of way,” but there is definitely the “law of gross tonnage.”  As much as anywhere, it’s up to pleasure boat operators to be patient and get  out of the way in order to stay out of trouble.

All up and down the Bay, cruisers will see large ships in the commercial traffic lanes.  Avoiding them is easy: stay away from them.  Large ships travel at speeds of 18 knots, and they throw significant bow and stern wakes.  Pleasure craft are well advised to keep a continuous visual watch ahead and astern, and act to avoid large vessels.  On the Bay, large shipping traffic generally runs up the eastern shore in very well marked deep-water channels.  Tugs with long-wire tows do not need the deep water channel and are often seen running the western shore.  There are major cross-Bay shipping lanes at the York River, the Rappahannock River, and the Potomac River.  There is a large commercial fishing fleet (menhaden) that operates from the Great Wicomico River, between the Rappahannock River and the Potomac River, out of Reedville, VA,

There is no large vessel traffic at Annapolis harbor, but there are military training (YP) vessels that operate from the navy base at the Naval Academy.  There are also large US Navy sailing vessels operated by Naval Academy midshipmen.  Those sailing vessels are US Navy commissioned vessels, and pleasure craft must stay clear of them.  The two big navigation hazards in Annapolis are both in the category of pleasure craft.  First, private sailing vessels will force the “stand-on” and “give way” rules to the hilt, simply because they can.  And second, there are sailing training schools for kids and teens that teach their “students” that sailing vessels have the “right-of-way.”  These “student sailors” do downright dangerous things under the assumption you can and will be able to avoid them.  On one Wednesday evening occasion, I literally dropped our anchor to raise my “right-of-way” priority and protect myself from their dangerous operations.  The bad news is, they learn that behavior from “adult” sailing training instructors (who behave that way themselves).

Baltimore Inner Harbor is a busy harbor, but not as complicated as Norfolk/Portsmouth.  The Patapsco River and harbor approaches to Baltimore are wide, and pleasure craft can easily operate outside and away from the shipping channels.  Like New York, the commercial port areas of Baltimore are not located near points-of-interest to pleasure craft.  Visual watch and situational awareness remain important, but piloting is generally easier than Norfolk/Portsmouth.  By the time pleasure craft reach Inner Harbor, there is no longer any large commercial traffic.

Finally, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is a Vessel Traffic System (VTS) controlled-access waterway with ocean-going tugs, barges and large ships.  Mandatory-compliance vessels must check-in with VTS.  Pleasure craft are not required to check in, but would be wise to monitor the VTS working VHF channel.  The C&D Canal is frequently affected by early morning fog.  Listen to the VHF well in advance of arrival at the canal for possible restrictions and/or closure information.  The canal is narrow, speed controlled, and tidal currents can be very strong.  In the canal, tidal currents are with respect to the Chesapeake Bay; flood sets eastward towards the Chesapeake Bay, and ebb sets westward to the Delaware Bay.  Monitor VHF 13 carefully in this commercial waterway.

CRUISING THE CHESAPEAKE BAY (for beginners):

There are just a few *absolutely must see* stops on the Chesapeake Bay, but there are many, many delightful, fun dalliances.  Presented in somewhat random order, described here for those cruising south-to-north:

USS Missouri

USS Wisconsin

The Portsmouth/Norfolk waterfront along the Elizabeth River offers several great stops.  There are private marinas on both sides of the harbor, and water taxis to transport cruisers back-and-forth between Portsmouth and Norfolk.  On the Portsmouth side, there are two public boat basins where cruisers can tie up for free.  There are no electric or water services in these basins, but there is a free pump-out station in the north basin (N 36.83282, W -076.29663).  These basins are a good place to wait out heavy weather.  Take care not to tie up where water taxis and harbor cruise boats have reserved docking.  Maximum allowed boat LOA is 40′.  The High Street basin has room for 6 – 8 boats, depending on the care owners take in space utilization and courtesy for others.  The North Basin is slightly larger but has less room for pleasure craft.  These areas are highly foot-trafficked, but boat and personal security is not a concern at this time.  Vigilance in situational awareness and responsible security precautions are recommended.  High Street provides easy walking access to several restaurants, including an Irish Pub and a fabulous German Biergarten.  There is a pleasure craft anchorage at Hospital Point on the Elizabeth River (N 36°50’44.3″,  W 076°18’01.4″).  The anchorage is in a “no-wake zone” that is largely honored by local traffic, and generally quiet after dark.  Violators are always other pleasure craft who claim “they didn’t realize.”  On the Norfolk shore, Waterside Marina is on a Riverwalk and is the most convenient place for a visit to downtown Norfolk.  Visit the USS Wisconsin, a WWII Battleship museum just a couple of city blocks from Waterside Marina.

NorfolkHeading north from Norfolk to the Chesapeake Bay, cruisers will pass the Norfolk Navy Yard to starboard; favor the red side of the channel.  The Navy security patrol boats will be somewhat less interested in you if you travel that side of the channel, farthest off the Navy docks.  Northbound, the last docks on the north end of the Norfolk Navy Yard are for Nimitz-Class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.  In May, 2015, the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) was at Portsmouth and the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) was at Norfolk.

Old Point Comfort, James River, Hampton, VA.

Old Point Comfort, James River, Hampton, VA.

While passing the Navy Yard piers, cruisers will be looking northward at the north shore of the James River.  The  City of Hampton, VA, lies ahead at 0º, Old Point Comfort Lighthouse lies ahead at 15º, and Willoughby Bay lies abeam to STBD at 80º, immediately past the Navy piers.  Hampton is an excellent harbor-of-refuge if the Bay “is up.”  There are good marinas, including the Hampton Public Pier, and a secure anchorage, in the Hampton harbor.

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Tangiers sunset

From Norfolk, we definitely recommend that cruisers visit Tangier (Island), VA.  The Chesapeake Bay (West) approach (N 37°49’55.02″,  W 075°59’57.24″) to Tangier carries 7-1/2 ft of water at low tide, and the Tangier Sound (East) approach (N 37°50’22.96″, W 075°58’19.89″) carries about 10 ft, but is subject to shoaling.  There is no place to anchor, so visitors will stay at Park’s Marina for $30 per night, with electric.  Milton Parks is a treat!  Milton will take visitors all over the island in his golf cart.  Tangier is a step back into the early 20th Century, and a real look at the lives of Chesapeake Bay Watermen.  You will also discover that Tangier Island holds a very significant position in the military history of our Colonial and 1812 period.  Tangier is a wonderful stop, and well worth the time.

From Tangier, we suggest a stop at Solomons, MD.  There are several marinas there, all 3 star.  Plenty of anchorages.  Definitely while here, see the Calvert Marine Museum.  Lots of good eats locally.  There is also a large, well stocked West Marine chandlery, including a splicing shop.

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s/v Sultana off Hooper Straight Light at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

From Solomons, stop at St. Michael’s, MD.  St. Mike’s is the home of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  CBMM is a truly world class maritime museum, and a “must see.”  St. Mike’s is a “touristy” stop, and a very nice, unique “Eastern Shore” town, with several pub food restaurants.  St. Mike’s marinas are upscale and expensive by Chesapeake Bay standards.  There is a large anchorage just outside St. Mike’s harbor, on the Miles River (N 38°47’12.3″,  W 076°12’41.9″).  A water taxi serves the anchorage from about 08h00 to about 22h00 daily in the summer months.  We are members of the CBMM, so we dock there.  But if I weren’t, I’d anchor out and use the water taxis.

Annapolis Historic District, Capitol of Maryland, viewed from the waterfront.

Annapolis Historic District, Capitol of Maryland, viewed from the waterfront.

Next, stop at Annapolis, Maryland’s capitol city.  The private marinas of Annapolis are expensive compared to regional averages.  There is a city marina along “Ego Alley,” first come, first served.  Early in the day arrivals should find space available.  Alternatively, there is a large mooring field, for $25.00 per night, I think.  A water taxi service serves the harbor and will pick boaters up at their mooring and drop off anywhere along the waterfront at Annapolis or Eastport.  The area surrounding the waterfront and the capitol complex is the “Historic District,” similar to Charleston’s “Battery” for building preservation.  Absolutely, definitely, have breakfast at Chick ‘n Ruth’s Delly at 165 Main Street.  BE AT CHICK ‘N RUTH’S BEFORE 08h30 WEEKDAYS OR 09h30 WEEKENDS.  Wednesday’s, upstairs at Chick ‘n Ruth’s, is the weekly “Cruisers Breakfast.”  Tables are reserved for “CLODS;” i.e., “Cruiser’s Living On Dirt.”  Other cruisers there can tell transient visitors what’s happening in town on a week-to-week basis.  Cruisers needing a ride for re-provisioning or a trip to Fawcett’s chandlery or West Marine, can probably get one there.  There is an excellent and wide variety of local restaurants, of course, and lots to see an do.  Definitely take the tour of the Naval Academy.  Visitors will need two forms of picture ID to get on post, so bring passports AND Driver Licenses.  The public is welcome at religious services at the Naval Academy “Chapel;” it’s really more of a cathedral.  That is something to see!!!

USS Constellation at Baltimore Inner Harbor

USS Constellation at Baltimore Inner Harbor

Next, stop in Baltimore Inner Harbor.  Until the unpleasant unrest of April/May, 2015, boat and personal security was never a concern along the Inner Harbor wall or at the Inner Harbor City Docks.   These days, follow the Baltimore local news, be alert to emerging problems, an maintain personal situational awareness.  Use private marinas if conditions warrant.  At this writing (2013) dockage at the city-operated docks in the Inner Harbor is $1.25/ft.  Transient visitors can tie up anywhere along the wall around the Inner Harbor, except where reserved for tour vessels and such.  Again, $1.25/ft, and 30A electric is in the base of the light poles that ring the wall (recent info is that light pole outlets have

USS Whitby Island, Baltimore City Docks, Sanctuary, oduring Fleet Week, 2011

USS Whidbey Island, Baltimore Inner Harbor City Docks, and our Sanctuary, during Fleet Week, August, 2010.

been discontinued; check for it). Electric at the city docks is $4.00/pigtail/day.  So, a single 50A pigtail is a better deal than two 30A pigtails.  The Inner Harbor City Dock does not take reservations.  Our strategy is to arrive at Inner Harbor by 11h00 or so in the morning to have a choice in slips or wall space.   There is a private marine at Inner Harbor, but much more expensive.  Length-of-stay at the city docks is not limited.  Visit the entire harborwalk; USS Constellation, Science Museum, Aquarium, USCGC Roger B. Taney, Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters, many other POIs.  There’s something there for everyone.  If you like baseball, check the Baltimore Orioles home schedule; it’s an easy walk to Camden Yards from Inner Harbor (4 – 5 blocks). Locate the Inner Harbor City Docks ahead of time on Google Earth.

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Chesapeake City street scene

At the northern end of the Bay, plan to stop at Chesapeake City on the Maryland end of the C&D Canal.  As you enter the basin at Engineer’s Cove, watch for nav markers in what appear to be strange locations.  The mouth of the cove shoals from the ship traffic in the canal, and that shoaling is always changing.  There is a floating dock to the west side of the harbor entrance with space for 4 to 5 boats.  There is no fee for the “dockage,” but there is a modest charge for power, and another for water, which total about $15/night.  In 2015, the power pedestals were upgraded and fit with ground-fault sensing circuit breakers.  Be aware that those breakers can expose pre-existing AC electrical problems aboard cruising boats.  There are also actual slips farther west, but only a couple that can accommodate the depth requirements of cruising-sized boats.  There is a private marina in the cove.  There is also a sizeable anchorage in the cove, from which cruisers can dinghy into town.  Summer weekends are very busy with local traffic.  There are a couple of very nice restaurants, and many shops.  There is a fine US Army Corps of Engineers Museum, focused on the history of the C&D Canal, about 1/2 mile walk.  It is a very worthwhile and interesting visit.

There’s a lot more to see and do on the Bay, of course, but the above “itinerary” will fill about two weeks at a comfortable pace.  That assumes a couple of days at each stop, and three at Annapolis and Baltimore.   I re-emphasize, the foregoing is just my opinion.  That said, the Chesapeake Bay has many, many other venues and communities which offer wonderful opportunities for cruising and exploration.  For those with more time to spend exploring the Bay, I’ve described what are, in my opinion, some of those locations here following.

Visit Cape Charles, VA; this is a small town on the very southern end of the DelMarVa peninsula; the “Eastern Shore.”  The town has a long history, and one that has been hugely affected by the forces of economic change over the decades.  The harbor has a modern marina with floating docks.  Town is easy walking distance where there are shoppes and an excellent Irish Pubs.  Visit the Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center, on Randolph Street, a moderate walking distance or easy bike ride from the municipal harbor marina.  There is a fine marina on King’s Creek, a mile or so north of the municipal harbor, called The Oyster Farm.  First timers should get local knowledge of access; the channel is marked, but narrow and potentially confusing to first-timers.

Maritime Museum at Yorktown Harbor

Maritime Museum at Yorktown Harbor

Visit Yorktown, VA; obviously, there is a lot of Revolutionary War history in the region.  The Yorktown Municipal marina on the York River is both reasonable and convenient to the city (walking distance), but it is exposed to heavy weather and York River ebb and flood currents.  Alternatively, cruisers can stay at the York River Yacht Haven on Sarah Creek, off the north shore of York River, across the bridge from Yorktown in Hayes, VA.  YRYH is relatively expensive for the region.  Cruisers can also anchor in Sarah Creek, but that is really only a secure place to overnight.  We like Crown Pointe Marina, on the Perrin River, north shore of the York River before the bridge, for this stay.  Rent an Enterprise Car while there to visit the Yorktown-Jamestown-Williamsburg Historic Triangle.  Take a day trip to Jamestown and visit the National Park and the privately operated park there.  Jamestown is the home port of s/v Susan Constant, s/v Godspeed and s/v Discovery, reproductions of the three ships that brought English colonists to Virginia in 1607.  Visit Williamsburg; the premier living-history museum of the Colonial period.  Plan a week for this stop to see all three locations.  Crown Pointe is a full service marina but is out in the country, and a car is needed.  They have a very nice pool and laundry, and a full service maintenance yard.

On the Eastern Shore in Virginia, some people like Onancock, VA.  The run up Onancock Creek to the marina is lovely, and the marina is quite reasonably priced.  There’s a very good restaurant at the marina’s landing.  The town itself is at least a 3/4 mile walk.  That walk is rewarded by a great, old-timish hardware store, and an ice cream shop; really not much more.

Also on the Eastern Shore, visit Crisfield, MD; stay at Somers Cove Marina (state owned; reasonably priced; well protected; nice facility).  This is a good place to take either a tour boat or the “mail boat” to Smith and Tangier Islands.  The mail boat is much cheaper than tour boat, but requires an overnight stay on the Island, so plan ahead for accommodations if you want that option.  Crisfield was historically a waterman’s village, but has “been discovered,” and now is a condo and retirement community.

On the Western Shore, Deltaville, VA, and Urbanna, VA, on the Rappahannock River, are summer tourist stops.  Deltaville has several excellent marinas and many boating service businesses.  Some of the marinas have courtesy cars, and you do need a car to get around.  There is a large, well-stocked West Marine and a smallish, but well stocked, local grocery store (handles re-provisioning needs) on the western end of town.  Good local restaurants in both towns.  Urbanna is more upscale and walkable from the marina.

s/v Maryland Dove

s/v Maryland Dove at sunset in Horseshoe Bend, St. Mary’s City, MD

On the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, 6 miles up the Potomac River’s north shore, is the St. Mary’s River.  Visit St. Mary’s City, MD, on the St. Mary’s River.  We think this is an outstanding stop.  I would rate St. Mary’s City a *must see* stop except that it is somewhat out-of-the-way.  No public marina dockage is available, but there is a large, moderately protected embayment there at Horseshoe Bend (N 38°11’30.7″,  W 076°25’56.7″).  The area is large enough for many boats, with good holding in 7′ – 15′ of water.  Horseshoe Bend is fairly  well sheltered from heavy weather.  St. Mary’s City is the forth oldest permanent English settlement in America, and is today the home of a pre-colonial reproduction of the village that was to become Maryland’s first capitol.  The reconstruction includes a Yaocomico Indian village, a branch of the Piscataway Indian Nation.  St. Mary’s City was the earliest colonial settlement with a specific mandate welcoming both Catholics and Protestants, and a Catholic Cathedral was erected there.  The cathedral reconstruction is solely a secular ornament in today’s historic village.  Docent’s provide high quality interpretations of life in the village.  The port at St. Mary’s City is the home port for s/v Maryland Dove, and the home of St. Mary’s College, one of Maryland’s “Honors Colleges.”  Eat at the college dining hall where cruisers will find good meals at attractive prices.   Plan at least a full day to visit the historic village.  There are free “Music-on-the-Green” concerts every Friday evening in the summer, overlooking the Horseshoe Bend anchorage.  See the college web site for details.  Also use St. Mary’s City to stage for St. Leonard’s creek or to stage for cruising up the Potomac River to Washington, DC.

On the Eastern Shore, via the Wicomico River, is Salisbury, MD.  This is a rural, relaxing and peaceful river cruise.  Salisbury is a working class town, with a very reasonable marina, and some good restaurants near the marina.  Be mindful of the two, correctly charted, cable ferry crossings on the Wicomico River along that route.  Call those ferries on VHF13/VHF16 to arrange to pass over the cables when they are lowered and lying on the bottom.

On the Eastern Shore, via the Choptank River, is Cambridge, MD.  The city marina is reasonably priced and protected from heavy weather.  The harbor entrance is marked by the Choptank River Lighthouse, a reproduction “screw pile” lighthouse.  This is a wonderful, relaxing working-class city with excellent seafood restaurants.

On the Eastern Shore, Chestertown, MD, up the Chester River, is an excellent stop.  There is a low highway bridge across the Chester River beyond which cruising boats cannot go.  There is a small marina for transients.  Many – most, actually – of the real estate properties in Chestertown are on the “Registry of Historic Places,” so if architecture is your thing, don’t miss Chestertown.  The Chester River is a rural, quiet river.  There are lots of places to anchor.

On the Eastern Shore, Rock Hall, MD, is a nice Bay village with nice waterfront restaurants.  The main harbor has large, non-navigable shoal in it’s center, and access to shore is from a large, square-shaped channel around the perimeter of the harbor.  Cruiser’s must stay in that channel.  Restaurants with transient dockage for visiting boaters are quite good.  Access to town from the main harbor is walking distance.  Access to town via a local shuttle bus is available to cruisers who stay at one of two upscale marinas (Haven Harbor, Osprey) on Swan Creek.  This area of the Eastern Shore is quite shoal, so visiting cruisers must honor charts and markers.

Potomac River

We were very pleasantly surprised by our entire 3-1/2 week Potomac/Washington adventure.

Here’s a very brief summary:

  1. The Potomac is wide – *very* wide – and there are no significant navigation difficulties.  There is a strong tidal flow that will affect cruising boats – either help if “fair” or hinder if “foul.”  Washington, DC, is about 115 miles up the Potomac from the Smith Point – Point Lookout line on the Chesapeake Bay.  That’s about half as far as Chattanooga is from the Tenn-Tom.  On the Potomac, there are no locks and no gorges, but the scale of the Potomac’s vistas are amazing.
  2. There are many good places to anchor and several marina choices along the way.
  3. The marinas we encountered were more “affordable” than the marinas along the A-ICW; i.e., less expensive!
  4. There are three marina choices on the Washington Channel in downtown Washington:
    • Washington Marina,
    • Capital Yacht Club and
    • Gangplank Marina.
  5. Make advance reservations!!!  All DC marinas are near each other and close to the city via public transportation.  With New York (or Charleston or Savannah) prices as a benchmark, they are either an outright bargain or very reasonably priced.
  6. One week will not be enough time to “see the town.”  The “usual” sights include the Smithsonian Museums (there are nineteen units in the Smithsonian system) and other government buildings, The National Holocaust Museum, the Library of Congress, Arlington National Cemetery with it’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, The National Archives, The National Cathedral, The National Mall (National WWII and Vietnam War Memorial, Presidential Memorials, etc), and perhaps, Georgetown.  There are many private, for-profit museums and attractions for cruisers to pursue.
  7. With a car, there is a Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, VA, about 40 minutes from the Washington Marinas.  Admission is free.  It is superbly done.
  8. Upbound or downbound, cruisers can dock for the day at George Washington’s Plantation at Mt. Vernon, VA, and visit the plantation site.  Call ahead for instructions.  Monday is best day; no tour boats are on the docks on Mondays.  Use the “south channel” for best access (deepest approach depths).  The “north channel” is more challenging and shallow.
  9. There is a new (open 18 months) museum at Mt. Vernon detailing the plantation and the life of Geo. Washington.  Excellent.
  10. Upbound or downbound, there is a State of Maryland Honors College at St. Mary’s City.  St. Mary’s City is on the St. Mary’s River, on the north shore of the Potomac, about 6 miles from the Smith Point – Point Lookout line on the Chesapeake Bay.  Anchor in Horseshoe Bend and dinghy to the college’s docks.  There’s a US post office and an historic restoration of the first Capitol of Maryland village, circa 1634, a la Williamsburg except more rustic.  St. Mary’s College has a free “Concert on the Lawn” series on Friday evenings in the summer.  Eat at the college dining room.  Breakfast and lunch are $5.00 plus tax and dinners are $8.00 plus tax.  All you can eat.  Visitor’s are welcome.
  11. Upbound or downbound via the Potomac River, stop and visit Freddie Olverson at his Lodge Creek Marina off the Yeocomico River.  If you’re an MTOA member, he’ll give you one free night.  He has a free Courtesy car for grocery/hardware shopping.  Also upbound or downbound, there are fine, protected anchorages available at Mattawoman Creek, Aquia Creek, the Point Tobacco River, and St. Clement’s Bay, and a nice marina at Colonial Beach.