Cruising might seem like fun and games. You get in your boat and sail to paradise. Everything is perfect and easy! Right?
The truth is, cruising is a balancing act between what you can do and what you can't do. You will dance this line and occasionally cross it. When you do, you can either try and prove that the line doesn't apply to you or you can back off and retreat to your side of the line.
Crossing the line momentarily may seem fun at times, but the punishment is always looming overhead.
We have found that heaving to in a gale is a good method to survive the gale, but not a good method to enjoy a gale. Gales are much more enjoyable when experienced at anchor in a protected anchorage. The wind might seem "a bit stronger than usual" as the trees and landmass surrounding you shield you from the winds force. The seaway is small, so there is no fetch for any waves to form and your anchor holds securely as you row to shore to enjoy a day in a new town.
Likewise, we have also found that the ICW is best traveled downwind and downcurrent. The current in the ICW is a formidable force! We will frequently encounter currents in excess of 3 knots and if the current is working against you, you might find yourself moving backwards!
While the current is strong, the wind is also a powerful player in this game. If the wind is on your nose and the current is pushing you, the windage of the yacht will cause you to slow to a stop as the current forces against your keel and pushes you along at a very slow pace. The danger here is that, while you are still moving at 2-3 knots, you are effectively motionless in the water and your rudder is not going to function properly. This means that you will have no steerage and will be at the complete mercy of the wind.
We have tried to fight the wind and done stupid things like not use the motor and keep our sails down as we drift along with the current. The issue is the wind against the hull will drive you towards the banks of the channel and you will end up using all of your motor power just trying to keep in the deeper parts of the waterway.
If the winds are very strong, you might find it impossible to motor against the wind, even if the tide is in your favor. These days are best spent at anchor where you can wait out the weather with a nice stroll through the local town.
We have made it a rule that we will only venture out from our anchorage on days when there is no wind or the wind is behind us, and we will try to always go with the current.
The wind is most important for us, being a sailboat. We can fly a lot of sail downwind and power against a weak current, but we can't seem to power against a strong wind! When the wind and current are in the same direction, and both pushing you, it may seem disheartening to find that the speed of the current will rob you of your true wind and your following apparent wind will feel very underwhelming. It is times like this that we have even opted to only fly the staysail, as the main just hangs limp and causes us to worry about an accidental jibe at any moment.
With these simple rules, we stay well within the line of what nature allows of us while in the ICW. Wind and tide are formidable forces and fighting them will only remind you of the fact that you are a mere sailor and no match for such a force of nature.