Saturday, August 01, 2015

Can You Sail The Whole ICW?

South Burlington, VT

The other day, I exchanged messages with yet another brand new cruiser, Amy.  Amy and Erik bought a W28.  They plan their first cruise from Maryland, to Charleston, SC, and they look forward to it with enthusiam as they should.  Remarkably, Amy put her finger on a key issue even before departing.  She said, "Also, while we know our schedule is not a schedule, as sailing goes, we'd like to sail and not just motor down the ICW the whole way. After all its about the journey. "

The Westsail 28


Many experienced cruisers, such as Libby and I, are inclined to say that the opportunities to sail on the ICW are very limited, and that you wind up motoring most of the time.    But that is not entirely true. Amy's view is equally valid.  It depends on the weight you put on the journey versus the destination.   Amy and Erik may never make it to Charleston before running out of time, but to them the destination is not the point.

I've written over and over again on this blog how the four months of the year when we are actually journeying are our happiest times.  I've also written over and over how much we love our favorite destinations.   It's a built-in conflict for cruisers.   Both have appeal, and each couple comes down differently on journey versus destination.  

For example, Jeff and Wendy on Calypso lean much more on the journey side than Libby and I.   They take 3-4 times longer than we do to get someplace, but they have fun at every moment along the way.   They are also better than we are at finding nice little out of the way anchorages.

I think, Libby and I tilted more to the destinaiton side our first year when the weather turned so cold in the late fall, making us miserable.  Ever since then, we vow "Florida by November 1 or Bust!"  Regardless of the motivation, that ladies and gentlemen is a deadline.

Many novice cruisers are like we were our first year; they have limited experience with tides and currents.   If you want to sail on the ICW, you need, at a minimum.

  1. Either, open waters (Such as Pamlico Bay in NC) where you can sail in any direction dictated by the boat and the wind.
  2. Or, winds in a favorable direction if you must sail down a narrowly constrained channel.  Remember that you must stay in the channel and stay out of the way of other boats.
  3. And, winds of sufficient magnitude to let you may way against adverse currents.  I never met a sailor so patient that he sails ICW channels on hours where his speed it negative. Plus 1 knot maybe, but minus one knot and the skipper drops the anchor.
  4. Or, the patience to be under way only when wind and currents are both favorable.   You may find those conditions only 4-5 hours every fourth day, so there's an awful lot of waiting.  The skill to learn is to find fun places to wait.
So, destination or journey?  Sail or motor?  The only right answer is, "do whatever is the most fun for you."


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