Sunday, January 23, 2011


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Reader Richard has a sharp eye.  He asks,"One question I had is why you went through the “dismal swamp” going north and south. As someone who is unfamiliar with the ICW it seems to me that it would be better to go outside; but this apparently isn’t done. I thought it interesting that you took the side trip into the ‘dismal swamp lake’ on your trip north."

Your observation is correct Richard.  We did go on the outside around Hatteras our first year, but since then we know better.  There are three reasons.

  1. Cape Hatteras, and the nearby Diamond Shoals are know as the graveyard of the Atlantic.  Sometimes the Gulf Stream comes in close to shore there.  If a northerly gale comes along in that case, the waves can be mountainous.

    Of course the weather isn't always bad.  That first year in 2005, we sailed from Charleston SC to Norfolk, VA nonstop.  We passed close in to Diamond Shoals the the weather was lovely.

  2. The inland waters of North Carolina are a delight.  That includes the Dismal Swamp Canal.  Sailing there is one of our favorite times of the year.  We would hate to miss it.

  3. Pacing:  Because of hurricanes, we try to not arrive in Florida before November 1, and we leave in the spring before June 1.  Actually, our insurance company required that.   Other cruisers have even more restrictive clauses in their policies.  Most cruisers start moving northward in March.

    We also learned the hard way that we must leave Lake Champlain to head south around Labor Day targeting arrival in Florida by November 1.  If we delay 2-4 weeks later than that, the weather deteriorates rapidly.  It can get very cold in the Carolinas and gales start blowing making it impossible to get offshore.   Every year, we meet first time cruisers who don't make it to Florida until December.   Almost all of them report that they froze on the way down.

    On the other side, it is best to not arrive in northern waters too early in the spring because the water temperature is still cold.  Twice we went to Maine for the summer.  Both times we avoided most of the fog by arriving no earlier than August 1.
Between the departure and arrival constraints, you can see that there is a bias toward prolonged north south migration passages and a a bias against sailing past Cape Hatteras on the outside.   Some cruisers enjoy spending that time in leisurely travel up and down the ICW.  They may travel only 20 miles per day and sample every stop.  Libby and I prefer to spend more of the time in North Carolina.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. This was informative. Although I am from the Great White North it would be a good plan to avoid the cold when going south!


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