ICW from Beaufort to Southport, NC

When we left Oriental, we headed down Adams Creek to Beaufort. We had two choices at this point: go offshore or take the ICW. Offshore was our preferred route, as the distance from the Beaufort inlet to the Masonboro Inlet is only 65 miles. This equates to a full days passage and is a straight shot. The only detail you need to iron out is timing the tide so that you exit the Beaufort inlet with the outgoing tide and arrive at the Masonboro inlet at the incoming tide.  

Both of these inlets have strong currents and trying to fight the current is dangerous and pointless. The winds are another factor to consider. A NW wind will put you on a nice beam/broad reach from one inlet to the next and will take you there on a single tack! There is plenty of water depth and little traffic to worry about, making this an ideal passage. 

The alternative is to go the ICW, which is the sheer opposite. It is narrow, shallow, and full of traffic and bridges. The distance is also much longer as you need to follow the curvature of the land and snake your way through inlets. 

We arrived at Beaufort late and the tide was wrong for leaving. There was also a storm approaching and if we went the offshore route, we risked arriving at the inlet during the storm. If we wanted to go offshore, we would need to sit and wait for a better weather window, but that didn't seem to be on the horizon. 

Instead of waiting, we decided to power on and take the ICW route instead. This was both a blessing and a course. 

We anchored just next to Morehead City and waited for the morning light to begin our journey. We caught the powerful incoming tide as it swept us into the Bogue Sound. The wind was beautiful, putting us on a beam reach, the same sailing conditions we would have had if we were offshore, minus the wonderful current. Between the wind and current, we powered through the Bogue Sound at speeds of 6-7 knots, and most of the time was spent in the 7 knot range! We made it to the middle of the sound by slack water and the current stopped as the tide was at its highest and was starting to ebb. 

When the current stopped flowing, our speed slowed to 4 knots, which is what our speed would have been in the ocean with the present winds making the 65 mile trek take about 16 hours. As the tide began to ebb with more force, our speed began to climb again and we were once again sailing along at 7 knots as we were being swept out of the sound with the ebbing tide. 

The entire Bogue Sound is 20 miles wide and we sailed across it in under 3 hours! We started at 8am and were on the other side by 11am, with an average speed of 6.6 knots. As soon as we passed the next inlet, we were all of a suddenly faced with a head current of the next inlets ebbing tide and our speed plummeted to 2 knots. Instead of fighting the current we simply anchored for lunch! 

In a few hours, the tide was out and the current had calmed down, so we raised anchor and sailed a few more miles until the sun got low on the horizon. 

The Bogue Sound was amazing, we had great wind and the current was in our favor! We sailed quickly and the temperature was comfortable. It was a wonderful introduction to the ICW and filled our spirits with false hope! 

The next morning, we were faced with the storm that we would have encountered had we gone offshore. It was cold and the winds were powerful. We waited for the currents to be in our favor and then raised anchor. The problem was the wind was directly on our nose, so we couldn't really sail in the very narrow channel. 

With no possibility of sailing, we were forced to motor along as the current carried us along but the wind pushed us back. We covered only a few miles that day before the sun got low and we anchored again. This is where the trouble started! 

We draw 6.5 feet and most of the anchorages and marinas are about 5 feet deep. This means that we can't enter them, let alone leave the channel. We are forced to anchor on the side of the channel in areas where deep water blebs out to the side a bit. The issue is, these deep sections are small and infrequent. By the time we let out enough scope, our keel has bumped into the bottom with the outgoing tide and we find ourselves aground, every night, and every low tide. 

The next morning, the tide will be high and we will float off the bottom, able to continue on, but the currents are very strong. We find that it is best to wait for the current to be in our favor and motor along as the current pushes us to our destination. The wind might be in our favor, allowing us to supplement our speed with sails, but it might be directly on the nose and not offer us any rememdy to the situation.  

As if the narrow waterway and shallow depth wasn't enough of a deterrent, it was also 40F and raining. The weather was horrible but we wanted to make our way south, so we would time the currents and raise the anchor when it was favorable, moving a few miles each day. Some days we managed to travel 15 miles, other days only 5 miles. The miles were hard earned in the miserable weather, but the good part is we were able to move everyday, regardless of the weather! 

After many nights spent with the keel on the bottom, we finally made it to Wrightville Beach which is next to the Masonboro inlet! Instead of being a 16 hour sail, we took 8 days to reach the same destination. 

While the time difference seems ridiculous, the ICW did offer many advantages that we are glad to have taken advantage of. With the winter storms constantly brewing, we would still be waiting for a weather window to make the trek from Beaufort to Masonboro. While the travel was slow and hard, we did manage to move every day as we slowly made our way down the ICW. It was not glamorous and it was not fun, as the cold rain thoroughly dampened our spirits as we covered the miles of water. 

The wonderful part about the ICW though is the weather is very benign. After spending 3 days in a gale offshore of Cape Hatteras, 30 knots of wind in the ICW seemed like a joke! The winds would be strong but the water was completely flat, allowing us to comfortably motor along without needing to stow anything in the cabin as the boat would not even rock in the calm waters. 

If we had to do it again, I would say that either option is a viable one. Offshore is a much faster and easier journey if the weather is cooperating, while the ICW is a slower but dependable passage. You might find yourself forced to heave to in a storm offshore, but that same weather in the ICW might lead to an extra layer of clothing to keep warm as you still work your way south that day. 

The truly depressing part about our 90+ mile journey in the ICW is that we only sailed about 25 of the miles. The rest of the journey was spent motoring. If you know me, you also know that this is torture for me. Days were spent with the wind on the bow and no room to tack, so raising any sail would just equate to added wind resistance. We then motored along with the current as we had no hope of sailing for days on end.